femfest 2016: meet zed kenzo, hip-hop artist

“FemFest is important to me because women are often undermined, ignored, ridiculed and insulted as both people and artists,” Zed Kenzo told 88Nine, Milwaukee’s local radio station that loves to lift up our homegrown artists. They caught up with 11 Riverwest FemFest performers to share what the Fest means to them—and everyone’s answers made it pretty clear that this powerhouse of a hip-hop artist isn’t alone. “We are way more under scrutiny and not given the opportunities that our male counterparts are given simply because we are female. FemFest gives us a platform to unite as artists, use our power combine our energy and take a stand that says, ‘Yes, we can do the same thing as you, we are talented, we are independent and we are not playing around.’ I’m simply grateful that it exists and feel honored to be a part of it.”

Zed Kenzo and I talked last night after she finished up an all-ages show at the Jazz Gallery in Riverwest, where Friday night’s FemFest shows will happen. It’s a meaningful effort to include more venues even for the non-21-year-olds in a music festival all about celebrating strong, diverse, inspiring women. I know teenage me would have l-o-v-e-d FemFest.

Suggestion: Hit play on this song and read a little more from Zed Kenzo before her show on Saturday night.

Zed Kenzo 02 People With Panache: How did you get involved in the Milwaukee music scene after coming back from LA?

Zed Kenzo: I was asked by my friend Kiran, a.k.a. Q the Sun, to join the bill for an all-womyn lineup for a show called “Festivale Fatale” where I met Queen Tut , Fivy and Cat Ries of NO/NO and Pleasure Thief (her solo artist name). From that point on, other individuals in the Milwaukee music scene kept asking me to join bills.

PWP: Besides it being fun to make and awesome to be part of, does your music fit into making a living for yourself?

ZK: I mean, sort of? I do have a regular 9-to-5 job at a law office. I don’t do shows for money. Most of the shows I’ve done have been benefit shows for Planned Parenthood, Milwaukee Public Schools, Hunger Task Force.

PWP: I interviewed Ruth B8r Ginsburg a few weeks ago, and they talked about music as a tool for activism, for real issues.

ZK: Yeah! I’m glad I got to come into this kind of scene, instead of some places that are cutthroat and just focused on making money. 

I feel safe being around a community of not only artists, but womyn, female-bodied individuals or what have you, who want to uplift one another and protect their community. I have witnessed, heard of and personally experienced very unpleasant scenarios that have been responded to with positive reactions and a goal to find solutions rather than malice, or even worse, neglect. On the music side, I feel for the most part I am surrounding myself with good people.

PWP: That’s awesome to hear. What advice would you give tZed Kenzo 01o a woman who dreams of making music and sharing it?

ZK: Just go out there and do it. Don’t hold yourself back. I had done this with music for many years because I was afraid of what people would think of me and my music. I mainly focused on being a professional dancer and creating my visual art—I felt safer doing that. Then through support of others and simply getting older, I learned that other people should not be worth inhibiting creative expression. Be yourself and do what you love, and don’t let the idea of people judging or not accepting you hold you back.

PWP: I think that translates beyond art, too. What is most fulfilling about making music?

ZK: It just feels right. I feel like I’m at home; this is when I’m really myself. It’s vulnerable, honest, empowering.

PWP: And how do you see FemFest growing?

ZK: Someone asked Johanna this recently; said she’d like it to grow nationally, to spread and make the bill even more expansive. I want FemFest to show that this is how beautiful women are—and we are powerful and magical and smart and talented. We can be in charge. 

PWP: Hell yeah we can. And I don’t think there’s any way FemFest could NOT grow! This weekend and in general, what do you hope people get out of your work?

ZK: I hope they can get that you can be weird, you can be different, you can not fit in. People admire brave people willing to put themselves out there. I’m just me. If you can just be yourself and people respect you, that’s really important. If they like your music on top of that, that’s even cooler!

Zed Kenzo plays on Saturday, January 23, at 12:15-12:45am at Company Brewing.

[Photos provided by Zed Kenzo.]

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