How I found my voice in Japan3 minute read

Hi everyone, I’m Swinky and I’m a singer.

Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, I sang in school and in church. Now and then I’d join choirs and enjoy being a part of something bigger than myself. People felt uplifted and/or entertained, and I was glad to be using my talent for good. But never in my wildest dreams did I even dare to think I could do it for a living. People pay me to sing? And then I pay rent? No, you have to be Mariah Carey for that to happen. And I’m not. Kill those fantasies right there before you set yourself up for disappointment and rejection.

Fear has been an inescapable spectre my whole life. Afraid to fail. Afraid to disappoint. Afraid to be vulnerable. I brought that fear with me to Japan. I immersed myself in the culture and integrated into the society I’ve come to love and cherish as my second home. I met people who played music just for fun, and we played at festivals in and around Tokyo.

After every performance, people would come to thank me for brightening up their day or for singing their favourite song. Every interaction almost invariably ended with them encouraging me to keep singing. They didn’t care that I was quivering on stage and awkwardly waiting for my turn to sing. They were just enamoured by the idea of a Kenyan singing in Japan, and alas! Even in Japanese!

So I clutched desperately to that validation. I started writing my own songs in English and Kiswahili. Writing lyrics in Japanese has never felt authentic for me. I tried it and I couldn’t help giggling at how phoney they sounded. I played my songs in front of people and got a good reaction, but I still kept my full time job. Kind comments weren’t going to pay my bills.

One evening after returning home from work at 1AM, I was surprised to find my partner still awake. With the most solemn expression I’ve ever seen on his face, he said, “Swinky, I can’t watch you waste your life this way. If you take the leap and start your singing career, I’ll always be there to catch you. But if you don’t, I can’t keep waiting for you to come home.” I don’t take kindly to ultimatums because it feels like someone is offering you the illusion of choice while they’re essentially forcing your hand. But Pyuu was so sincere. He was heartbroken. He saw something in me that I hadn’t the slightest chance of perceiving because I was blinded by fear.

So, I quit my job the next day and started singing full time. I began from scratch, building my repertoire daily and working anywhere and everywhere. Fast forward to four years later, and I have a self-produced album out! I have to schedule in days off or I’d be working constantly.

I gave my album the title Prototype, meaning that this is the first iteration of what I can do when I’m free to create. As I continue in my music career, I meet more musicians who expose me to other genres and expressions of music. I’m learning and growing.

Fear is still a constant and sobering companion, but at some point, I just have to look at the facts and accept that I’m slowly coming into my own. Music is moulding me into the best version of Swinky. Nothing feels truer to me than introducing myself as a singer.

Hi everyone, I’m Swinky and I’m a singer.

Swinky’s album is available on: Itunes, Amazon, and CD Baby.  

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Swinky is a Kenyan vocalist, songwriter and actress living in Japan. Her album Prototype is available on Itunes and Amazon as well as through her site.