Based in Copenhagen, Kwamie Liv is a Danish-Zambian singer-songwriter whose music explores the living experience of pleasure, pain, love, and loss. Inspired by her extensive travels, Kwamie blends a range of musical influences including R&B and pop to create her own distinct sound. Rejina talks to Kwamie about her writing process, the immersive experience of recording an album, and what it feels like once it's finished.
Rejina: What made you decide to go into music professionally?
Kwamie: I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t drawing, telling stories, or writing poems and songs. I love the endless possibilities of an empty page, a first chord. Freedom is essential to me and in a way there is nothing more free than the places you are able to reach through your imagination. I think it was always only a matter of time before I pursued it as a living, to be honest. I also truly love the idea of being part of something that is beyond ownership. In its essence, melody too is free, everyone has it within, no one can take it away from you and yet it belongs to us all. I find that very beautiful.
Rejina: What’s your process for writing a song and creating an album?
Kwamie: How it comes to fruition can vary greatly. My last release ‘17’ for example was relatively quickly written but took a very long time to complete. We recorded the piano several times, lay down hundreds of layers of cello and violin to get the sound just right, and reproduced and mixed it again and again until we finally felt it was there. I just couldn’t let it go, I kept returning to it. With my song ‘New Boo’ from my album ‘Lovers That Come and Go’, I wrote it in like 10 minutes on my couch very late one night just messing around on my guitar, and we produced and recorded it a few days later in one studio session. Both songs are dear to me but they came about very differently. My only rule is not to force it and to follow the flow. That doesn’t mean I can’t work with intention, but it has to come to me naturally, I have to feel some form of urgency or inner push to express it, especially in the start phase, otherwise I don’t go there.
Rejina: How do you feel once you finish a song or album and it is released to the world?
Kwamie: There is nothing more exhilarating than the moment of creation, the arrival of an idea and touching it for the first time. While I am making an album or a song I tend to listen to it all of the time, obsessively, I am completely immersed. Once it is released, my only hope is that it reaches anyone who might find it of use or value, but I also let go at that point and step away from it, at least for a while. I usually need a break and, if I’m lucky, it is within this break that the next idea is born.
Rejina: When I listen to your music I am reminded of feelings of both joy and suffering. Is the balance between the two something you intentionally explore through your music?
Kwamie: For me it’s all about the human condition, observing and living it. I am fascinated by what binds us and what pulls us apart and I suppose that at its core it is inevitably comprised of both darkness and light.
Rejina: I know you spent time working with displaced persons in Bangladesh. Has your passion for humanitarianism informed who you are as an artist?
Kwamie: I spent some time working with the stateless Rohingya refugees, on the Bangladesh/Burma border. I remember one day bringing my guitar to one of the refugee camps. Even though conditions were dire, I’ll never forget how through singing, and playing music together, the energy immediately shifted. People whom I had never seen smile or interact, started to open up and for a brief moment it felt like we were riding a wave far greater than any of us in that room. Music did that, music has the power to do that. It is an understanding I carry with me always.
Kwamie: I suppose at best they both grow from the same timeless seed as all other art: expression and a deep need to create something.
Kwamie: Comfort is key, I appreciate aesthetic simplicity, both in my everyday life and also on stage. For many years I wore basically the same look every time I performed: jeans, a belly top, a jacket tied around my waist and boots, all black. These days I’m a bit more experimental, if you like, but there was definitely something cool about having a basic “go-to”.
Kwamie: There is you, there is the audience, and then there is that invisible thing in between, that’s the real stage, that’s where the magic happens, in the relationship between the two. That has always been my focus and the intrigue for me when it comes to live performance. I don’t spend too much time contemplating my persona, I leave that to others and don’t pay too much attention to it.
Kwamie: Experiment, practice, know that you can always get better, understand that if you choose this as a career you are entering a business and even though your focus is your art, learning the business side of things can ultimately help you maintain your sense of artistic freedom and direction in the long run. Align yourself with people who are looking down the same path you are and whom you can learn from and grow with. Trust your gut. Don’t wait for approval, don’t wait for “perfection”, if you have the love, the will and the discipline - go for it and keep going for it. Your path will unfold and either way, I believe when we follow our passion 100%, the road is interesting and never wasted.
Kwamie: I’m currently in the studio working non-stop on my next album which will be released this year. I had a long period last year where I wasn’t as inspired as I’m used to being, so it feels really good to be back and knee deep in it, I think I needed the space. It’s a strange time for all of us and really I’m grateful that I’m able to still write, record and do my work amidst the madness.