One on one with Zambian-Scottish singer-songwriter Namvula Rennie

Namvula Rennie, Zambian Scotish artist
Namvula Rennie, Zambian Scotish artist

“This was the first time in my life when I felt that I had achieved something that I could really be proud of. I reached a point where I was like if l die tomorrow, I will be fine,” says Namvula Rennie (NR) chatting with LusakaVoice (LV).

L.V What triggered you to sing?

N.R I started writing songs when I was sixteen but then I had an on and off relationship with music. I quit my job six years ago to pursue my singing career. Prior to that I had been singing in a lot of choirs. I was doing choral staff, trying get back into singing. The passion of singing is inborn. I practiced and also studied jazz singing. I sing in my local language, Lenje, English, French and Portuguese.

L.V What message do you convey through your music?

N.R The messages vary but I find it very difficult to sing just about love. I write about things that I see in society, things that I see happening politically, economically and socially. I talk about migration, the life of street kids and also about money not being the most important thing. I am not easily moved by the ordinary.

L.V How did it feel like launching your first album?

N.R I launched my 1st album last year (2014) in November. This was the first time in my life when I felt that I had achieved something that I could really be proud. I got to a point where I was like if I  die tomorrow, I will be fine. I think I worked so hard and felt I created something of value and worthy. Not necessarily that it was going to bring me a lot of money but something that was honest, true and meaningful. It however, felt very frightening because I was exposing myself to the unknown, elements of critics, audiences but all the same I felt very proud.

 L.V How was your album received by the general public?

N.R We released it in the United Kingdom and got very nice reviews. When I came back home, I was a bit scared. I was not sure as the music is quite different from what gets played on the radio. So I did not know if there was space for it. However, having spent the last few months here just pushing the album, having gigs, I realized people like the music. There is a space for it and it feels good to bring something totally new.

L.V What challenges do you face as a musician?

N.R The biggest challenge was myself and getting over my own fears. When I quit my job, I never looked back and never thought I had made a mistake. However, just but two months before releasing the album suddenly I woke up in the middle of the night and thought this was the biggest mistake in my life. So it is learning to deal with my own insecurities, to make myself believe that I have something valid to share.

Financially it has been tough because there isn’t a lot of financial support for making albums. I invested basically everything I had and it was quiet tough. Also, understanding the industry, being fine with doors closing in your face, knowing that another one will open somewhere.

L.V Which has been the highest point in your career?

N.R Definitely the release of the album and the first album review we got from a very influential paper. It felt amazing. I think also seeing myself grow musically, develop on stage has also been very exciting.

In 2012, I was part of the choir that was commissioned to sing with Hugh Masekela on stage during the Cultural Olympics, that was a big deal for me.

L.V Where do u see yourself in 5 years time?

N.R I would like to be on album number 3 and touring internationally. I am getting to a point where financially, it is starting to make a little bit of sense but would want to be making a good livelihood from my music.

L.V What should be done to promote local music?

N.R Government needs to value arts and culture by institutionalising policies that encourage schools to take up arts and culture seriously. As musicians we lack a sense of collectiveness, which I think is very detrimental for us. You find that instead of pulling fellow musicians up, people are trying to push each other down, which is a shame.

There is need for a proper royalty scheme, so that musicians can make a viable livelihood out of music. Without access to royalties either they will produce bad music or they will just quit and we loose a lot of talent.

Also the public should support local artist and just stop downloading or burning music. Venues, there are very few venues that have proper sound and managed properly.

L.V How do you hope to contribute to the growth of local music industry?

N.R I have started a initiative with a friend, we have not launched it though. We want to start instituting various mechanism to help publicize Zambian musicians abroad. It will act as a central point where we can draw from international festivals, international booking agencies, and say look this is who we have, these are people you should consider booking for your tour.

We want to try and set up a way we can assist Zambian musicians collect royalties. Educationally,we are trying to set up a series of workshops that hopefully can be annually, where we can bring in international artists to deliver high level workshop for profession music.