Current Issue #488

Elsy Wameyo’s energetic rise

Elsy Wameyo’s energetic rise

The latest artist to make the jump from an Elizabeth community centre to the stages of Australia’s biggest music festivals, Elsy Wameyo is a rising star in South Australian contemporary music.

“Honestly it’s been one of those things where you just get chucked in the deep end,” Wameyo tells The Adelaide Review. “I was doing features, doing a lot of covers and working with a lot of other artists but I was still at a place where… I hadn’t 100% found me.”

Born in Nairobi before moving to Australia at the age of seven, Wameyo’s musical streak initially came as a surprise to her family. “People would ask ‘where is that child from?” she says. “Music kind of came to me when I came to Australia; in school, choir has always been a compulsory thing, but I was one of those kids who just stuck to it over the years. I just loved it so much; I remember every lunch time we’d go into the music room, and play on the glockenspiel. I started on that instrument actually, and then worked my  way up to piano.”

A fan of soulful artists like Aretha Franklin and Lauren Hill growing up, her classroom brush with music offered Wameyo an outlet to bare her own. “I’ve always just loved using music to express myself, especially coming to a country where there’s no one that looks like you – I was basically living in white worlds, and I think music was one of those things that helped me. People didn’t look at me like, ‘Who is this new black girl?’, but, ‘Oh, who is this girl that can really sing?’”

Dysp0ra and Elsy peform on Tonightly

A decisive moment came when Wameyo began to frequent Northern Sound System (NSS), a music-focussed youth centre in Elizabeth that features a venue and recording spaces. It has helped launch the careers of high profile Adelaide exports like Tkay Maidza, but it was meeting another regular at the centre, rapper Dysp0ra (Gabriel Akon), that set Wameyo onto her current path.

“I used to live northside, and my dad could see that I had this passion for music, and really tried to push me and put me in a position where I could prosper,” she recalls. “So he took me to that studio, I used to come there every Monday after school – they have sessions where anyone and everyone can come in, make music and just jam. One day we were just jamming, and I met Dys in the studio where he was recording with the other Playback 808 crew, and asked, ‘Who is this girl?’”

“NSS was really where I met the music industry, everyone that I know now, most of them are from NSS,” she says. “It’s just become like this home; everyone’s there and I can just make music and do what I love.” Wameyo was soon invited to perform at a gig Akon and his label collective Playback 808 had organised, followed by a guest spot on a new song he was working on. Before long, Wameyo and Akon were flying to Sydney to perform the track to a national television audience on ABC2’s Tonightly. Wameyo’s debut single Intuition came soon after through Playback 808, and in the past 12 months she has performed at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival and and Groovin The Moo.

“It feels like it was only a few days a go when I was at school, singing in a choir or at assemblies,” she says. “But it’s so unreal, not only to play those shows but to see my name alongside artists like Sampa The Great – it’s unreal to me.”

This week, Wameyo will perform at industry showcase mini-festival Scouted, before heading into the studio to work on her debut EP, aided in part by a grant from Carclew. “We’re sitting down, planning and writing, just trying to create,” she says of working with artist Dave Court and producer Mario Späte (Tkay Maidza), with whom she cut 2018’s club-oriented single Daily. “Mario is a genius; as a musician growing up I’ve always been known as a soul artist, but when I did Daily with him it opened up a whole other world to other people, and even myself. 

“I told him I want to have soul but I also want energy,” she says of their next collaboration. “Energy is the word that’s resonating with me now.”

Elsy Wameyo at Scouted 2019
Friday, July 26
The Stag

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