Zim’s gift of song to Britain


HARARE – Birmingham-based saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch, has described Zimbabwean-born jazz singer Eska Mtungwazi ‘‘as an incredible singer, I think Britain’s best kept secret.”

Multi-talented Eska, who left Zimbabwe’s second biggest city Bulawayo as a three-year-old, has captivated Britain with what Shirlene Alusa-Brown of jamati.com describes as “almost throaty, yet smooth delivery harkens to a mix of Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, and Norah Jones… her voice is powerful and her presence and delivery commanding as she works the stage delivering everything from African genres to jazzy rhythm and blues.”

Britain is indeed on tenterhooks waiting for her debut EP which Eska says is imminent.

The gifted musician is a total package; she is a composer, arranger and producer who can play a variety of musical instruments including the recorder, violin, cello, and piano.  She believes her visit to Zimbabwe as an 18-year-old made her understand the influence of her family history in shaping her identity as a singer.

The avid fan of the mbira and chimurenga music has remarkably managed to keep alive her links with far-flung Zimbabwe.

The Tino Famba Tese singer revealed to the Daily News in a recent interview her readiness to accept an invitation to come and perform in Zimbabwe.

Below are excerpts of Eska’s interview with the Daily News entertainment editor Dakarai Mashava (DM).

DM: Where were you born in Zimbabwe?

Eska: I was born in Bulawayo.

DM: When did you leave Zimbabwe? How old were you then?

Eska: I left Zimbabwe as a baby around three years old.

DM:  Were you involved in music when you left Zimbabwe? Are you from a musical family?

Eska: My spiritual heritage is Seventh Day Adventist and Methodist so I have grown up with singing being a part of life.  

Everybody in my family sings but I doubt that anyone would call themselves a singer apart from my brother and I who are both singer/songwriters.

DM: How and when did your professional music career begin?

Eska: It began in a seminal jazz group called Quite Sane — a very special group of young musicians who all went on to achieve musical acclaim as individuals in some shape or form.

That platform eventually led me to work with an array of jazz artists.

DM: What do you think has made you one of the most talented upcoming British artistes?

Eska: From very early on in my career I became interested in exploring a range of musical styles.
My father always played a wide spectrum of music in the house and I believe that appreciation of diversity had a huge impact on my creative pursuits and a strong desire to connect with as wide a range of musical genres as possible — I just wanted to remain open and keep learning — still do!

DM: You have made various collaborations with a number of prominent artistes but which collaboration do you think is the pick of the crop?

Eska: I will always maintain that working in jazz as a foundation to my creative life has been most influential.  

It was a season of sharpening iron alongside my peers — the best collaborators to have.  I fortunately came up alongside a group of ambitious young musicians who pursued excellence.
It wasn’t about fame or celebrity, more about becoming great and highly regarded by your peers and musical elders.  

Those formative years put me in good stead to be able to work alongside anyone.  However, if you want a pivotal moment in later years, I would say that it was dueting with Bobby McFerrin at Jazz a Vienne Festival — one of the most articulate musicians I have ever heard — I learnt a vast amount in a few minutes of improvisation with this master.

DM: Does your music have some Zimbabwean influence? Are you in touch with the Zimbabwean music scene?

Eska: I think the links to my Zimbabwean heritage are inescapable within my music and sense of feel.
I am not sure how overt those influences are at times but it’s literally in my blood — not something you can ever forget!  I plan on getting to know more about the Zimbabwean music scene — it’s exciting to see the likes of Mokoomba on UK television, that’s for sure!

DM: Are you a fan of any Zimbabwean musician? Can we expect you to collaborate with a Zimbabwean musician?
Eska: I listen to a lot of mbira cassettes.  Chimurenga music carries a deep emotional resonance for me.  I’d be very excited to work with artists from that tradition.

DM: Do you intend to perform in Zimbabwe any time soon?

Eska: There isn’t a date set yet but I would gladly accept an invitation!

DM: There appears to be a lot of excitement around your forthcoming debut EP release?

When will you release the EP?

Eska: I am very happy to hear that! We are in the process of mixing and mastering the EP which is called ‘Gatekeeper’.  

In fact, we are shooting a section of the video this February and the remainder in March so I would say that the release date is imminent — we’ll keep you posted.

DM: What can we expect on the EP?

Are you not afraid that the EP could fail to meet the high expectations placed on you?

Eska: I hope the EP will sound childlike, imaginative, unexpected and moving.  It will meet my expectations — there aren’t any higher ones than that.

DM: Any message to Zimbabweans?

Eska: Ndinotenda nekundikurudzira kwenyu.Ndinovimba mumhanzi wangu uchaunza mufaro kwatiri tose. – Dakarai Mashava, Entertainment Editor

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