Tina Ardor is one of the leading voices of her generation who, in a signature luscious vocal performance, she traipses the evasive Kenyan sound. Tina draws inspiration from several languages for her music. Her native Kikuyu to lakeside Dholuo, and Luhya to Kiswahili among other African languages.
She is trailblazing creative paths in the House and Afro House music scene that are yet uncharted. The artistry and talent are versed uniquely; all within the space of 240 bars. Within five years, Tina Ardor has pushed her artistic boundaries with every release and more recently, DJ + Live performances. The music is smidgen with the diverse Kenyan culture and folklore.
“I am very attached [to the music] so it’s more than just singing”, she tells Sound Safari. It is this unique combination of elements that makes her who she is.
In casual conversation, Tina Ardor is energetic, and often optimistic. Nonchalantly, she quotes Proverbs 3:5-6 during our conversation about having a team and mentors willing to share their expertise. It is a show of understanding of the creative and business textures of the music industry.
Sound Safari caught up with the artist for a Q&A. Our conversation, edited for content and clarity, follows as below.
Sound Safari: What’s your earliest memory of music?
Tina Ardor: I was always the curious child who was into music festivals and such. My parents would say I needed to focus on education more and I would let up for a while. Best believe I was back in the festivals the next term.
What roles did you play in the festivals?
I started with traditional dances which is something I love to date – that’s why I sing in vernacular languages. We would dance to folk songs from various communities from all over Kenya. I never did a solo performance until I underwent formal training in class seven. The school got us a performance trainer who was from the military and the training stuck.
I continued participating in various roles until I joined high school. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to funkies but luckily we had inter-house competitions. It is during this period that I composed my first musical work.
Whatever the path, you would always end up in the music world.
Yes! I remember I went for evening preps and was bothered about the melody and stage performance of the piece I was working on for our house. Ideas started popping up and I wrote the composition in one sitting. It was inspired by the dances and melodies of my primary school experiences.
The song had different sections and we had at least five different Kenyan languages in there. We rehearsed with my whole house and presented the piece. The energy was crazy and our house won the competition.
Wow, so you have always been multilingual from a young age?
Not really. I ask the speakers of the language to help in translation which they gracefully do. The beauty of language is that you don’t need to form rhyme schemes when writing. The trick is during the delivery of your words, it is all about the landing. I choose the path of writing and singing in vernacular because of my deep appreciation of African cultures. The richness of it is unquantifiable and refreshing.
How long did it take you to record your first song?
I had friends on campus who were in a music group. For whatever reason, the girl who was to do harmonies didn’t show up. Therefore, I stepped in and did what I had to. It was my first studio session and it sounded cool. They shot a music video a few weeks later, but I didn’t show up. The song is somewhere online. (Sound Safari found it, listen to the very first recording of Tina Ardor here)
Tina Ardor: After this experience, my brothers pushed me to record my music. Fortunately, MGM and Mike Muema were cooking up something in the studio at the time and I joined. It was scary to do a whole song on my own. That’s how “Furahia” was recorded.
MGM has been a massive pillar in what I do today. He paved the way for me by sharing his passion for electronic music as he discovered it himself. I remember he would visit me in school and give me earphones to listen to the new music that was trending in the scene. MGM has always made sure I am updated on the latest music trends. It was inevitable to fall in love with the sounds that my brother introduced me to.
Sound Safari: What was the impact of “Furahia”?
Tina Ardor: It was after “Furahia” that I met Saint Evo. He loved the tune and even remixed it with his Equatorial House flavour. It was such a moment for me. We did our first collaboration with Saint Evo called “Pond” which is still my jam to date and I love it.
We started working together with his label and now international producers were getting involved. I feel privileged and blessed to have been around Saint Evo and his brother Jacob, both of whom have invaluable experience in the music business.
In our interview with MGM earlier, he mentioned that your family is musical
Yes, my song, “Maitu”, with Nawfel from Morocco, is inspired by the words of my mother. It was a difficult song to write so I asked her what I should sing about. She suggested “the arms of a mother” as she was thinking of her mother.
My dad on the other hand still experiments on musical instruments. I just learnt this morning that he plays the harmonica; he used to play it in church as a boy. My elder brother, Gabriel, is also into rap culture and supports our craft.
(Sound Safari found a song Gabriel produced, listen here and read our interview with MGM here)
You took some time to start performing, had you decided to sorely focus on being a recording artist?
No. I have always been a performer since my formative years. When I started as a recording artist, I always pictured myself on a big stage with a band – and lots of African percussive instruments.
What are some of the challenges you face as a vocalist?
The biggest struggle is that you don’t get regular bookings unless you’re the level of Msaki and the likes of course. It’s an uphill task explaining to promoters your rate card against the time you’ll be up on stage. Unfortunately, they don’t see the value of it.
Additionally, most producers are also DJs who earn from doing shows. It happens a lot when the vocalist is only a featured artist unlike in an equal collaboration. Accordingly, I incorporated DJ performances in my act. I guess time has a way of revealing new paths for us.
What are some of the other reasons for becoming a DJ?
I wanted to add value to myself and my craft. This isn’t the end, by the way, people should know I’m going to keep on improving. My brother, MGM, taught me how to use Virtual DJ and my first experience with decks was with Traktor Kontrol S4. I took deejaying more seriously in 2021.
How do you go about your music business as an independent artist?
I have a contract that I have been using since 2018 which I improve every so often. Gentlemen’s agreements are usually not upheld in the music industry. We need to be professional and make the business work because out there people are not joking. With contracts, you can claim your dues through legal channels if it gets to that level. Of course, things won’t be 100% every time which is understandable but where most promoters fail is in communication throughout the contract period.
Being an independent artist doesn’t mean I don’t have a team whom I consult with. First is my friend and mentor, Mr Eclectic, CEO of Pasqua Records and Pasqua Records SA. Secondly, I also regularly consult Wandia Kimani who has great business acumen and a vast network within the industry. And thirdly my brother MGM as we are in the same industry. I know he always has my back.
Which producer are you working with at the moment?
I work with the multi-talented Hendrick Sam. The first time I reached out to Hendrick was way before Furahia. He had put a snippet and I reached out but he was hesitant as he didn’t know me. As I released more music we got to work together on “Maitu”. Hendrick is so talented and he has been doing music professionally since he was young. He remains unmatched and I work with him on every song.
How is your creative process when writing?
As a writer who writes in different languages, I have to get the beats first before I can start. I am very attached to the music so it’s more than just singing. Subsequently, I select a language for the song then dive into folk songs from the culture and translate the feeling into the modern electronic music we make. Every song has a story and most of the songs are inspired by my mother.
My mum has a very weird, interesting, and beautiful memory; where she remembers songs she sang in nursery school. Mum will sing random tunes in the house and nonchalantly tell us they used to sing that tune for Jomo Kenyatta. I pick the tunes and do improv in my way. One of the tunes is “Njoke Njuge” which was featured in Caiiro’s new album, Pyramids.
To wrap up, what are some projects we should check out and where can we get updates?
I have a lot of projects. First, I recently released my single, “Kamweretho” with Atmos Blaq and Hendrick Sam in a two-track EP under Pasqua Records. Second, “Njoke Njuge” with Caiiro also dropped recently and I have never been more excited! Thirdly, I’ve just done my first Amapiano track: “Calling”, which is on MGM’s debut EP, My Element. Moreover, “Mwari wa Maitu”, a collaboration with Antonio Ocasio is also out. It is a fascinating and beautiful song that has an Afro/Latin/Caribbean vibe to it. The track is doing well and is currently at No. 1 on Traxsource Afrohouse Top 100 Chart! Yay!!
My website tinaardor(dot)com has all updates.