Blessed with a voice that has the ability to silence a room and talent that knows no bounds, Zimbabwean born Indie/folk songstress Gemma Griffiths(GG) has been working hard in between travelling and doing what she loves best - releasing her first EP, My Town. The four-track EP features the single of the same name which has been making waves on the music scene since its release in April.
With an eclectic musical style that has elements of jazz,Gemma writes all of her own songs and plays the piano, trumpet and guitar on many of her tracks. Since coming onto the music scene, Gemma has headlined numerous events, including Zimfest in London and rose to fame with her renditons of Andy Brown's Mapurisa and Winky D’s Musarova Bigman.
Tidi Kwidini (TK) caught up with Gemma to talk about her music,family and what's next for her.
TK: Who were your musical influences when you were growing up?
GG: I’ve always listened to a variety of artists. Growing up, I listened to a lot of the jazz greats such as Billie Holiday, Etta James and Miles Davis. I loved Amy Winehouse and Norah Jones and added Joss Stone to the playlist as I got a little older. My mum introduced me to Oliver Mtukudzi (Tuku) from a young age – he has always held a very special place in my heart – as do Thomas Mapfumo, Andy Brown and the late Hugh Masekela.
TK: You are a multifaceted individual, what inspired you to become a performer?
GG: Performing was always a very natural thing for me – often, I feel more at home on a stage than I do off it. So it felt right to pursue it.
TK: What are some of the challenges you have had to overcome since venturing into music?
GG: I love a good challenge. The music industry has many – but you learn so much from tackling them. Everyone’s journey is different – I think for me, as long as I keep the end goal in sight and keep motivated, waking up everyday excited to get to work, there is nothing I cannot take head on.
I have definitely learnt that sometimes it’s important to stop for a second and instead of focusing wholly on how far you’ve got to go, to turnaround and look at how far you’ve already come.
TK: How would you describe your music and where do you draw your inspiration from?
GG: My music is acoustic soul – with a twist. A twist of home( Zimbabwe). It has elements of R’n’B and a little something that has me written all over it too.
I draw inspiration from everything – experiences, artists, memories, rhythms and sounds. Growing up in Zimbabwe definitely influenced my sound, and what I am drawn to musically – and for that, I am so grateful. Zimbabweans thrive on music. It is embedded in our souls. I also listened to a lot of gospel, soul and jazz so my music has inevitably become a fusion of these influences.
TK: You recently released a new single and music video for the song Irony. Tell us about the process of putting it together and some of the lessons you learnt during it?
GG: Yes. Irony is the first single off my debut EP ‘My Town’ which has just been released. I wrote Irony two years ago and its been so great to record it and visualise how to fit a video to the emotion. I learnt a lot from this project – about what I want to create with my music and how I want to communicate a feeling in every aspect of the EP.
To make people feel free and safe to feel, I have realised, is such an important part of what I want to do. Everyone reacts differently to hearing a piece of music. It can evoke such strong emotions, memories and thoughts in an individual’s life Therefore, it is an incredibly powerful tool. For me, I’ve learnt how much I want listeners to be able to feel safe enough to let themselves feel whatever they want and react to the music with no restrictions.
TK: Your EP is also out, what was most rewarding about putting it together?
GG: I think holding the launch nights in the three cities that have meant so much to me during this journey – Harare, Cape Town and London, and sharing the experience, and the music with all the people who have been a part of it at these events, has meant more to me than I possibly could have imagined.
TK: You performed at Zim Achievers South Africa in April this year and again in May at the UK edition. What was it like two years later performing on that platform again?
GG: It was amazing. The ZAAs has always held a very special place in my heart – and has been a big part of my journey so far. I felt very privileged to be back again, surrounded by wonderful Zimbabweans, celebrating each other in a way that the ZAA does. It’s fantastic!
TK:What is next, any local or international tours planned?
GG: Possibly a holiday! However, I’ve definitely got some shows planned in Zimbabwe and South Africa. I am keen to get back to the recording studio and keep creating! I don't seem to want to stop. I’ve been constantly writing new material that I’d so love to keep sharing.
TK:What are some of the lessons the music industry has taught you and how has it helped shape the artist you are today?
GG: You can do anything you put your mind to, but the people in your team, the people who believe in your journey, are vitally important. Surround yourself with people who are genuine, who believe in you but who care about you as an individual and will be honest with you when needed.
Motivation and hard work are essential but,also being grounded in your faith is key because it keeps you going when everything else around you feels like it's not moving. At the end of the day, stop, reflect, and be grateful for being able to create art as a part of your everyday life – never go to sleep, or wake up, without a heart full of gratitude.
TK: You are constantly on the road doing what you love, how do you balance your work and family life?
GG: It’s all a learning process for sure. The people in my life understand the lifestyle I live and, although it is different, and I am often away, technology is an amazing tool for staying connected.
Nonetheless, when I am in a place, I also try very hard to be present, and spend time with the people I care about in that specific city. It is quality time over quantity that I choose.
TK: There are so many musicians in the game. What are some of the key things that help you stay relevant and ahead in an industry that is so competitive?
GG: I make music that I believe in – and I have found people who seem to believe in it too. The people who follow my music are incredibly important to me and I want to stay authentic, and write from the heart.
TK: What would you say to aspiring music artists who are trying to catch their first break?
GG: Work hard, find your sound, and make something that you are proud of. Always look at the positives in a situation and be gentle with yourself and your journey.
Take time to rest, to pray - prayer is important, and to spend time with the people you love and, acknowledge those who support you.
Be yourself, and celebrate others successes- there is enough space for many people to shine.