Hi you, there is someone I would love you to meet. You probably know her but in drib and drabs.
Not long ago when I was a boy, I was dumbfounded whenever I saw a lady driving a car. I thought that was a man’s hobby. Gradually, this naïveté was quickly diluted by more ladies in male-dominated fields offering me a place in sophistication instead.
It is not easy to impress me because at over 6.2 feet tall, most of you fall short of my expectations. Yet, during one evening concert with just a guitar, not a British L96A1 sniper rifle or even a Lamborghini Veneno, Ivy Alexander overawed me with her mastery of an instrument I have struggled to grasp no matter how many strings I try to pull.
Here is the thing about a guitar. It is born to sing, to make its way to those loving hands that give it such soulful caress. Once upon a time, one guitar met its full destiny when Ivy was brave enough to meet hers. And now, we meet Ivy.
What made you decide to pick up a guitar in the first place and which artist, album or song had the biggest impact and influence on you as a guitarist?
I picked up a guitar because it was first and foremost the most readily available instrument in the house; I come from a musical family, my mum sings and my dad plays guitar. So I got accustomed to its sound pretty early, but I didn’t know I would end up actively playing the instrument.
Besides that, I remember during our family road trips, my folks would play a lot of instrumental-based music (it was cassettes by the way) the likes of Earl Klugh, George Benson, and even Eric Clapton. I would say from here I could easily pick up the sound of the guitar even much later on in life.
As for artist, album or song, it really is a mix of a lot of players and listening to a lot of different genres over the years; but I do love Jay Graydon, his approach and how he thinks according to me, is out of this world.
What were you like in high school?
High school is really one for the books! I was actually quite outgoing when it came to a lot of things, sports; joined a couple of the school teams and was even the Captain of the tae kwon do team, part of the class council (very bougie term for class prefects but my school was extra, shout out to Kianda, class of 2013), music, I was in the choir at some point, academics, went on a science symposium once cause I was really good in Physics but I remember I miserably failed that paper we did at the symposium but got to interact with students from other schools so it was not all loss. And I basically did all I could physically and mentally cause like many I was on a journey to self-discovery.
As a female guitarist, what challenges have you faced? Has it affected you at all?
In the beginning, there was a sense of inadequacy but this stemmed from the fact that people (men) are not used to seeing ladies on instruments, so on a couple of occasions, I have had my guitar turned down from the front of the house such that it’s only me and those close to me who could hear what I was playing.
There’s even one rehearsal I remember going to and the artist saw me setting up and very loudly asked the music director “where’s the guitarist?” and I was present in the room.
Or other band members saying stuff like “people only think she’s good cause she’s a lady”. These and much more.
It has been quite demoralizing and somewhat messes with your self-esteem cause you question if you are actually good enough to be in certain spaces, but at the end of the day, we are all different and we are not in the positions we are in by accident. God willed it.
But I slowly got over it due, I’ve had quite the support system and am confident in who I am and in the music I put out.
And the women in the industry are slowly increasing so there is a safe space for us in the industry.
Honorable mentions, Mutindi Muasa, Olive Karmen, Kasiva Mutua, June Gachui, these are the women I met when I started out and it’s been and continues to be an incredible journey.
When I watched the Instagram samples of your work, my face literally melted off. Is this a common reaction to your playing?
Thanks. Yeah actually I get that quite a lot and I guess for a lot of people being a lady adds to the “wow” factor.
I think the other reason why my face melted is because of the range of musical genres you can play. There’s a lot of rootsy blues in there, but also plenty of rock, and even some jazz. How would you describe your style of play and creative process?
I do try to be versatile because being a session guitarist calls for that. I however really love RnB and Neo-soul that’s my style and a lot of it could come off as jazzy.
Creatively speaking, I get inspiration from watching other guitarists; and that drives me to learn from them and apply it in my playing.
You tend to add a little twist(covers) to renowned songs. Where does that come from?
After learning new techniques, licks, chords, I try to find a way to easily use them in my playing so I do experiment a lot hence the little twist in some of them.
How was your first live performance? Were you a natural performer or a bag of nerves when you first started?
I started out playing in Church, I still do. It was nerve-wracking. Actually, up until now, I’m still working on my stage presence it’s not at its maximum.
You have featured on one beat, performed at Coke Studio Africa and you have been part of several great hits in Kenya. What has been the highlight of your career as a Guitarist so far?
This is a tough one. I would say OneBeat and Coke Studio, they both changed my perspective on the music industry from a more global perspective. They made me work hard on my individuality and be confident with owning my ideas and generally pushed me to think out of the box hence a lot of growth even creatively.
What do you do when you don’t feel like playing guitar but you have a gig?
I try remember that it’s an opportunity I prayed for and make sure that I will will show up and show out.
It’s one thing when people are home with a web-cam and tape something but it’s a whole other experience when you’re on a sound stage with multiple cameras taping you. That has to be a performance challenge in that everyone is looking at you and the clock is ticking. Practicing something repeatedly helps build confidence but it’s a much different performance headspace in a real-life situation like that. Can you talk about getting into that performance mindset and bridging the gap between practicing and performance?
One thing that I was always reminded about by my peers is that if you don’t practice and play it at rehearsal, don’t expect to magically play it during the show. This is cause playing live has its own perks and comes with its own challenges so you find that one tends to resort to “default” settings which is what you repeatedly played at practice. If anything goes wrong (speaking from experience), you will always play what you practiced.
Getting into the performance mindset starts way early with adequate preparation.
A perfect example of this is even the world renowned musicians John Mayer, Beyonce, and a lot more practice for months in preparation for their shows and tours, in as much as it’s content they already know, they value the place that adequate preparation holds with regards to having great performances.
Who would you pick to be in your dream band? Why them?
Locally or internationally? Because if it’s locally I’m ditching you all!!! Jokes aside, we have incredible musicians here.
This is actually a hard one and I wouldn’t want anyone to catch feelings so let me stick to international players.
Internationally: Anika Nilles or Tony Taylor on drums, Frank Brunot on bass, Caleb Sean on keys, Mark Lettieri on extra guitars he would probably outshine me though.
I just love how they play, they own their creativity and are very versatile.
‘Twin, a best friend. The one person you absolutely can’t stand but cannot live without’ was the introduction to your single ‘Pacha’ alongside your twin brother. What one real-life example in your life proves this statement?
Haha, well this is a whole Ted Talk topic. If I ever get a short version of a story, I will share it with you but for now in as much as we annoy each other a lot, we do a lot together, exercise, music, long drives, you name it ! And no day goes by without reconciliation especially if either party has snacks, that’s the way to our hearts.
What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects? Studio sessions? World domination plans?
Definitely world domination! You didn’t see me in the cast list for The Avengers End Game II?
But on a serious note (G#) pun heavily intended, I’ve done a lot of remote studio sessions so you’ll hear me on a number of new songs, actually most recently Karun, a Kenyan artist, dropped an EP and I played on the record “Here with me” available on all streaming platforms.
Also, rumor has it that I will be dropping an EP this year, keep it posted. J
If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it be and why?
It would be with me eating chicken and probably being the official international brand ambassador of Chick Fil’ A.
This is because chicken is an elite meal and could promote world peace, people never fight when they’re eating.
Is your hair real? What’s the secret?
Haha ! Really ? Yeah it’s my real hair .. 😄
My family is mixed .. Seychellois x Kikuyu
*Sorry ladies. Turns out there is no secret, just genes😂
What’s a funny pick-up line that works for you?
This one really annoys people, but I love it! Whenever I’m leaving like a gathering or just going home, I always say 208 (tuonane).
Since you can’t get enough of Ivy, go check out her work on the links below. Until next time, 208 😄!