Senator Crystal Asige encourages women to turn scars into body art with ‘Tattoo’

Crystal Asige during a past performance in Nairobi. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU 

“I have always been an underdog. As a child, I was always the awkward one in school and as a person with a disability, I have been marginalised,” says Crystal Asige.

“So, I have always had a propensity towards seeking out people who are the underdogs and giving them a voice, fighting for them.”

The nominated senator and recording artiste has just released the song Tattoo as a reaction to what she described during a motion of adjournment that she moved in the Senate last month as “barbaric” and a “methodical execution of defenseless women.”

“After the debate in the Senate, I decided to take the matter a step further. I said “It is not enough to talk about it on the floor of the House. I want to also create something that can live and transcend politics into a conversation among ordinary people.” So, I decided to go into the studio and produce the song,” she explains.

The Afropop song with an infectious chorus combining Swahili and English lyrics encourages women to turn their scars into body art. “We are being cut up, we are being chopped up, we are being attacked, we are being violated and our bodies bear those scars,” says Asige. “I was like ‘How can you turn those cuts and bruises into something that is empowering and through which you can tell a story that will motivate someone in future’. I thought about tattoos.”

“If you have a scar, why don’t you draw a tattoo around it, make it a flower, make it something memorable and beautiful so that you can remove the pain of that scar and turn it into a story that people will look at and see beauty,” she adds.

Asige says artistes who use their music to comment on what is taking place in society at a given moment create a huge impact. “Bob Marley used music to communicate social and political messages. He died young but his voice and messages live on in his music.”

Her musical project Blinding Allure is a series that has been issued in two parts since November 2023 starting with a mixtape showcasing her hip hop/R&B influences, while on Tattoo she returns to familiar territory.

“The music is a journey through the different paths of an artiste that I love and want to express to people. Tattoo is produced in the Afro-fusion sound that people know me for, and then later expect some reggae and gospel.”

Turning her experiences into song goes back to when as a little child she would come back home from nursery school and instead of telling her mother about who had bullied her, she would instead sing about it. At the age of 12, she became a worship leader in her church.

While studying at university in Bristol, UK she would attend open mic sessions with her classmates and noticed that people threw money at musicians and spoken word performers. “I realised that people would give you money just by making them happy through your art so I said ‘Let me try it’,” she recalls.

She recorded her first song called Pulled Under, which topped a local radio station’s chart show in Bristol even though the lyrics were mainly in Kiswahili, her voice struck a chord with listeners.

Asige who was born and brought up in Mombasa started gradually losing her vision at age 15 due to glaucoma, resulting in permanent blindness. Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli were obvious sources of inspiration as artistes who had excelled despite their visual impairment. But she also sought inspiration closer to home through Reuben Kagame who was assessable and someone whose performances she could attend,

“Because there were not many such people here in Kenya then I have always wanted to make sure that I am the person that I wished that I had when I was growing up,” she says.

Back in Kenya, she connected with Sauti Sol who acted as her mentor in the early days of her career.

“When I heard, they were coming to Mombasa to perform at a New Year’s concert at Whitesands Hotel, I begged them for an opportunity to curtain raise during the show and they accepted.”

Eventually, she was signed as the first and only female act on the Sol Generation roster of artistes managed by Sauti Sol, which propelled her to national attention thanks to her vocals on the 2019 hit song Extravaganza. Barely a year later, she returned to her solo career and in 2022, was nominated to the Senate by the Orange Democratic Movement to represent persons living with disabilities.

“I have been in the creative industry mainly connecting to musically inclined people, but now I can speak to the leadership of this country and that is a unique place to be, as the singing senator. I am a human rights advocate, legislator and artiste; there are many parts to my brand.”

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