Okenyo Talks Transitioning From Theatre And Finding Inspiration

She might be brand-new on the scene but Okenyo is garnering a whole lot of attention, having just been announced as a support for Jinja Safari‘s massive Bay Of Fires tour and finding her track Broken Chest sitting on triple j‘s Unearthed charts.

Okenyo, the stage persona of Zindzi Okenyo, was a member of the Sydney Theatre Company under Cate Blanchett before she found herself making music after downloading an app that gave her a new way to channel her creative expression. Okenyo dropped us a line about the upcoming tour, making the switch to music and her upcoming plans to record.

Music Feeds: You were an established theatre actress before you turned your hand to music. What instigated the switch?

Okenyo: It was a slow burn that came about because of something in my personal life but I think subconsciously I have been professionally preparing myself for this. I’m not trained as a singer/musician at all but I’ve sung in lots of different styles and languages in theatre productions I’ve done and over time I became more confident in referring to myself as a singer. Since focusing more on music, I see how much control must be relinquished as an actress to fulfill someone else’s vision, and so I’m really enjoying taking responsibility for every aspect of the art I’m creating now and having ownership. I see the switch to music as just another aspect of myself as a performer and storyteller.

MF: You made a minute-long video introducing your music (below) to capture the attention of Jinja Safari, who have now asked you to support them on their upcoming tour. Can you tell us how that came about?

O: My close friend Shantanu Starick and I were hanging out, jamming ideas, and I said, “I want to make a video where I can fly,” and he said, “OK”. So we of course had no money but we borrowed some scaffolding from the builders working on my apartment building and then got friends to hold two poles parallel gymnastic style and I did some slow mo lift off acting! I also had a very clear idea about doing a teaser video to get people interested whilst biding me some time to write more. That video got shared really quickly with the right people and I ended up with a brilliant management team.

Watch: This Is Okenyo

MF: And what can punters expect from your live show now?

O: I have heaps of ideas in my head about what I will eventually do theatrically with my own solo show but as a support on the Jinja tour, my focus is just being real damn good at the music. Me and my collaborators (four musicians under the name Ictus) have been working really hard on creating an impactful, tight show that will hopefully hook people in. The Ictus guys are such joyous people and I can get pretty carried away emotionally, so we’ll see what happens…

MF: Your music is pretty outside the box – how do you categorise it? Are there any particular genres you feel it fits into?

O: I really couldn’t even tell you! I don’t listen to the radio and mostly just play my favourite albums on repeat but I can say that coming from an acting background I have a strong sense of narrative and so my songs often tell a full story if you listen closely. Frank Ocean is a massive inspiration for that reason, Pyramids (although not my favourite song on the album) being the perfect example of turning structure on its head and stepping outside the square. I am also constantly enamoured by Grace Jones, who is an enigmatic and dazzling creature both in her aesthetic, intelligence and extraordinary ability to be truthfully radical.

MF: Which musicians inspire you?

O: Apart from the ones already mentioned, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott are the collective Mother Earth of poetry and I’m very grateful to have been introduced to their music at a young age. I’m currently constantly YouTubing Annie Clarke, aka St Vincent, because she is such an excellent storyteller and despite her beautifully petite nature, she is a monster on the guitar. Check out Guitar Moves With St Vincent. Chance The Rapper is on repeat at my house and also my favourite opera is Porgy and Bess, so Gershwin.

MF: And what about non-musical inspiration?

O: I actually think my music is more directly inspired by writers, poets and literature than other music. Most of my songs at the moment are a mixture of my own personal stories and classic tales. Broken Chest has a mysterious interlink with the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; I have a song based on two Greek gods, Isis and Osiris; there a bible story in there and one based on an Ingmar Bergman film.

Listen: Okenyo – Broken Chest

MF: Your track Broken Chest is sitting at number 16 on the Triple J Unearthed indie chart. How has the positive reaction to the track impacted on you?

O: It’s exciting and great to have a positive start for my new endeavours, for sure. When I was building my acting career and as I continue to do so I set heaps of goals to do with directors and actors I wanted to work with or theatre companies I’d like to work for but now flipping over to the music industry, there’s a nice freedom that comes with not really knowing how it all works. It’s not naivety but more a sense that I’m doing this because I have to fulfill an aspect of myself as an artist. It’s all really about channeling that obsessiveness and giving it over to an audience in the form of a song they can enjoy for their own personal reasons.

MF: And what can we expect in terms of future releases from you? Do you have an EP or LP in the works?

O: I do but all focus is on the upcoming Jinja Safari Bay Of Fires tour, so the songs have been built up for a live show. Hopefully I’ll get into the studio soon after that and spend heaps of time drinking coffee and doing minute producer details. So looking forward to it all.

Okenyo is supporting Jinja Safari on their Bay Of Fires tour, which kicks off tonight in Queensland. Dates below.

Wednesday, 11th September

Woombye Pub, Sunshine Coast

Tix: (07) 5442 1155 / http://thewoombyepub.com.au

Thursday, 12th September

Spotted Cow, Toowoomba

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Friday, 13th September

The Hi-Fi, Brisbane

Ticx: http://www.hifi.com.au / 1300 843 443 // Oztix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Saturday, 14th September

Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Wednesday, 18th September

ANU, Canberra

Tix: 132 849, http://www.ticketek.com.au

Thursday, 19th September

Uni Bar, Wollongong

Tix: http://www.bigtix.com.au, Oztix: http://www.oztix.com.au / 1300 762 545

Friday, 20th September

Cambridge, Newcastle

Tix: http://www.bigtix.com.au, Oztix: http://www.oztix.com.au / 1300 762 545

Saturday, 21st September

The Metro, Sydney [ALL AGES]

Tix: (02) 9550 3666, http://www.metrotheatre.com.au / Ticketek: 132 849, http://www.ticketek.com.au

Wednesday, 25th September

Loft, Warrnambool

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Thursday, 26th September

Barwon Club, Geelong

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Friday, 27th September

Forum, Melbourne

Tix: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au / 136 10

Saturday, 28th September

Karova, Ballarat

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Thursday, 3rd October

Adelaide Uni Bar, Adelaide

Tix: 1300 438 849 / http://www.moshtix.com.au

Friday, 4th October

Settlers Tavern, Margaret River

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Saturday, 5th October

The Astor, Perth [ALL AGES]

Tix: http://www.showticketing.com.au | 08 9370 5888 | From Astor Theatre Box Office direct

Sunday, 6th October

Prince Of Wales, Bunbury

Tix: 1300 762 545, http://www.oztix.com.au

Must Read