MUSIC can grab you by the hand and move you somewhere else entirely. That much is true for Malawi’s blossoming songbird, Kimberley Kaunda, who goes by the name KIM of Diamonds.
With three albums in now – Freedom (2015), The Revolution (2016) and the self-titled KIM of Diamonds (2018), she is swiftly cashing her membership card to Malawi’s treasure club. A dazzling sharp, insightful and sometimes witty lyricist who is capable of sketching life in ways that few can rival, her music is an intimate exploration of afro-millennial experiences in a continent that’s jaded with an uncertainty future, existent and looming crisis, freedom muzzling, and gross human violations, among other predicaments.
With a new EP, “With Love From Malawi” on the horizon, KIM is setting up another foundation solid enough to build yet another sonic skyscraper.
#enthuse caught up with her in a wide-ranging interview, and here is how it went down.
#enthuse: Hello KOD! You have been described as “a dynamic Malawian singer-songwriter, whose creative artistry blends melodic lyrics about love & life with Afro vibes (Afro R&B, Afro Pop).” In your own words, how would you like to be referred to as, today and in posterity?
Hmmmmmm. I can go with songbird – you can think of me as a songbird. I think that covers everything. LOL. I don’t want to put myself in a box when it comes to the kind of music I do. If I listen to a beat and inspiration flows differently, then I am going with that.
#enthuse: Your music oozes a variety of influences from soul, R&B, pop, rap, hip hop and acoustic and you also seek to influence positive change in advocacy and right living. What first got you into music and can you discuss the various influences on your work and what your creative process is usually like?
Initially, I just wanted to sing. So I could sing along with my sisters. It just evolved by itself from there to finding myself singing at church, leading praise and worship, to my big bro taking me to the studio back in 2013 from where we worked on my first album, Freedom (2015). I had been to the studio before that but I wasn’t thinking about a long-term music career at that point.
I am inspired by most conversations and life, I also combine that with inspiration from dope music that I come across. I made it a point to go beyond the music I usually listen to. Some Netflix series inspires me as well, so influences are everywhere for me. Otherwise, I just have to tap into the moment.
My creative process is like this; I love browsing through beats and the moment I find one I vibe with which can be any genre, tempo or vibe, I start writing to it. If I am really in the zone, then I can have that writing process done in an hour or less. But if I’m juggling work and other stuff, then I might write a chorus and verse one day and finish it later. I also like writing songs and leaving them for a day or so, so my mind can rework any sections or words that need switching. From there, it’s sending the demo I record using my phone to the producer and going into the studio to lay down vocals. I’m in the process of switching up my creative process though. I am putting together my home studio so I can record demos at any time, literally! Something I’ve been wanting to do because I have a huge catalogue of unrecorded demo songs; some which I’m starting to forget and some I don’t like that much.
#enthuse: Can you please tell us what your recent work is and what it is about? What was going on in your life as you created it?
I am dropping my latest work, a collaboration project actually with my homie, Virtue. He’s an incredible rapper, you will get the flair on the EP. We’ve called it With Love From Malawi, we wanted to pen a musical love letter to the world from Malawi, about Malawi as well as to Malawi. The songs have different themes, we wanted to strike a balance between talking about love and life and also talking about serious things like wanting to see peace all around the world. Too many stories about unrest and wars in countries around the world, which is heartbreaking when you really think about it. Instead of enjoying this beautiful life, other people are running for their lives and are far from home. We are blessed here in Malawi that we have had peace for a long time and may we continue to be a peaceful country that’s going to grow economically over the next couple years.
#enthuse: What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
I think I’m dope with the melodies and lyrics. Now, I want to explore the world of riffs, runs and experiment with harmonies more. I want to get better at those and also get into production, even if it’s basic ideas for now.
#enthuse: What are some of the words you despise that have been used to describe your work, what you do by reviewers or critics?
Honestly, I ain’t got the time to pay any mind to negativity. Most people say things for clout, just to be fans of you years later or when they see you popping on a grander scale. So, why waste time listening to anything they have to say? Key thing is, knowing where you are coming from, where you are and where you are going – and focusing on going there without wavering. Dreaming big is serious business; it needs your undivided attention.
#enthuse: What is your favourite song to perform?
Hmmmmm, I would say Selfish and Cool Like That are on the top of my favourites to perform. But I have a bunch of new songs I cannot wait to perform. I already enjoy singing them to myself, so that’s a good sign.
#enthuse: What is the most useless talent you have, and if you could choose a career besides what you’re doing now, what would it be?
Hmmm, I can’t think of any. LOL. I see everything as connected. And I’m usually too busy focusing on what I can do than what I cannot do. If I wasn’t doing music, I would still be in the creative industry, maybe in the media or maybe I would be in an office job working my way up to the top. But come to think of it, it’s hard to imagine not doing music. That’s how deep in love with it I am right now.
#enthuse: Do you sing in the shower? What songs?
Haha! Everyone sings in the shower. I definitely sing in the shower. The acoustics are just great. I usually sing whatever comes to mind, from Beyonce to singing gospel songs to rap verses by Jay-Z or my own compositions – it’s whatever soundtrack that’s running through my head that time.
#enthuse: How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you do or what you have to say about anything?
I just focus on being myself now rather than being anything to anyone – that’s unnecessary pressure if you ask me. And I decided I don’t want to waste my energy worrying about what people think of me. That gives me the freedom to go any direction I want without trying to live up to people’s standard of what I should do or say. So basically, I don’t contend with that thought anymore, I’m past it.
#enthuse: 2020 has been “2020ing” for everyone, but you seem to be doing really well for someone going through quarantine and the pandemic. What’s the trick?
I just tell myself to keep going and that I cannot afford to stay in the same place, be it mentally, career-wise, intellectually, financially, year after year. Sometimes things look seamless on the surface but a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes -that’s where the real work is… in the background. So, the pandemic showed me flames too, but it’s also pushed me to turn my ideas into reality even more because I’ve got nothing to lose.
#enthuse: Beyond the Malawian borders, who are some of the regional, continental and world stars you would most like to collaborate with?
I would love to write for Beyonce, Rihanna, and any artist who wants my songwriting services. Nowadays the “underdogs” are the big stars. For me, collaborations have to be strategic, so it’s not really about how famous or big they are but about what kind of energy they carry. I love working on music with people who are as passionate or serious about it. It elevates the final work. I also want to create iconic music, so creating that isn’t limited to working with world stars, thankfully, although working with world stars can do wonders for your career.
#enthuse: How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
It has levelled out the playing field and presented a lot of opportunities. I love it. You can be a world star from home now. You can find yourself winning awards just from recording your song or project from home and getting it mixed down professionally, all those things. If you tick the quality boxes in making your music, it is inevitable you will reap the benefits. It’s just a matter of time, strategy, and consistent persistence. Now we have to look into making sure there are laws and frameworks that will protect musicians/creatives from the downside of the internet, which includes things like piracy, copyright issues sometimes.
#enthuse: Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I have performed at Platform 9, Lake of Stars 2018, Nkhotakota Festival and at NGO events as well. My favourite ones are LOS and Platform 9 because the audience was really lively and responsive you know, so that is always a great feeling. I do prefer intimate settings for performances rather than a huge crowd though. I’m gravitating towards really wanting to connect with my audience so they hear the lyrics and feel the vibe on a personal level more. When performing to a huge crowd, you do feel the pressure of putting together a set that is going to be hype or up-tempo a lot more. But when performing to an intimate crowd, you can weave through mid-tempo to slow-tempo to fast tempo without worrying about losing the crowd – that’s just my thinking for now.
#enthuse: If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?
Hmmmmmmmm! I think I would want to open a show for Beyonce. Honestly, that would just be a big dream come true!
#enthuse: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
I think I would focus on investing in the technology that protects musicians and helps them make more money locally and internationally. I would want to see more passionate and forward-thinking people in the industry who respect each other and support each other without thinking about fame or popularity too much. I would also want to see safe spaces for women and girls to operate in without fear of sexual harassment or gender bias or discrimination and things lie that.
#enthuse: What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I can’t remember the exact words but I can sum it up in “Live your life the way you want to, without fear, regret or pretence”. My dad also once told me,
“Don’t ever let anyone steal your joy” that has had the biggest impact on what I allow to affect me and what I don’t.
My parents also tell me I can do anything I set my mind to. So, I am always working on my mental settings to be more focused and smart in getting things done.
#enthuse: What is one message you would give to your fans?
Live your life. Live out your passion. Dream big and go for it. It is not going to be easy but if you think it is worth it then don’t wait a day longer. Get started on that business idea or project, see where it takes you and even if it fails, it would have taught you more than if you had succeeded. KEEP GOING!
#enthuse: What’s next for you?
Global domination. Seriously, that’s it. Now, how to make that happen is what we are working on.
KIM of Diamonds’ music is available on major online music stores (iTunes, Deezer, Spotify, CDBaby). Connect with her on IG: @kimofdiamonds, Twitter: @kimofdiamonds & on FB: Facebook.com/kimofdiamonds
Photos © by Ubwino Phikira