24 Sep RINA MUSHONGA-FINDING BELONGING IN PECKHAM
With her second album In A Galaxy in the process of creation, Rina Mushonga the Zimbabwean-Dutch singer song-writer is not a debutant to this whole music ‘thing’.
She released the singles Washed Up and the powerful All My Ships in (2012). Last year she dropped the four track ep Bullet. In terms of an album however we have to go back to 2014 with her amazing debut The Wild, The Wilderness released in Amsterdam.
As debuts go, the album was a telling release. On display was a supremely talented artist. Folk inspired numbers like Vanilla and the rousing slightly rock enthused Lion Heart smouldered on the 12-track project. Honest earthy vocals in-turn sat with ease on a bed of simple yet poignant song-writing. This addictive combination lead to numerous plaudits. In some ways while it was clear she had (has) her own definable sound, images of Joan Armatrading were/are hard to resist-she clearly had/has something to say.
Despite the acclaim for her debut, surprisingly (but perhaps wisely) Rina Mushonga was not swayed into frenzied activity to capitalise on that so precious window of opportunity. Instead there has been a period of consolidation where she attests she needed to ‘take some time’. In that time while she has released an ep, the more difficult under-taking of an album had not materialised despite the sterling quality of her debut album.
‘It did not feel like I was waiting’ she states when explaining the four-year gap for a follow-up album, ‘when you make an album it has to go through its natural cycle: singles, promo videos and so on. Other than that, I did not want to just do this quick follow-up. There was a lot for me to think about. I had to think about my sound and where I was going to. In the last four years, I have been thinking about my music, my heritage and how to incorporate that into my sound in a meaningful way without it being clichéd and forced.’
Higher ideals evidently are driving her creativity but not in that rather cynical fashion. Her drive for her creativity stemming from a wish to say something.
‘I really love literature. I have always loved working and writing with words.’ She explains when discussing song-writing, ‘The moment I started figuring out that I could put those works to melodies and create songs it just felt like a really natural thing to me.’ While song-writing became a passion, becoming a musician was less clear.
‘There is no specific point that I can pin-point that I wanted to be a musician. I started with piano lessons. I then started hating piano but it clicked with me when I matured. There was this urge to write and just express myself really. That kept developing until it reached a point where it could not be put on a back burner.’ She adds, ‘After leaving uni I realised that if I wanted to pursue music then I would have to focus more on music. The thing is that I have been making music and writing music all my life. But it was only in Harare with friends that I really started performing, going to open nights and sharing music and creativity.’
There is an eclectic feel to the music that Rina Mushonga creates ensuring that it never feels alienating. She speaks and creates in a universal manner possibly a product of her varied cultural experiences.
‘I was born in India (New Delhi) but we left when I was two (my father was studying there on a scholarship). We moved back to Zim and then we lived in Amsterdam for a while. Then we moved to London and then back to Zimbabwe’. She laughs and then continues, ‘I then moved from Holland back to London again!’
Back in the UK Rina has found a home in South London’s Peckham. It’s this move that helped in some respects her aspirations to create an album.
‘When I moved here and I knew I was going to be starting the recording process and the album process and looking for someone to produce that. Funnily enough I was hanging out in the Bussey Building and I kept seeing Florence Welch walking around. I love her music and I wondered why she was here. I just thought she must be recording somewhere. So, I went online and found out where she was recording. Subsequently I found Brett Shaw. I sent him a link to my stuff saying I was interested in working with him but I had a limited budget’. Despite a limited budget, Brett Shaw whose credits include names like The Kooks and Mark Ronson evidently heard something in her music.
‘I was surprised because he got back to me immediately. He said let’s meet and figure out something. The first track we worked on was AtalantA and we just clicked. He brought this great drum sound. He just seemed to get my weird rhythm ideas. He’s great to work with because he has a gentle approach in the studio. He allows my ideas to breathe and develop without jumping in immediately and saying we need to re-arrange the music’.
Despite AtalantA’s slightly off kilter rhythm Rina’s first release is gorgeous and the resounding choruses of approval are well deserved. At its heart, it’s a song of female empowerment but it is also a cautionary tale. Rather than subdue that most powerful and indomitable female spirit she urges us to allow it to flourish.
‘The track was inspired by the Greek mythological character who was a famous huntress.’ She states when talking about the inspiration for the lyrics to the song, ‘She was like this all-round female bad ass who could out run and out hunt all the guys. She was this ultimate female independent. She was being forced by her family to fit societal conformity and get married. For me it really fitted what I wanted to say. If you let a strong female blossom then she has so much potential. Stop trying to hem us in and stunt our growth.’
While she readily admits that in her forth coming album there will be elements of ‘anger’ and ‘frustration’ in terms of being a ‘woman of colour’ struggling to be heard in an ‘un-filtered’ way-this is just a component of the project. Indeed, it’s clear when talking to the affable and warm Rina that personal issues of displacement and belongness will feature heavily on the album.
‘This cool Afropolitan vibe feels a lot like me really. Being in Peckham inspires me. It is this place that is a bit rough around the edges but it has this beautiful cosmopolitan place. No matter where you are from you kind of belong to Peckham. It’s this transient place. I think because of my life it makes me feel at home in a way. The fact that you belong but in a way don’t necessarily belong. It’s these ideas/themes that I also wanted to explore. Identity, self–exploration and constantly trying to find ‘self’ within in a community.’
In her cool understated way, she seems destined to make a very firm mark on the UK music scene. From the UK scene, of course the next step would be a more global sphere. Nothing is of course guaranteed. But with her follow up release from the album the equally powerful 80’s synth inspired Jungle with its nod to a high life sound, we here at #itchysilk are going to stick our collective necks out. Rina Mushonga will be making waves in the UK music scene in 2018.
‘It took some time for me to make it fit with me. Right now I am recording music that represents what I am thinking in my head. I am just trying to keep it as close to my bones and necessary’.