For Kenyan-born singer-songwriter Naomi Wachira, living in the Yakima Valley for three years felt especially welcoming. Wachira, who sings beautifully and tenderly and who just released a new EP, “Save Everything” this summer, had moved to the Northwest in the early 2000s from Chicago. But as for many, Seattle, where she’d made roots and flourished as an artist, became too pricey. So, she picked up with her young daughter at the time and moved to Yakima with some friends. There Wachira lived from 2016 through 2019 until she packed up again to go on tour, playing her guitar and singing her big-hearted songs to fans all over the world. But when her mother got sick, she moved back to Kenya, where she’s been living with her mom and daughter through the pandemic.

Naomi Wachira
Naomi Wachira’s newest EP. Photo courtesy: Naomi Wachira

“The one thing I kept thinking about throughout the pandemic was the realization of looking at the world around us and how much is crumbling, falling apart,” Wachira says. “That crumbling is also a reflection of us as individuals. We’re also crumbling because of capitalism, or whatever you want to call it. Living in unsustainable ways, working for hours and hours and not taking care of ourselves.”

With this in mind, Wachira thought about salvation. Wachira, who grew up in the church in Christianity and lived for the beginning of her life in a Kenyan town built by missionaries that served the people with hospitals and schools, is concerned with making things better, especially for those who are suffering. So, with the whole world suffering in many ways, she wrote music. She started with herself.

“We start with ourselves,” she says. “Dealing with our own traumas and unhealed parts of ourselves. If we start there, we can extend it to people we are surrounded with, whether that’s a stranger or neighbor. Start with ourselves and move outward.”

Naomi Wachira
Naomi Wachira dressed for success. Photo credit: Janell Dell

When Wachira’s father passed away some years ago, she remembers the refrain she often heard from family and friends about how he’d helped them, saw something in them, gave that extra push. Today, her mother runs an orphanage in Kenya.

“Those were my roots,” Wachira says. “I came from a community where people took care of other people. My way of continuing that legacy is through music.” Yet, of course, this can also be a draining vocation. “You have to learn how to create boundaries,” she says. “To know when you’ve given enough and have nothing else to give people.”

For Wachira, who first began singing music in church around five years old, the art form has been an integral part of her life. In this way, carrying her guitar is like carrying a pail of water for thirsty people. With her family, she would travel around Kenya, preaching and singing. For some reason, she was the only child allowed to participate in the choir. While the relationship between missionaries and the communities they build can be complex, Wachira has many positive memories from her youth. Later, she realized music was her own personal safe space.

“I think when I grew up and especially when I became a mother, I was trying to find places where I felt I could be all of myself and also contribute to the world in a positive way,” she says. “I feel like with music, there are all these little pies that merged.”

Naomi Wachira
Naomi Wachria looking cool! Photo courtesy: Naomi Wachira

When she first moved to the States in 1996, it was to Chicago. Later, though, in 2007, she arrived in the Emerald City for a graduate program in theology and psychology at a local school. At the time, she had a handful of songs, but it was in Seattle that her oeuvre grew. Playing music in Seattle and attending graduate school provided Wachira clarity regarding her relationship to faith. She strengthened her own while ensuring she kept an open mind to what others believed. She holds a strong, healthy balance to this day.

On the three-song new EP, Wachira offers that open heart to her listeners. Her songs are filled with empathy and commiseration, soft tones and touch. A regular still on the Seattle-area radio station, KBCS, Wachira is ever-present in the region, even while living on another continent. In fact, that’s what she loves about music — its ability to connect with any and everyone.

“The fact that it can reach all kinds of people, that’s been the testament of my music I’ve created,” says Wachira. “I’ve had people in so many different parts of the world, different religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, race, everyone reaches out saying this song connected with them. That’s the power and privilege of music.”

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