Interview: Namvula – A Musical Perspective Over Womanhood (March 2018)

What a year 2017 has been for Namvula. A new album (titled Quiet Revolutions that we recently reviewed)and a newborn baby have surely revolutionised the life of the Scottish/Zambian singer-songwriter.

We had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks ago to have a chat about all the events that occurred in the last few months of the year, and we inevitably ended up talking about her brand new project, the country of Zambia and its music, and all the strong women who had a spell on her…

We started our interview reminding her of 2016, when we last met Namvula, minutes before one of her latest shows as part of TunedIn London’s music series at Sands Films. From there, we tried to understand what happened in the following 12 months…

“In the last year, I basically wrote a second album. It’s been a long-time process since the release of the last album [Shiwezwa]. I took quite a long time to figure out what direction the music was going in and what direction the second album would take. So, yes, I’ve recorded an album and… I had a baby!”

What brought her to release Quiet Revolutions in November was not simply a musical journey, but also one of inner growth…

“Between the two albums, there’s definitely been a growth and a coming together of my musical identity. I think that the first album was an expression of all my musical interests and background. So you had the song that was very folky, the song that was very jazz or traditional. They were like chapters in my life. Now the music is much more holistic, cohesive and coherent. Rather than the first album, which saw different voices being spoken, I say that this one represents many different people within one. I also feel braver.

With the first album, there was an attempt to find my roots, where I belong, and there was also a sort of insecurity in that. With this album, I feel that I have reached that place. It wasn’t an easy process to deal with all the insecurity related to choosing which style I should stick to world music or trad music or what people were expecting from me – fans and reviewers. So I reached a point where I said, ‘this actually doesn’t matter. None of it matters!’

I reached a point where I felt confident and brave enough to say, ‘this is me, this is where I am now, if the sound isn’t super trad…so what? If the sound isn’t super jazz…so what?’ I’ve never fit musically into a box”.

For this reason, we couldn’t help but ask her to try and describe her sound…

“I still struggle to do that. I always wait for you guys to describe it, but I think that there’s definitely an attempt on my side to be a bit experimental. I’m interested in those offbeat sounds like the African psychedelia from the ‘70s, and I’m also not afraid to delve into some aspects of rock. There are definitely the trad and folk aspects to it. I feel that the sound is freer and there’s definitely more maturity in that. It’s still rooted in Afro, but it’s very open”.

If considering its sound, Quiet Revolutions tries to be unbridled by categories or definitions, its themes and subjects are pretty clear. So much so that it can possibly be described as a concept album.

“Yes. It’s exciting and interesting, and it all happened organically. I was writing and the things that I was interested in were stories about women, so there was suddenly a body of work and it made sense to carry it on. Quiet Revolutions looks at what womanhood is, and looks at the different aspects of womanhood; it reflects the stories of women that I’ve met, and also reflects the experiences that I’ve been through. For example, the relationship I have with my grandmother. It’s all about different human experiences and it’s a celebration and recognition of some of the aspects that we go through as women.

There’s a song called ‘Nkondo’, which is inspired by the different stories that I heard about how women used their bodies in wartime to stop war and to protest against aggression. The way in which women confront violence is not like man’s one – it’s not done with strength or using muscles, but with tenderness and the vulnerability of the body. I wrote that song thinking about things like that and thinking about my niece who’s now growing into her teenagehood and adulthood. I was thinking about what she might face and I recognised that we have a different outlook on life and we have developed a different relationship with the world.

Some of the songs on the album are based on human experiences, while others are inspired by traditional tales. Like, for example, a song taken from a Zambian folktale. The song is basically about how boys are more revered than girls. In the tale, there’s this woman who keeps giving birth to girls but the husband wants a boy. So he keeps telling her to kill the girl babies. The song is based on that – on the difficulties that girls have in certain cultures even to come to the world. It’s been a really interesting work for me, being able to reflect and meditate on what being a woman is and means. Then, obviously, in becoming a mother, the album became even more emotionally potent”.

Becoming a mother inevitably influenced Namvula’s music listenings, too…

“I made a playlist for my baby and I’m playing it quite a lot because it has quite a lot of my favourite female artists on it. Like Rhye, Dobet Gnahore, Mayra Andrade…quite varied female musicians. Before my son was born, I came across a lot of interesting bands because I was watching Suits, which is a rubbish show, but it has amazing music!”.

However, there’s a need to say that Zambia and East Africa played a crucial role in the Quiet Revolutions project and inspiration…

Some of the songs had already been written while we were touring the previous album, or were things that I wanted to write about. I finished writing Quiet Revolutions in Zambia, but I was also in Nairobi for a while and I wrote some songs there too… 

Zambia is definitely influencing my music through its folk songs. Again, it’s kind of loose. I’ve done a couple of collaborations with two Zambian friends because I wanted to try a couple of songs in-keeping with the Zambian guitar element. So I asked them to help me with specific Zambian rhythms to keep that flavour alive, but some of the influences are more about the stories themselves”.

Namvula’s relationship with her country and music scene is affectionate, but also honest and critical, where criticism is due…

“I’ve played some shows in Zambia and the music scene is quite interesting. People enjoy my music, but socially, it’s still quite a conservative place, also in terms of the kind of music that is listened to. People usually relate to what they know – they love local music, but they’re not too much into trying different sounds. We have had many sounds coming through from Congo, Nigeria and South Africa. Even Femi Kuti went to play in Lusaka, but people were more like, ‘who’s this guy? We don’t know his songs, we are not going to dance’. So it’s very much when they know it, they really enjoy it, but it’s difficult to get them to enjoy it if they don’t know it.

There is a very educated jazz scene, very small, but very ardent, and they are real supporters of my music. So, yes, there are people interested in my music and also people who like to support their fellow countrymen and women when they’re doing things. There are people inviting you to radio stations or people wanting to collaborate. In terms of industry support, the support is there. You get invited to play gigs or jump on someone’s show, and the industry is definitely growing. For a long time, there wasn’t so much, but it’s starting to change. I can suggest you listen to a couple of guys I’m collaborating with: Mumba Yachi and James Sakala. They’re both young musicians who are using traditional sounds in a 2.0 way. Mumba is very much into rock and he’s fusing rock with a more traditional sound. Sakala is more into the gospel scene and translating traditional sounds into that. For a long time, we haven’t had young people embracing Zambian music, so it’s really nice that something is moving and we are not only replicating sounds coming from outside”.

Namvula’s music country of residence is the UK. Since her debut, she’s indeed become an integral part of London’s music scene, and even if she’s no longer living in the British capital, her sound was born, grew up, and established itself, in London.

“All the musicians who play on Quiet Revolutions are London-based and I can say that they are like family for me now because we already did an album together and we toured it. It’s really nice to have grown organically with them. Why I’ve really enjoyed working with them was to have shared their musicality, their level of musicianship and ability to just interpret what I brought and add their own flavour to it.  

London is London, there’s space for everyone, but at the same time, there’s no space at all. I think it’s great in many ways and allows you to pick and choose excellent musicians to work with and the sound you want to integrate into your music, but, at the same time, I think it’s nice to step out of London and its competitiveness. Just to have that space and feel like you don’t have to make music for a while and do other things and then you can come back and express what you need to express”.

That’s possibly the reason why Namvula’s music career will take a winter’s nap, from which it will emerge again in early spring…

“The album came out in November and I’m going to start touring it from April. I’ll definitely play it around the UK and it would be really nice to do some gigs in Europe too”. 


We’re more than looking forward to welcoming and listening to all of Namula’s Quiet Revolutions, which has characterised, enriched and modelled her 2017. We can’t think of a better occasion to do so than her upcoming UK tour (including the official album launch on the 20th of April at Rich Mix in London).

Apr 14 – Hambrook Village Hall, Chichester
Apr 17 – live on Jazz FM, London
Apr 18 – live on Resonance FM, London
Apr 20 – Quiet Revolutions Album Launch Celebration w/ Liran Donin (bass) Rich Mix, London
Apr 21 – live on Loose Ends BBC R4, London
Apr 21 10 – Singers Improvise, St Stephen’s Church, Bristol
May 18 – Winterborne Stickland Hall, Winterborne Stickland
May 19 – Broadmayne Hall, Broadmayne
May 25 – BBC Music Biggest Weekend, Perth
Jun 09 – Balabam, London
Jul 28 –  Jazz Festival, Manchester

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