Interview by ARMC | Edited by Reggie Rasodi
Exploring the dynamic world of Kamo Matsoso, a talent whose artistry extends across music, entrepreneurship, academia, and more. “The first time I met this extraordinary woman, she confidently sat across me at the Basadi in Music Awards mental health workshop in her elegant green dress, were she was a speaker” Reggie Rasodi added. Join us on a journey through the achievements and contributions of this award-winning musician, creative entrepreneur, arts facilitator, and academic powerhouse.
Please share a little journey about your musical journey while introducing yourself?
My name is Kamo Matsoso. A South African musician and multi-disciplinary artist, creative entrepreneur, arts facilitator and academic. I have worked towards honing and cultivating my skills in the arts, especially in music almost all of my life. My journey began at the age of 7 in primary school when I began singing in school and thus doing voice lessons, of which that led me to learning other instruments such as the keyboard. It was through this venture that I was introduced to a conservatoire in my town in Vereeniging and there I learned the flute and music theory and I was placed in an orchestra called Con Amore, where I was the first black child to ever play in the orchestra and there I played the flute.
That opportunity led me to go audition at an art school in Pretoria called Pro Arte Alphen Park and that is where I got my high school education and attained my National Senior Certificate. Pro Arte has an extremely special place in my heart, because that was where my music education was carved and where my dream to be a musician was truly realized. There I majored in classical music and I played the flute, alto saxophone and I got classical and contemporary voice training. The school prided itself in empowering its scholars and it was there where I began really performing in productions at the state theatre and at shows and events where I would sing and play in the performances. This was when I truly acknowledged and heeded the call, accepting and embracing that on the stage was where I truly belonged.
In 2012 I matriculated and I went to further my studies in the arts at The University of the Witwatersrand where I studied Performing and Visual Arts and there I majored in Jazz Music, Performing Arts Management, History of Art and Music Business. It was in university where I began truly finding a true love for Jazz and my gift in the space. I graduated in 2017 and in 2018 I found myself performing in platforms and spaces that I would never have imagined myself performing at.
I have since performed at several venues, events and media platforms and all of these opportunities have opened many more doors for me and introduced me to many more musicians, councils and organizations that I have had the pleasure of working and collaborating with to make music. Through this journey I have also found other talents in the arts management and education and I have thus worked for amazing organizations such as Joy of Jazz, Front Row Afrika, The National Arts Council and I have also opened my owned businesses in the arts where I train artists and help them carve their own journeys and hone their skills, especially as vocalists and performers. I have also lectured research and critical thinking to university scholars in the arts teaching them how to look at their art and work not just from a creative lens, but a critical lens in order for them to make work that is ethical, informed and impactful.
In 2021 I won the Sunday World Unsung Hero Award in the category of Sports, Arts and Culture and I have continued to create, perform, collaborate, facilitate and educate to see the arts grow and develop further.
It sounds like music has always been in your blood but what motivated you to choose music as your career path?
I always say, this journey was called for me long before I embarked on it. I was always stimulated by music and by art in general even as a child and I am grateful that both my parents loved and embraced the arts. My mom as a health practitioner loved painting and listening to music and she would encourage me to paint with her and would play her favourite Classical tunes as we painted.
My father as an education specialist who went to further his studies in law loved Jazz and would take me with him to shows and encourage me to sing. I had always loved singing and both my parents wanted to see me embrace that, even as a child. Therefore, I think I can easily say that my parents motivated me to choose this journey of music and the arts as a whole and even with their uncertainty at times of how I will be able to sustain myself, I was never discouraged from following the dream and this career path.
Autonomously, I can say that what has also kept me going was the gift of music itself. I feel alive on stage or in studio or while creating. I am always reminded that I belong in this space and that I have a story to tell and that someone is listening. I am especially affirmed when I perform my original music and I see how it moves those that attend my shows. I can also state that I am motivated by constantly realizing how much the arts have to offer to those who constantly devote their lives, time and commitment to them. As much as there are many challenges that come with being an artist, there are equally so many opportunities. You just truly have to immerse yourself in this space and yourself to find them and to let them find you.
All of these elements and more, keep me incredibly motivated and make me look forward to unravelling many more moments, lessons, experiences and opportunities in this career path.
Do you have a moment when you felt empowered as a woman in the music industry? And if so, how did that shape your career?
This question is quite an interesting one and one that is quite dear to my heart. I do not think I can share a moment as such, as there have been several moments and it would take me a while to mention. However, what I will mention has shaped my career in this regard as a woman, has been finding safe spaces and communities with other women and people in this industry who have truly looked out for me and have helped me or have been safe spaces and landings for me.
We all know very well that as arts practitioners and people working in this industry we are faced with many battles. Too many to mention, but nothing is as affirming as meeting people along that way who stand in the gaps for you, speak in rooms when you are not there for you, support you, lift you up or just become safe communities for you to vent, express your pains or celebrate your big or small wins. I have been truly blessed to meet such people, work with them and build long standings relationships with them that I can constantly lean into and or rely on and they can do the same with me too.
I am grateful for all of the people that have referred me to a gig, mentioned my names in rooms I never thought would be mentioned in, booked me without me releasing an album, have given me great opportunities just off seeing me perform. I am also grateful for people I have worked with, collaborated with who have respected my music and my gifts and friends and fellow colleagues who have held space for me in humbling and heartwarming ways. These moments have affirmed me, lifted me up and have kept me going in ways I can truly not describe.
It takes a village and I am extremely grateful for the experiences with the people I have mentioned above, they have empowered me and helped me build my career to this point.
At ARMC, we believe that representation matters. How has the concept of representation influenced your career, and what approach do you aspire to adopt in the music industry to serve as a positive example for future generations?
These questions are so beautiful. Wow! I wish I could answer in depth to explain what this question means to me, but I will answer it as briefly and truthfully as I can, here. I have always found that when we see people that look like us doing the things we dream of doing… that opens our minds and hearts to worlds our feet have not yet even reached. I discovered this when I fell in love with Lira as a child. Seeing how she was rejected by the industry and then made her way back in an impeccable way, with her album Soul in Mind in 2008 or 2009 and how her career catapulted thereafter made me see that it can happen for me and so many other black women in this industry, in different and unique ways.
I am inspired and moved by many women, but as a teenage girl I remember going to watch her show at The Carnival City Big Top Arena. I remember it like it was yesterday. Lira walked in performing ‘Hamba’ and in that instant moment I remember being overwhelmed by my emotions and saying to myself “No matter how long it takes, one day that will be me.” That is the power of representation. Where you see someone who looks like you do what looks like a dream to you and then you realize that you too can do that. It changes how you see yourself and makes you see that there is a world of possibility for you.
It is this concept that has inspired me to be truthful to myself in this industry and to appear as I AM. Not as anybody else, but to show up as ME. No matter how much that could be rejected by others. It has taught me to embrace myself, to see myself, love myself and show up as the woman I see myself to be and to go for every opportunity I strive for just as the WOMAN THAT I AM. This way I would like to inspire many more people who look like me to do the same in their own unique ways, that even when they are creating that they create from a place of truth and a place that truly reflects them and who they are and that reflects on the stories that they truly want to tell… no matter how long it takes for those stories and songs to be heard.
Collaboration is key in the music world. Could you tell us about a memorable collaboration with another talented woman and what you learned from the experience?
Remember those communities and safe spaces that have kept me empowered as a woman in this industry that I spoke about? Well a beautiful and phenomenal woman that I have had the blessing and honour of working with comes from these encounters. Her name is Mandisa Bardill and she has worked in the industry for many years performing in stage productions, collaborating with DJs and making music with many different artists and she has made timeless moves in the arts and production management spaces where she herself has empowered and pushed the brands, names and performances of other artists, like myself. Disa is her stage name and two years ago she asked me to be on a very special song with her, called ‘Ready To Fly’. The song addresses the topic of Gender Based Violence and in the single she speaks about her own experience and the challenges she faced when walking out of an abusive relationship. She also talks about the fear that leads to liberation when you finally take your power back.
As a woman and an artist, this moment was a turning point for me, because I was confronted with the responsibility I knew I had with this collaboration. This was not just some sweet song, it was a song telling the story of many women in this country and in this world. The stories of women who have won the battle and some who succumbed to the battle due to this violent and monstrous social issue. I was humbled by the opportunity and especially humbled by Disa for trusting me and I learned to honour people’s stories for the integrity of the narrative and the impact it has in the world. This process also helped me to dig deeper and confront other issues we face in relationships that we fear discussing due to shame and fear and it allowed me to write some of my own experiences.
I thus look forward to recording my album and working with other women and people who can honour the music I write and embrace its truth and impact, just as ‘Ready To Fly’ allowed me to do.