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Rina Mushonga - Breaking new ground to create new sound
Zanele Manhenga,
July 17, 2009

Read Inside/Out with Rina Mushonga

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Rina MushongaWhat's with the accent for a Zimbabwean Girl?

I'm half Dutch and half Zimbabwean; my father is Mushonga and my mother is Dutch. I grew up all over the place in Europe and here as well. I think I have an accent that moves and flows with where I am.

How long have you been back home?

I have been here since December 2008.

How did you get to play the guitar?

From a very young age my mum took my sister and myself to piano lessons when we were 9 or 10. That was great and as soon as I got the basic skills I was writing my own stuff. When I picked up the guitar my song-writing element developed and I took it to another level - defiantly - from my early teens.

What kind of grooming did you get?

I was lucky I went to a school that provided free music lessons. You could pick any instrument you liked. After school, maybe once or twice a week, you could go for music lessons. So I grabbed the guitar and picked the cords and I was lucky in that I had a good teacher who encouraged me to listen to the radio and play the songs I liked. Listen

At what age did you start performing?

I think I was 17. At the Book Café every Thursday they had an open mic night. I just went along one time and every Thursday I kept going back. I would bring some of my other friends who also played. Then we were a bunch of kids who went to the Book Café every Thursday night to play and jam with each other. That's when I met Chiwoniso and it was a great way to enter into the music industry.

Would you encourage people to enter the music industry?

Yes absolutely if you've got music in you. I think you know for yourself that as an artist you can't help but make music. There is no one who can tell you other wise. I don't want to be like an idealist and say just go for your dream because I think going for your dream also means a lot of hard work. And for young people who are interested in pursuing music they need to be real about what that entails. It's like any other job and job is work - it's about putting in the graft.

Should a person have certain qualities to be in the music industry?

I think to define a musician or an artist is kind of dangerous territory because everybody works in an individual way. And every person has a different view of what defines art. It takes more than talent; talent is the obvious thing if you want to call yourself a musician. Lets hope you've got talent and you have an ear for music.

What are the must haves as a musician or guitarist?

One of them would be to have a good understanding of your craft. You need to know music and understand basic concepts of music. And I think taking your music seriously. You have to stay connected, stay updated - you need to know who people are listening to and have knowledge of what is happening in the music industry.

What is your music genre?

I am experimenting with a more African or traditional sound and that is part of the reason why I came back to explore that type of music and my cultural heritage. I am a rock chick; I have to say it's not about hip pop or rnb or any of that. I am really into rock n roll and blues and jazz - that's what gets me excited and inspires me. The music that I write falls within that genre of folk pop rock kind of music. And I am working with the band Zimfellas, trying to fuse what they are amazing at, the traditional sound using marimba and mbira and fusing their sound with my folk rock sound.

What lyrical content is in your songs?

With the Zimfellas we are writing a lot of love songs. But when we got together we felt we want to put a positive message out; a message of encouragement to Zimbabweans especially about getting up, waking up and making your dreams happen. Make what you want to happen in your life, happen. Don't rely on other people to do it for you - the future is in your hands. Listen

Describe your stage performance

Our stage performance is an explosion of afro pop folk rock. We are a colorful group of people who are trying to explore the boundaries of afro fusion and afro pop creating a new sound. We are very energetic and we like to dance a lot and giggle on stage a lot and we interact with the crowd and give a well-rounded experience - not just a show but also an experience.

Have you toured with the band outside Zimbabwe?

No, we haven't been together for long. We got together in February. Hifa came up and we had a massive break in that they believed in the sound we were making. We also performed at the Manica Festival, which is festival that is growing in Mutare.

What measures have you made to make sure that you and your band stay together?

We haven't been together for very long but I think it's something that you have to work on and redefine and confirm on a daily basis. It's like any relationship; it takes a lot of work and analysis and arguments as well. I think our starting point was that we were doing it for the music. I know it sounds clichéd but it has to be about the music first. Follow your passion and then hopefully the money will follow you. If any musician in Zimbabwe was following money, I don't think there would be many active musicians. What holds us together is our passion for music and we have common love and a passion to make music and break new ground to create a new sound.

You say that you're impatient but you haven't recorded an album - what gives?

I have a lot of recordings like demos and that kind of stuff - it's not like I have no recorded material. I guess with regard to doing something professionally it takes time, and I am also a perfectionist. I think if I am going to make an album I want it to be for real and something that encompasses all of my dreams and expectations and really expresses and represents me well. I don't really want to settle for anything less than that. Also recording an album costs a lot of money even if you do it in not the best studio. I think as an artist you try to make your way ahead and sometimes opportunities come to you quickly and sometimes it takes a long time before you get to this place where somebody says, hey come to the studio and I'm going to give you time to do that. Unfortunately for me it has taken longer.

As a perfectionist what are the things that can bring your music down?

I have done recordings in a big space and there was a lot of interfering noise and it was difficult to manage the sound we were putting out as band. And also live recordings - there are live recordings that I have listened to and wish I had not recorded - a lot of it has to do with the equipment you use.

How are people responding to your music?

We've been so encouraged by the response ever since we had our debut performance at HIFA. The response to our music is phenomenal and heart warming. It's really nice to know and see that the crowd that comes to our shows is really so diverse and different.

Do you think an artist must engage managers and producers?

I think for me over the last 10 years if I had had a manager things would have been easier for me. It's really helpful to have someone in your corner who can do the administration for you. As an artist you must have time to create.

If you had the chance what would you change in regard to the arts in Zimbabwe?

It's a tough one; we are talking about Zimbabwe as a third world country. Usually in third world countries not a lot of money and time is spent on cultural development and that's really a shame these things get left on the way side when people are focusing on providing better health care and education. I have to say that arts and culture are necessary and as important to people's lives and to development as any form of development and the music industry in Zimbabwe reflects that. Listen

Its growth has been stunted; we have been in a cultural recession for a long time as well. There are a lot of amazing artists out there but unfortunately if they don't have platforms and an environment they can learn to perform professionally in, things will remain at a mediocre level that does not do justice for artists. Listen

That said, festivals like HIFA do a lot to promote the arts in Zimbabwe, and raise the standards of professionalism. Listen

How has the industry been for you as a woman?

I think its hard being a woman in the industry. I don't feel personally I have got any favors because I am a woman. On the other hand I don't think that I have missed out on an opportunity because I am a woman. But I think that is my individual experience. I know for women in this country it's much harder than it is for a man to get ahead - we are talking about the conditions in which we perform. Having changing rooms for example; the things we need as artists to be able to put on a show. I think sometimes things are asked of women that wouldn't be asked of a man.

When is your album coming out?

I would say toward the end of year.

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