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Up-Close with Micah Miyanda

I BELIEVE I didn’t choose guitar; it chose me, says Micah Miyanda.

The 23-year-old Lusaka resident is one of the few young women that have honed their skills on the guitar and is increasingly becoming a regular session player in the local music industry.

Her musical resume already boasts of performing with some of Zambia’s biggest artistes. However, four years ago she saw her dreams fulfilled when she performed, almost quite by chance, for US jazz legend Earl Klugh. Since then, her career seems to be going from strength to strength.

The future looks bright for Micah, who recently completed degree studies at the University of Zambia. She shares her journey thus far.

When did you begin developing an interest in music?

I’ve always had an interest in music. I think it’s because I have been watching my mother sing in the choir for as long as I can remember. My father says I get my musical talent from my grandfather (General Godfrey Miyanda) who plays guitar as well. But music has always been a big part in my family. When I was growing up, my grandmother, my mother and I would always sing three-part harmony and my sister Samantha would always encourage me to sing more often.

In my 8th grade I took music as a subject till I completed high school. I always told my friends at school that music was meant for me because music was only introduced to the school the year I joined the school and it was removed when I graduated from high school. Music was always my highest grade in high school.

After high school I joined the church band where Emmanuel Siame aka Skillz was the lead guitarist. They taught how to be a disciplined musician and taught me the importance of teamwork in a band.

So how did you start playing guitar?

Finding out guitar was my instrument was quite difficult. When I began my music studies in high school, I started with keyboard and the recorder but they didn’t quite feel right. We were over 25 pupils and there was only one keyboard for practice. But there were five guitars. I was at a girls’ school and a stringed instrument was more challenging than playing keyboard so I took on the challenge. And I was the only guitarist in my school. But I believe I didn’t choose guitar; it chose me.

Where do you draw inspiration from musically?

There are many people who inspire me, even people who are not guitarists.
My first inspiration was my grade music teacher Mr Lungu. then came Emmanuel Siame who introduced me to a whole world of musicians like Elvie, Sheba, Earl Klugh and George Benson.
Other people who inspire me are Nchimunya Matongo and David Beenzu who are my favourite vocalists and always inspire me to sing as well.

Speaking of the great Earl Klugh, you performed alongside him in 2015. Describe what that experience was like.

Performing alongside Earl Klugh was one of the highlights of my just beginning music career.
I was ministering with Abel Chungu at the time and we were invited to play at a private dinner before the 2015 Stanbic Jazz Festival. When we went backstage I met Oliver Mtukudzi and Maureen Lilanda and other great musicians and I was telling them that I was a guitarist and that I believed I was a lost child of Earl Klugh and that he is here to take me back home with him. And so the attentive small crowd backstage asked that I play one of his songs, and so I played ‘Angelina’. Little did I know that i was playing for Earl Klugh’s band mates! So when Earl Klugh got to the stage and I saw his band mates, I sank to the ground with an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment. When I finally got over that feeling, I grabbed my guitar and played along on my table that was at the back of the dinner room where he was performing.
Moments later, they announced that they were about to play their last song and when they finished, one of his band mates got the microphone and said “Earl Klugh, we have a surprise for you”. We were all anxiously waiting for what it was and then I heard, “Micah, please come to the stage and play ‘Angelina’ for us”. I couldn’t believe my ears. I froze while everyone who didn’t know who Micah was looked around the room in search of this ‘surprise’. So I gathered up all my courage and met Earl Klugh on stage. He let me play his guitar for a while, but it had no frets so I gave it back to him (laughs).

Throughout the dinner the crowd was making a lot of noise and you could barely hear the music. But in that moment everyone was so quiet, I could hear my heart beating out of my chest. And so I played ‘Angelina’ and ‘Living inside your love’ by Earl Klugh. I think he was impressed because ‘Living inside your love’ is played with an entire band but I played it alone with my acoustic nylon stringed guitar.
He later on posted our video to his social media pages and then I was famous around the world for a day!

What other performances have been most memorable for you?

Other performances wouldn’t come close to Earl Klugh because he had been my idol for a long time.
But last year I was picked to be one of six members of a girl band put together by the British Council. I was the only one from Zambia. The drummer was from Kenya, the vocalist from Malawi, the trombone player from South Africa, the bassist and trumpeter from the United Kingdom. We formed a band now called Banou Azania, meaning ‘Royal Africa’. We performed together for the first time only after about 18hours of practice – at the Lake of Stars Festival where we shared the stage with Sauti so and DJ Major Lazer, and many other amazing artistes from around the world.
Thereafter we performed in Johannesburg, South Africa and had an outstanding performance there as well. We look to inspire more girls around the world with the new sound that we created.

What else did you learn from that experience?

I learnt that girls can also be just as great at playing musical instruments as men, and that people should not bring us down just because we are women. I learnt that my band members had also experienced men trying to dampen their musical abilities just because they were women and instruments were considered to be for men.

I also learnt that working with women isn’t such a horrible thing, as people may say that women can’t work together. I found out that the only reason that is is because men give women so little opportunity that women are left to fight for that small space and it makes it seem like women don’t work together and just compete, which wasn’t the case with me and my band members. With all my years playing in ‘boy bands’, I found it easier to work with an all-female band than with men.

Are you currently working on any music projects?

The only music project I’m working on is Banou Azania. We have been invited to play in different countries this year and that’s what I’m focusing on right now.

You completed your degree programme at the University of Zambia last year. Is there a reason you chose to pursue gender studies?

When I was at UNZA I intended to study economics, which I did for the first year. But I guess God had other plans and something went wrong in second year and I wasn’t quartered there. Instead I was given gender studies and my mum encouraged me that it was for the best and so I went with it. It has proven to be a great course and best fitted for me. I have noticed that people study what society is telling them to study because they bring jobs that have great prestige. But I believe people should study what best suits them and not what is expected of them by society and that’s where real development will begin.

What’s your message to other female musicians?

My encouragement for everyone is that they should pursue their dreams. If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough. Develop your talent and it will bring you before kings and queens. Always believe in yourself and inspire others to do the same.

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