The first time I heard about IMI was because of Dala Vol 2. She was one of the Afro indie-soul musicians performing at the live acoustic session in Nairobi, organized by one Junior Nyongo (If you know you know).
I was this close to going, even though I didn’t know who she was, or whether she was Kenyan or not. But the soulful singer-songwriter eventually caught my attention with her debut acoustic EP in October 2018.
According to her Instagram, IMI or Iminza is 23-year-old singer and guitarist who loves to post covers of her favourite songs. She was born and raised in Kenya but currently lives in Madrid, Spain pursuing a double bachelors in Business Administration and Comparative Law. All while creating and performing music at the same damn time.
Being in a foreign country on your own forces you to do things, like become independent. Learn new skills. New to the Madrid music scene with sparse connections, Iminza had to learn music production. And that’s how Roots x Wings came to be.
You can tell she took her meticulous time creating this Extended Play (which is shorter than an album). All the 7 tracks have a strong acoustic sound with intricate guitar and vocal arrangements. Each song feels carefully handcrafted – like a timeless art piece.
Roots x Wings plays like a tape cassette with two sides (remember those?) In a generation flooded with the same old love songs, IMI decided to explore a different side of life. Self-discovery.
Side A: Roots is about anchoring yourself while Wings glides over how to express yourself in this world. The continuing theme in this project is a soul-searching journey of what grounds us and what enables us to soar.
The first three tracks anchor you to this self-produced EP, decorated with IMI’s sweet harmonies and alluring guitar. Echoes in The Wind is a reminder of that voice that constantly whispers your unfulfilled dreams to your ear. No matter how much you drown it with life and being busy, your purpose always keeps calling. Like echoes in the wind singing to me effortlessly, relentlessly.
Can you hear them?
A Hero’s Tale stuck onto my brain from the first listen. Just like the title suggests, it’s a story about bravery and you’re the protagonist. Your enemy – everyday fears and insecurities that taunt and scare you from living your purpose. Am I good enough? Can I really do it?
No worries, IMI is on your side as a powerful sidekick.
Look into the eyes of the beast, look past the lies and deceit
I’m champion of ethereal, conqueror of surreal
The final part of Roots circles around the big 6-letter-word. Who do you want to be, will you leave a legacy… IMI croons in Legacy. A simple yet significant question as we all want to be remembered for something when we die. Whether it’s planting a million trees or making the blind see.
As you think about your legacy, side A fades away.
Enter x, the clever bridge between the two EP sides. Winged – anchored, IMI repeats in the ethereal-like interlude that’s 20 seconds shy of 2 minutes. She has found her roots, now she’s ready to fly.
Part B starts with the only love song on the project, which is a rare thing really. There’s always that one song that’s an instant favourite among fans and listeners. In this acoustic EP, it’s Dejame (pronounced as Dehame).
Iminza reveals her Spanish connection with both the guitar riffs and sensual lyrics. You might even think she’s a born speaker listening to it.
In Dejame (Let Me), she generously offers to be her lover’s comfort and to be everything he (or she) needs – and wants. It’s tough to give yourself to another like that when we are all terribly afraid of rejection and heartbreak. But once you know who you are, it is easy to love someone wholeheartedly.
When I’m with you I feel like I can fly, when I’m with you it’s such a strong high
Dreamscape has a darker and more subtle production as compared to the rest of the tracks. With a lot of reverb and standalone keys, it sounds like a song Evanescence helped produced. But it keeps up with the empowering theme.
IMI reminds you there’s nothing you can’t achieve inside your dreams. Even when the world tries to trap you in this false reality, escape to the limitless dreamscape where anything is possible. Including producing a whole EP by yourself in a foreign country.
As I discovered my Roots x Wings, it reminded me of another Kenyan acoustic EP I love. Serve Chilled – which was released early 2018 – is coincidentally also about self-identity. The talented Kenyan singer-songwriter and guitarist Ciano Maimba explores the human journey using intricate melodies, intelligent lyrics and relaxing guitar riffs with the help of the Nairobi producer M cubed.
And as if it couldn’t get creepier, their collaborative EP also has a track called Dreamscapes.
Germaine is the perfect ending to Roots x Wings. It’s also the most emotional. Instead of singing, Iminza dives into spoken word, beginning with a 7 to 1 countdown like Kendrick Lamar in Freedom. She sounds like a seasoned spoken word artist with a golden voice that drips honey whenever she sings or talks.
If you don’t understand what the countdown is about, she later explains the tragic story behind it.
As I had suspected, this final track is based on a true story. The moving spoken-word piece was written by IMI’s close friend and poet Nteranya Arnold Sanginga who was related to 7-year-old Germaine. Writing this was his way to make peace with his loss. Because Wings means freedom.
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: the first one is roots, the other one is wings” – Sudanese Proverb
Roots x Wings is simple enough to be enjoyed by anyone and powerful enough to be listened to by everyone. The Kenyan acoustic EP which is available on your favourite digital platform goes well on a lazy afternoon when you just want to lie back and chill. Or at 3 am when everyone is asleep and you’re deep in your existential crisis.
Oh, and you are free to interpret the lyrics in your own way. After all, we have different identities in this life journey.
I must admit, this acoustic EP has transformed me from wondering who IMI is into a new fan who listens to Roots x Wings every other week. Her legacy? She’ll be remembered for creating this beautiful piece of art that allows us to dig deep into ourselves. Who are we and who do we want to be?