Noisettes Front Woman Shingai Is Making Space for a New Type of Indie Music
Singer-songwriter Shingai started breaking new grounds in music in the mid-2000s as the front-woman and bassist for platinum-selling British indie band Noisettes. Known for its mesmerizing and dramatic stage performances, the band was the perfect launching pad that helped prepare Shingai for her eventual solo career. Women in the indie music scene were rare, and women of color were even rarer, so she had to fight through quite a lot of prejudice at the time.
Shingai found it frustrating that Noisettes was boxed in with the other bands of that time since the sound that she and guitarist Dan Smith produced pulled references from all sorts of genres from rock 'n' roll, soul, punk, jazz, blues, folk, dance. This stew of genres that gave Noisettes a distinctly afro-punk sound garnered attention from the press like The New York Times, that dubbed it "agit-punk", and it became the first British band to headline at Brooklyn's Afropunk festival in 2009.
Alongside singing for Noisettes, Shingai collaborated with other musicians and artists that led the African pop and club music scene such as Baloji, Afrikan Boy, Esa Williams, and Auntie Flo. Finally, after four years in the making, Shingai released her first EP called 'Ancient Futures' that draws on her Zimbabwean and Bantu heritage with dancefloor-ready beats and energetic experimentalism.
BBC Culture deemed Shingai's afro-futuristic sound as one of the "key music trends of the past decade". Her London, Bantu, and Zimbabwean heritage struck a chord within the indie music industry and she was invited to headline across various festivals from Wilderness in Oxfordshire to Fusion Festival in Germany.
Her debut solo album 'LIFE.SOUNDS.DIMENSIONS', which is set to release later this month, will surely unveil her boisterous pioneering spirit. Steering away from record labels that want to play it safe by sticking to one sound that pigeonholes artists, Shingai is proud to be a re-established independent artist that is carving out an eclectic space of her own where she can run wild and free with her musical experimentations and unfold her truth.
The Folklore interviewed Shingai Shinowa about her musical inspirations, her current plans to take her sound to the next level with her forthcoming EP 'LIFE.SOUNDS.DIMENSIONS', and her hopes for the future for British African talent.
What differentiates your sound as a solo artist compared to when you were with Noisettes?
I evolve with every record I make. The collaboration process is important to me and Dan (guitarist of Noisettes) has been a great source of inspiration and strength, a creative comrade if you like. We also collaborate together outside of Noisettes, writing for other artists and helping each other with our respective ‘solo’ adventures. If I’m unsure of a new demo I’m working on and vice versa, he’ll know if there’s a better vocal to take or if it’s lacking the juice, production wise. We’ve also journeyed extensively with our band so we’ve picked up so many sonic influences along the way.
Are there particular meanings that you assign to the songs you write?
I tend to favor lyrics that are open to interpretation since my audience is diverse. I like to approach tough or controversial subjects with a certain playfulness. Metaphors can give you the chance to dance through some of the darker themes in the songs whilst sneaking in hidden messages. For example, my new single “War Drums” explores darkness while still giving the listener a sense of hope & fun in the melodies.
How do you incorporate your Zimbabwean roots in your sound?
‘Coming Home’ was inspired by my uncle’s Thomas Mapfumo classic hit ‘Shumba’ representing the journey of Zimbabwean music, whose legacy I took into the future. I was singing in Shona on the first Noisettes records in the song called “IWE ” but it must’ve slipped under the radar of the music journalist at that time, apart from one - Vivienne Goldman who I had the most vivid time with. She came to interview me in my house for a Rolling Stones feature and painted out that I was only a few doors down from the home she once shared with the Slits and X-Ray Specs another all-female punk band with a woman of colour at the helm. She totally got me as a multi-dimensional musician and effortlessly joined the dots from the music we have in common such as Rock, Soul, Jazz, New Wave etc. to its African roots.
Do you think that the 'Afro' sound has now finally become somewhat mainstream in the UK, or there's still work to do in regards to African artists' representation?
There is still a lot of work to be done and respect to be shown towards the continent that’s at the root of most of the Pop music we enjoy today. When you look at the mainstream Pop Stars that have been given poll positioning so far, they have mostly been male/white male. However, we are in an amazing position right now where we have the power to uplift and celebrate the voices of people of colour-women especially who are changing the game.
For too long in mainstream music, in the UK especially, it felt like the quota that existed created a one in one out situation for women of colour in the music industry. The “afro umbrella” has yet embraced the infinite spectrum of rhythms and vibes found in North, East, Central, and Southern Africa but we are coming through and when we pattern up it's going to be fire.
You released an EP in 2019, what are you know exploring with your newly released album?
With “Ancient Futures” I feel like I crystallized a sound that is unique and authentic to my own musical journey while being catchy and remaining timeless and mercurial. The song ‘Revolutions’ (above) was one of my most personal slice of songwriting yet and it's quite a brooding electronic-pop ballad - the textures are inspired by the Art of Noise and the metallic guitar solo is played by my friend Dan. "LIFE.SOUNDS.DIMENSIONS” will be a sonic, visual & emotional journey that will take the Shinai sound to the next level.
What are your style inspirations?
My style inspirations are my aunties and uncles, worriers, revolutionizers – past and present, ordinary people in the communities that I’ve had the pleasure of growing up with - London to LA to Lilongwe. Colors, Mother Nature, travel and most art forms inspire me. I am also fascinated by how the raw elements in our surroundings contrast with the synthesized efforts of mankind.
What African brands to you like to wear or promote during shows?
I love wearing clothes by fellow designers such as Sindiso Khumalo, Tokyo James, Kisua, Maxhosa by Laduma, Virgil Abloh, Labrum, and Loza Maleombho.
Written by Christine Noumba Um