There cannot be a better occasion than the festive season for one of Kenya's most promising singers to get her solo career going with the release of her debut album which celebrates the exuberance of the season while providing comfort for the heartbroken.
Twenty-eight year old Ivlyn Mutua (official name, Evelyn Ndunge Mutua), has emerged from a worship leader in church to singing background vocals for the cream of African pop artists on the Coke Studio TV show, to finally launching her debut solo album “The 12 Beats of Christmas.”
“I wanted to make a song for everyone, for each of the traditional 12 days of Christmas, so that you have a song to see you through the holidays,” says the sassy singer and songwriter.
“These songs will help you reflect on the meaning of the season but they also create the best party atmosphere for the Christmas season,” says Ivlyn.
She explains how what started as an EP of six Christmas carols expanded to 12 songs covering a whole spectrum of human emotions.
“I would head to the studio to record one song and end up doing two more and then we would wonder what to do with them, so we decided why not just have an entire album.”
But there was also the pressure of a two-month deadline to record the entire album.
“I can’t tell you about the number of nights I have spent in the studio, battling with lyrics at 5am, sometimes you get the studio with no verse, no hook, but at the same time you can’t rush the creative process.”
The “simple girl from Machakos” who studied Music at Kenyatta University started her career as an intern in the worship section of Nairobi Chapel, an experience that trained her on vocal skills and stage performance.
Both her parents are pastors while her elder brother, Dafari Daf, is a gospel artist and was the first person to get her into a studio when she was barely seven years old.
“My mum is an awesome singer so she really trained me throughout childhood and I started learning music formally in high school and eventually, university,” she says.
She was recruited as a background vocalist on Coke Studio Africa, Season 3 and 4 (2015 and 2016) after which she took a hiatus and eventually switched to secular music.
“I decided to be authentic which many artists struggle to attain, because other people’s opinions tend to away you, but I am very confident and bold about this decision,” she says.
Her debut album contains renditions of traditional Christmas carols delivered in her a contemporary urban music style along with uncompromising party songs.
Just as the title suggests, the album takes you on a musical journey with a variety of styles, from R & B to dance hall, Salsa to Afropop. Besides the traditional Christmas songs, there are songs that have a universal theme, capturing not just the spirit of the holiday but the emotions of everyday life.
The very last song that she wrote on the album “Missing You” is a tribute to a cousin who was “like her best friend” and died in Christmas 2011.
“When everyone else is having fun and celebrating, they are others who are sad because of grief, or divorce, separation, so this is a song that will lift up their spirits and help them overcome that dark chapter in a positive way.”
“Forever and a day” was written in the course of a 20-minute walk at 1am to the house from the studio after spending the entire day unable to conjure up any creativity. The song that was produced by Chris Adwar talks about the longing someone feels in the hope that they will spend the holidays with a loved one.
Dan Aceda collabo
The album also contains collaborations with notable artists from across the Kenyan music spectrum including Dan Aceda on “Joy to the World” “Jingle Bells” with Mordecai Dex, and “Felix Navidad” with Trina Mungai. Other collaborations are “Hark the Herald” with Atemi, “Mary Did You Know” with Sage Chemutai and Wyre provides guest vocals on “Mary’s Boy Child.”
Ivlyn is excited about the emerging crop of female artists like her friend, Fena Gitu, who have released powerful albums in 2019. She is already looking forward to 2020 that will start with the release of a single that she has recorded with Nigerian superstar Yemi Alade.
Meanwhile, “12 Beats of Christmas” is available on iTunes, Spotify, Boom Play and other digital platforms.