I am a Vermont Artist: KeruBo
Burlington Afro-jazz singer Irene Kerubo Webster, who goes by the stage name KeruBo, uses her voice to heal and inspire. Her latest song and music video, “Hakuna Lolote,” is a message of hope and comfort for the African and New American Vermonters she serves as a social worker. The video depicts members of Vermont’s African community supporting each other through the Covid-19 pandemic, staying connected while social distancing.
For KeruBo, music and language can redeem us, return to us what has been lost. In 2015, she suffered an aneurysm that left her unable to walk or speak, let alone sing. A musician of over 20 years, she turned to music for her recovery and has since dedicated herself to song as service.
Born and raised in Kenya, KeruBo got her start in music as a backup vocalist, touring internationally with Afro-fusion stars. In the mid-2000s, she moved to the U.S. to be with her husband, a fellow musician. Since recovering from her aneurysm, KeruBo has performed at a number of Burlington venues and events, including the 2019 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. She is currently at work on a new album due to release in early 2021.
KeruBo shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
I was born in Kenya and grew up in an environment thriving with different cultural groups. I am now a Vermonter and have lived here for over ten years and love it! One reason is because Vermont has welcomed a diverse community of immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. As a social worker serving the refugee community, I feel that the range of traumatic issues suffered during civil wars should be discussed. So, I write songs addressing these issues with the hope to bring about healing, spark discussions, and inspire meaningful change.
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
I now realize that in Kenya, a former British colony, I looked at the world with rose-colored glasses, accepting what was taught at school. I did not question, or even understand, the impact of slavery on the African descendants living in North America. Not until I came to America, did I question things. As a result, my song messaging changed from personal experiences to social issues. I also feel a need to compose music that draws from my Afro-centricity, seeking to act as a musical ambassador to break down barriers between people of different backgrounds.
What is your vision for the next several years?
I’d like to have opportunities to reach people through my music in a way that might serve positive change. I love the redeeming power of music. I guess I’m seeking to be some kind of a musical ambassador for social issues, focusing on things that endanger women and children. I also seek to share traditional African folk music, including Swahili songs, with young people so that it’s not lost. Language is culture, or identity. African-Americans have suffered a loss of their languages. Instead, they have been compelled to speak the languages of the cultures that forced them from their motherland.
KeruBo is a performing music artist born in Kenya. She has been a working musician for more than 20 years. Her musical influences range from traditional African music, to gospel, blues, Afro jazz. She worked as a backing vocalist and dancer for prominent African artists such as Suzanna Owiyo and Achieng Abura. These artists played Afro-fusion and KeruBo toured the world with them. They have been her strongest influences in her love for Afro-Jazz and the World Music genre. KeruBo sings African folk music and Afro jazz, African laments, civil rights songs, story songs, gospel songs, and beyond.