In a country like Zimbabwe, with rhythm pouring through its vibrant veins, growing up with an undeniable connection to music was an inevitability for Gemma Griffiths.
Gemma Griffiths sound, best described as acoustic soul, is prominent in her first EP ‘My Town’, released in May 2018. The record unravels layers of Gemma’s musical identity and leaves audiences with palpable familiarity with this Zimbabwean daughter whose sound is as eclectic as it is cosmopolitan. Not forgetting the 2019 hit collaboration with Winky D, which “MuGarden.” The hit song that took Zimbabwe by storm and gave us an amazing music video.
Gemma Griffiths introspective writing draws on her range of musical influences, from international artists such as Amy Winehouse, and Lianne La Havas, to the Afrojazz greats of Southern Africa, including the late Zimbabwean Andy Brown, Oliver Mutukudzi and South Africa’s Hugh Masekela, all the way through to the new generation of young Zimbabwean artists such as Ammara Brown, Jah Prayzah and Cynthia Mare. This diverse dynamic of guidance has set her apart as an artist before her time and beyond her years. Kwantuthu Arts Magazine managed to catch a moment to interview the acoustic soul Gemma Griffiths.
How did you start your musical journey to get to where you are today?
I always played music – it was always a big part of my life. I started singing when I started walking, and I learnt piano, trumpet and guitar when I was still in junior school. I studied music at university in the states and loved every second of it.
So it was a very natural transition into doing music full time. I’ve been so lucky to be in the Zimbabwean music industry, as it is such a wonderful group of incredible creatives.
What is your creative song writing process?
Again it’s incredibly natural. It either happens or it doesn’t. It’s like my soul decides when it wants to write. Mind set is a big part of it, you can’t force creativity. And then when it’s time, I just write – it just flows out of me.
Can you tell us what inspired the ‘My Town’ EP?
My town just happened. I went into studio and started recording something completely different, and that night, I got home and wrote my town. That was it – the next day I went into studio and started over – with my town.
What is your favourite song on the ‘My Town’ EP?
well every song on the EP means something different to me, and I wrote for a reason. Jimmy Choi’s is the oldest track of mine, so it has a special place in my heart, but I think my town really drove the EP for me.
Can you share with us what your experience was performing at the Lake of Stars Festival 2018?
LOS was incredible. It really is an incredible festival – where people from every walk of life come together to share friendship, and experience amazing music. Performing on main stage was spectacular- and about 10 minutes before jumping on stage, i ran into a member from my band in Zim, Mangoma – and he came up on stage and jammed with me! It was such a special moment.
How did the MuGarden Collaboration with Winky D come about?
Winky called me up and we just got chatting – he told me his idea and I loved it. We just rolled with it and MuGarden was born.
Can you share with us how it was to work with Winky D?
He’s great! Absolutely awesome to work with – and such a cool calm artistic talent, who knows his vision.
Who are your heroes or people you look up to?
Musically I have so many, but baba Tuku (Oliver Mutukudzi) really stands out to me. He wrote an unbelievable amount of original music, and all of it was stunning. He spoke about important things with his music, he inspired so many people, and grew the Zimbabwean music industry. On top of this, he was an incredibly humble soul, who always had time for everyone.
Can you give us your favourite quote and one of your own?
“You never regret being kind” – I’m not sure where I heard that but it has stuck with me always.
One of mine is a part of some spoken word I wrote – “you are the temple to a priceless soul, made from the dust of the earth, be gentle, be careful not to push yourself down, but to know in your bones your own worth.”
What do you do to unwind?
Easy – Play music 🙂
Who are your favourite musicians?
Tuku, Thomas Mapfumo, and Winky D are biggies for me. Shingai Shoniwa is absolute fire, and I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Ali Farka Toure this past month.
What is on your music playlist now?
All of Ali’s albums, butsu mutandrika -Thomas mapfumo, Shingai’s “coming home” and lots of d’angelo.
What new projects, collaborations, shows can we look forward to?
Ooooh hopefully lots! But watch this space – I’ll post on my Facebook and instagram what to look forward to 🙂
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