“I developed a love for music from my early childhood and at the age of 6 I had my very first solo performance in the nursery school concert. It gives me chills, just thinking back to how I knew where I belonged as a creative, even as a child”

Singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, performer, lecturer, vocal and performance coach Katlego Kamogelo Matsoso was born in Vaal Triangle, Vereerning 24 years ago. Her dad who was an educator would purchase vinyl records, CD’s and DVD’s which inevitably became Kamo’s. Her mother who is an Occupational Health Practitioner also has a love for art. She worked very closely with the architect in the planning and the redesign of their family home.

To her friends in music and social circles, she is simply known as Kamo Matsoso. While at primary school in Vereeniging, she used the name Katlego. “It was only when I went to do high school education in Pretoria East that I began using the name Kamo, because there just happened to be so many Katlegos at our school”, with a laughter. She has an older sister and a younger brother. “I am a middle child and have middle child blues. That is normal right?”, with another laughter.

Kamo’s journey as a musician started at the age of 7 where she played her first instrument which was the piano and went to take on the flute at the age of 10. “Sometimes, not by premediated choice, I always try to discover what else I can do that others are afraid of”, she told Jazz It Out. Her parents were always aware of her talents. However, it was her mother who wanted to see her do more than just singing.

The supportive mother bought Kamo her first instrument, which was a second-hand Casio keyboard. “I still remember it. I loved”, she recalls. Her mother did not end there. She paid for Kamo’s keyboard lessons, encouraged her father to allow her to do more music and from there onwards her journey grew. Kamo’s mother has been a dancer and model when she was younger. “My mother always encouraged me to see things creatively and act on my talents”, Kamo beaming with pride.

Kamo Matsoso. Picture by Boipelo Khunou

It was at Arcon Park Primary School in Vereeniging that the young and confident Kamo asked her educator Mrs Louw if she could sing for her. Without any hesitation, Mrs Louw opened her piano and asked “what would you like to sing for me” and the immediate answer was “Amazing Grace”. She was so amazed by Kamo’s young voice and stopped in the middle of the song to give her 7-year-old Grade 2 learner a hug. Immediately, Kamo was referred to a younger educator Ms Joyce van Rooyen. “A key element in my early childhood development”, she recalls.

Asked why did she see the importance of playing an additional instrument, she said: “I did not choose the second or third instrument. They just felt into my destiny – honestly. While I was getting keyboard and voice lessons from Ms Van Rooyen she then referred me a music conservatoire, which was at a school 15 minutes away from mine”. At this stage, she was in Grade 5. Ms Van Rooyen wanted Kamo to learn music theory so that she could understand the methods and technicalities of reading music.

It was at this conservatoire where the music theory teacher encouraged Kamo’s father to enroll her for flute lessons. As she did, she was introduced to classical music and granted the opportunity to play in the conservatoire’s Con Amore orchestra. “I was the first Black and very young pupil to join Con Amore in 2006 at the age of 11”, she told Jazz It Out. She also enrolled with music boards such as Trinity College of Music, Royal Schools of Music and UNISA where she completed her grades.

Kamo headed to Pro Arte Alphen Park, an art and business school in Pretoria East where she majored in classical music and also learned her third instrument which was the alto saxophone. Her father and Ms van Rooyen always imagined her playing the instrument. “Besides, the bodies and mechanisms of the flute and saxophone are very much alike”, she said. Kamo wanted to be one of the few Black women to play the saxophone. Her leadership qualities were also identified at school. “I was a head girl at Arcon Park Primary School and was consistently an A student on the top ten. At Pro Arte, I became Vice President of the student leadership”, she added.

Picture by Gavin Goodman

She recalls how the conversation about what to enroll for at university was “the easiest part for her” because she already gone through such a long and extensive journey of proving to her parents what she wanted from early childhood. “There were concerns of where I would end up after my studies, but with time, especially during my studies, those anxieties subsided when my parents and I together realized the amounts of opportunities that I had to grab and create for myself through my degree and even beyond that”, Kamo told Jazz It Out.

The young and ambitious Kamo completed her studies in Performing and Visual Arts where she majored in Jazz Performance and Performing Arts Management at the Wits School of Arts at The University of the Witwatersrand in 2016 and in 2017 she completed and graduated with an honours degree in History of Art and Music Business from the same institution. She is still a part time student at Wits where she is studying towards a Master’s Degree in History of Art. Her research explores the politics of the Black Female body in the Performance Art.

While studying for her junior degree, Kamo realized that life as an arts student was a blessing and sometimes a curse. She even questioned if she was on the right path many a times. She learnt that studying something that is considered “a gift” is tricky, because it gets personal when your marks as a student reflect back on “your talent”. “I had to quickly learn the difference between skill and talent and what I am mostly grateful for was learning to critically harness and refine my talent in order for me to be skillful”, she said.

“To be honest, I just say I have been a professional musician for four years, but I have been for longer. When I was in high school I was already doing gigs and performing on theatre stages in productions and shows”

Performing at the Orbit. Picture by Thabo Mohaneng

Kamo is grateful to have had teachers who genuinely believed in her ability and thus introduced her to people who would grant her amazing opportunities. “I began working independently as Kamo Matsoso, the musician in 2015. The experience has been humbling. I have met, engaged and worked with several amazing artists who have really poured growth and light into my journey as an artist. I have also met and worked with artists that I have always admired and looked up to”, justifying the career path she chose.

Since turning professional, she has learnt a few lessons. One of those is to be open to learning something new. Kamo believes you will never get to a place in your life where you know “too much” as an artist. She has also learnt to be patient with her journey and herself. “There is always an opportunity to learn about yourself in music and other fields through those who are older and those who are younger”, she added.

Kamo is currently working on a showcase called “Display Cases”, with two other artists, Kgaugelo Mashilo who is sculptor and multi-disciplinary artist, and choreographer, performer and lecturer Kamogelo Molopye. This work is a collaborative project where they integrate three disciplines, fine arts, physical movement as music to challenge and interrogate our bodies as cases and we will be travelling through the country as well as Namibia and hopefully other parts of the world performing this work and engaging with it on an academic and performance level.

“All forms of arts are birthed by one mother. We are all artists and it is imperative for us to genuinely integrate our skills and work, because they feel into each other. Hence the project Kamogelo, Kgaugelo and I are working on”. She added: “Think about it this way, an artist that records an album and releases it will need a fine artist to do their album cover artwork or a photographer to capture their audio production visually for the cover or even for the music video. This very same artist will need a choreographer to assist them in choreography for a music video or a stage performance too”, Kamo told Jazz It Out.

Performing her own composition entitled Grateful at Jazz Is Not Lost edition by It Has To Be Jazz.  With Joshua Mokoena on keyboard, Mathapelo Wesinyane on alto saxophone, Angus Hardcastle on bass and Enoch Marutha on percussion.

She is concerned about performance spaces closing down due to lack of finances to keep them open. This dynamic performer has many compositions that are thoroughly enjoyed by the audiences which she plans to release for those that need to hear what she has to say musically. “I will either release a full project or an EP at the very least. Every time she gets asked “why perform Jazz and not R&B, House”, she responds with a rhetorical question “why not Jazz”.

When people hear that someone of her age is creating and embracing jazz music they must not think she is only singing bebop, or swing to a Bheki Mseleku composition. “I am singing and playing music that has intentionally challenged the jazz status quo, using historical techniques to recreate new styles and tricks to tell our stories as young artists. Jazz is so diverse and those who know, know very well. Those who do not know yet, have actually encountered this diversity”, she concluded.

Catch Kamo’s performance tonight at The Carnelian starting at 19h00. Her Facebook account is Kamogelo Matsoso. @Kamo_Matsoso are her Twitter and Instagram accounts. Her YouTube channel is Sounds of Kamo.