Shingai Shoniwa embracing her Zimbabwean heritage in her music
Shingai Shoniwa aka ‘Shingai Too Bold’ stuns me with her down to earth manner. She offers a cup of tea; she brews. This African hospitality is a shock considering the successful British Zimbabwean bassist and vocalist with the commercially successful ‘The Noisettes’ and has gone solo for a year. She is estimated to be worth millions by respectable online sources.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she says, “but the village is not there in UK for the African diaspora children.”
She explains her influences.: “I love people stories, as a lyricist. My music has to relate to people. I have a Malawian grandmother, a Mozambican Grandfather and a Zimbabwean mother. I am a Bantu remix.”
On this visit to Zimbabwe she explains: “I want to engage Zimbabwean audiences and businesses. Every post-colonial country needs their diaspora to succeed. Asians in England return home every summer. They are building something big back home. Last year I was cancelling shows just to spend time here, doing collaborations and investing locally.”
“‘No fear’ is my local song produced by Verseless and shot in Bulawayo. It cost US$15,000. Everyone was paid. It celebrates everything I love about Zimbabwe. It’s ama-piano. I have met many big international artists but never met people more creative than Zimbabwean artists.”
She played the baseline. She has a grounding in Zimbabwean music from her mum. “My mother has a lot of energy,” Though born in UK, her mum received video tapes of Mvenge Mvenge regularly. Thomas Mapfumo is an uncle.“
Shingai explains: “I actively promote black talent. I paid everyone through ‘Senditoo’ to promote a Zimbabwean business. Everyone was saying ‘Why are you shooting in Zimbabwe? Shoot in South Africa.’ I said ‘I want to do it in Zimbabwe!'”
She is working on a duet with Prudence Katomeni.
“Shingai has been on a chicken bus, tasted Mazowe, so she is a Zimbabwean girl,” says Samantha Boka, her friend. Samantha went to England decades ago after the death of her dad, Roger Boka, the tycoon. She adds: “Shingai’s music has reached a billion viewers on social media.”
Though British-born Shingai is proud of her roots. She says; “I spent a year in Malawi in my teens. I tried to learn to cook Sadza/Nsima. I got some burns. I felt embarrassed by the wounds. I posted on social media and many said: ‘We have so many of these wounds.’
“It got a lot of engagement for the honest narrative. Africans have not been setting the narrative themselves. We have to imitate the Matatu culture of painting kombis in Kenya. I went looking for chicken buses for my music video and they all said: ‘No! We don’t do that with our buses.’
“Now they have gone to the guy who agreed to have graffiti on his bus and said: ‘Well done.’ Let’s think outside the box.”
“I collaborated with Tuku in 2012. Mum met Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba and others.” The daughter’s exposure is equally wide. She has worked with A-list artists for over 20 years. Her advice is: “We are becoming brands and not looking after the person. Learn to value yourself. Even if you do skits learn to do it in an African way. Try to see yourself as a person first and then a brand next.”
Boka says: “Meeting Shingai made me love her. She has toured with Rihanna, Neyo and others. But she is anxious to make time to visit rural areas. She is also promoting STEM education for rural girls.”
With Loveness Mangezi, a Zimbabwean girl based in UK, they promote Science, Technology and Mathematics for rural girls. Mangezi formed the organisation in memory of her late mother Selina, a former teacher, known as Selina STEM Trust.
“We aren’t packaging Shingai as record labels did. She knows Zimbabwean history. She breaks down big content into a simple lyric.”
Shingai explains: “Andy Brown made his own guitar in the rural areas. He didn’t have access to lessons. He saw a poster about some lessons on offer on a certain weekend at a nearby growth point. He went and got a profound guitar lesson on his own home-made guitar. I met young girls who made their own guitars in Malawi. I saved up £300 to buy my first. I will do a mobile music clinic” Brown grew to be one of Zimbabwe’s all-time leading guitarist and innovators with the instrument strumming across genres.
An African meal by the Boka family is ready. They insist everyone seats together. Shingai eats her Sadza with her bare hands. This puts everyone at ease. Meal over, Shingai takes some water and washes the visitors’ hands. “Unhu” is disappearing quickly. But one Zimbabwean woman in UK has made sure her daughter retains it. Thank God.