In Zimbabwe like many other countries there exists an invisible and unspoken racial divide, where the Black, Caucasian, Indian etc. communities keep to their own and rarely meet except maybe if you go to the churches in the uptownt suburbs. But once in a while a musician comes along and breaks the walls that exist in our societies and reminds us we are one underneath. When Gemma Griffiths did a cover rendition of Wink D’s “Bigman” last year, a dance-hall favourite in the high density suburbs of Zimbabwe, she not only earned herself a place in the hearts of the majority of Zimbabweans but shattered the misconceptions of many. Here was a white Zimbabwean girl who could sing fluently in Shona and not only that, she showed mad love for local dance-hall music!
The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, once said;
“In a world of diversity where often values clash, music leaps across language barriers and unites people of quite different cultural backgrounds. And so, through music, all peoples can come together to make the world a more harmonious place.”
I caught up with Gemma for a girls chat and to find out what makes this beautiful soul tick.
Anoziva: Let’s start by getting into your background. Take us back through your musical journey, where did it start, where did you study?
Gemma: I was always moved by music. It has been a part of my life since I was born, maybe even before that… My mum said when she was pregnant with me; I would bounce around when music played. I always sang, but started piano at age 8, and trumpet and guitar at 14. I studied commercial music composition at Snow College in the USA.
Anoziva: I read you grew up in a very musical family with your grandparents and mother being musicians. How have they influenced your music and are there any other big musical inspirations that you look to?
Gemma: They always encouraged me. My mum taught me guitar and trumpet at the beginning, and her love of music fuelled mine. I am inspired by new musicians daily… there are so many incredible people out there doing amazing things. Amy Winehouse and Norah Jones both shaped my music style as it is today.
Anoziva: A lot of Zimbabweans came to know you when your cover for Winky D’s “Big-man” went viral on social media and a whole lot of other Shona covers you have done including Andy Brown’s Mapurisa…….any particular reason for choosing to do Shona covers since it’s not your mother tongue?
Gemma: I grew up in Zimbabwe, and I absolutely love our local music scene. There is some amazing amazing music coming out of Zim, and the idea of doing some covers of that made perfect sense to me.
Anoziva: Moving to your own music, have you released any album? And how many singles do have?
Gemma: I am in studio at the moment recording my Debut EP. This will be released later this year.
Anoziva: How has the Zimbabwean audience received your music?
Gemma: I have been so overwhelmed by people’s response to my music. Because what I am doing is perhaps unexpected, I wasn’t sure how people would react but I am so thrilled to see people really enjoying what I am doing.
Anoziva: You have performed at HIFA and other local and international festivals/shows. Tell us more about that experience.
Gemma: I absolutely love performing at festivals in Zimbabwe. In 2016 I did Miombo Magic, Shoko, Unplugged and Zimstock to name a few. The crowds are always fantastic, and I really enjoy playing live.
Anoziva: For our readers, who have never heard your music, can you explain your sound in 5 words.
Gemma: Raw, introspective, mellow Acoustic-Soul.
Anoziva: Do you ever get nervous when you are on stage?
Gemma: Not really… I feel at home on stage. It makes sense to me – it feels natural.
Anoziva: You write all of your own music; where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs and what’s your favourite part about the process?
Gemma: The music just normally comes to me.. The idea will just crop up and the process begins. It just sort of happens. When I am in the process of writing a song, I am in my element because I can envisage what I am creating, and what it will turn out to be.
Anoziva: Are there any upcoming collaboration we can look forward to?
Gemma: There definitely are… but it may still be a secret 😉
Anoziva: If I was to turn on your iPod/phone right now, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?
Gemma: Samm Henshaw, Allen Stone, Jah Prayzah, Amy Winehouse and Tariro NeGitare
Anoziva: So, what’s your favourite thing to do when you aren’t writing/playing/singing music?
Gemma: Listening to music? Haha J I love being outdoors – hiking, camping etc. I really enjoy dancing as well, and painting, and spending time with God in prayer.
Anoziva: Do you have any Zimbabwean shows planned anytime soon?
Gemma: I will definitely be back for Miombo Magic, and a few other shows in 2017.
Anoziva :What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
Gemma: Oh goodness, I am not much of a trouble causer. I always get in trouble for trying to take my massive guitar case as hand luggage on flights. Haha
Anoziva: What are the five things you can’t live without?
Gemma: My bible, my family, bananas, the sun, and music.
Anoziva: What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
Gemma: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight” – Proverbs 3 vs. 5-6 (That verse is tattooed on my foot)
Anoziva: What is your favourite song to belt out at the bar/in the car/for karaoke?
Gemma: Summertime – Mungo Jerry J or ‘Watora Mari’ is also a winner.
Anoziva: Ten years from now you will be….
Gemma: On stage.
Anoziva: Thank you for sitting down with us.
Gemma: Thank you for having me.