25 April 2013 is a day I’ll never forget for as long as I live. Representing Live Magazine, I had the honour of meeting and interviewing Shingai Shoniwa, the superstar lead singer of the British band, The Noisettes.
Any fears I had prior to meeting her were made worse by the even greater concern that I would blank out and forget all the questions I wanted to ask. Within the first 5 seconds she quelled any such nerves. Kicking the interview off in her friendly, bubbly nature, Shingai allowed us to welcome her to Johannesburg. This was her first visit to Johannesburg. Star-struck as I was, we wasted no time in getting to know each other. She was kind enough to make me feel as though I was just as important in this discussion.
Shingai’s adopted English accent would be enough for people to immediately assume that she is just another British pop star. After spending five minutes with her, it’s easy to realize that she isn’t. Shingai was born to African parents and is under no illusions (and creates none) about who she is, and where she comes from. She is as proudly African as her Shona name suggests, and she’s chosen to not only keep this a part of her personal identity, but a large part of everything she does from her music to her dress sense.
During our interview, Shingai was excited to delve into her bank of memories, telling us about her culturally rich childhood and how it has made her the star she is today. “My mom would have these international musicians, a lot of them from Southern Africa, just coming into our homes. We’d make tea and snacks for them, and watch them jamming in our living room. It was insane!”
Our morning was filled with stories of everything from her childhood, to how she embraced stardom that aspiring musicians crave. I was expecting to spend my time with her in awe and amazement; instead I felt myself feeling humbled by the humility she showed for someone so talented. Shingai doesn’t think she’s better than anybody, she simply wants to make music and make the world sing her songs.
She was keen to stress that she is all about originality and creativity in her work, which is unsurprising when you take into account how much effort she puts into flaunting her African flavour. She isn’t trying to be the pop sensation that Rihanna is, or the energetic, emblematic front lady that is Hayley Williams- she is putting everything into making Shingai unique.
This stance on her originality and self identity was epitomized when I asked her to try and classify The Noisettes into a set genre. She swiftly responded, “The Noisettes are genreless. But ultimately, we create songs”.
Speaking to Shingai, and seeing the way her presence lifts any room, you can’t help but feel that she is the difference between those that make it and those that don’t. She has the natural ability to draw attention to herself, and has the unquestionable talent to keep it on her.
In the end, Shingai taught me so much more than I could have expected to learn in our brief time together. At the end of the day, no matter where you are in life, it’s always refreshing when you see a musical icon with the world in her hands, talk to you like you were schoolmates. Maybe humility, rather than boastful arrogance, is the real secret to ‘Making It’.
This interview was made possible by the British Council http://www.britishcouncil.org.