Rina Mushonga is an artist of the world. Having grown up in Zimbabwe, lived in India, Holland, and more, she's come call London home to her musical endeavors. Yet, she carries influences from all her experiences across the globe, making her presence something of an antidote to our seemingly shrinking world. As fear and isolation encroach around us, Mushonga represents a beacon of positivity and warmth in a time where such vibes are desperately needed.

Her sophomore album, In a Galaxy, indebted to Afropop and more European shades of electronic alike, doesn't sound quite like anything else around, and is a true pleasure to consume. I was pleased to link up with Mushonga for a chat, which only proved to be more insightful and breezy than I'd dared hope. Read on below.

Also, be sure to catch her headlining live at The Shacklewell come the 19th of March if you happen to enjoy a good time.


So, in the press release it says this record was 4 years in the making: is that referring to the time it took to find the various inspirations that inform the record / the period of time from which your drew experiences that spoke to the music, or were you writing/recording these songs across 4 years?

I think from writing and recording the first sketches, developing the demos and then final recording and post-production it was probably about 4 years of which the majority was writing and sketching really.

I started recording the first few 'demos' just before I moved to London and they just didn't come out right. We recorded in a friends studio and it was this amazing space but somehow it didn't quite come together or sound the way I had an inkling it should sound. I kept listening to my original sketches and preferring those to the end studio recording. After that I kinda pressed pause for a while on writing and recording. There was a lot going on with the move and existentially just a lot to process, leaving my band ...yeah it was tough. Once in Peckham I just took the time to settle myself a bit, to observe and experience. I dunno if I'd say 'finding inspiration' persé cause that sounds so intentional but yeah -- it was revitalizing being out of Amsterdam and in this new vibrant and indeed inspirational setting. I ruptured my Achilles heal which sort of forced me to finally just write everything down and re-start the whole process and it just poured out of me. I would take these sketches to Frans' (Verburg (co-producer)) and we'd develop the demos in his basement studio in Rotterdam -- no real pressure, just making tunes -- which was such a wholesome feeling. In 2016 I dropped an EP "Bullet" with the first inklings of the sound and vibe I built on for the rest of the album. I met Brett Shaw the summer of 2017 and over the course of about a year and a half the three of us put the record down.

So, going off that: I often think of albums as capturing a snapshot in artist’s life, but, of course, some albums are recorded over years and years, I’ve always thought that’d give an odd feeling for the person recording them: some material will speak to years gone by, while some other songs will possibly be very recent, was it like that for you? If yes, how is listening to the album like for you as an experience, does it feel like a “moment” or does it take you to different places and times within each song?

The songs on this record definitely span across time. Nothing's really of one time or even one place. A lot of the songs are hybrids even of present and past moments, songs, experiences. I think that amalgamated vibe sort of speaks through the album on different levels. When writing a lot of the songs it was definitely a time to take stock for me, looking back to look forward I guess. The last few years in Holland had been pretty frustrating and brought me a lot of anxiety and self doubt about making music. When I got to London and started writing for the album more intentionally a lot of anger and insecurity about that resurfaced that I wasn't fully aware of how much it had been this dead weight in my life. But listening back to the album is sort of like looking at a map of the past 10 - 15 years of my life in a way -- different songs speak to different times in my life, different places I've lived and communities I've been a part of, it addresses what community means to me, home, identity, the need for representation.

Having lived all across America, Scotland, and South Korea myself, I understand the feeling of drifting between home nations (at least somewhat!): did your experiences in each country radically differ from each other, or did you feel a common human thread between places? Have you had a favorite home?

The experiences were all definitely quite distinct and different. I guess having lived and grown up in these vividly different parts of the world also makes you acutely aware of preconceived notions about certain places. I went to high school in Zimbabwe in the 90s and I reckon my experiences as a teenager in Zim in many ways weren't all that different from kids in Amsterdam or London. I partied with friends listening to Morcheeba and Nirvana and Arrested Development, maybe mixed in with a bit more Bhundu Boys and Oliver Mutukudzi ... but still.

But then again experiencing Zim in my teens was very different to experiencing it in my 20s and 30s.

What's more in your face and hugely confronting is the inequality and massive divide between rich and poor which is a lot to process for a 16yr old who's also coming to terms with her sexuality and all that fun stuff. And this will sound wild but we moved back to Zimbabwe in my teens after having lived in Amsterdam and London for quite a while -- it was also just a jolt to be somewhere where the presumed dominant population, government, everything really, wasn't white. That first feeling really stuck with me. How, if we don't step outside our 'bubbles' or look beyond where we live or come from, we can get a very warped view of what the global 'norm' is. And always, always, always that representation matters -- how impactful it is to see yourself reflected back in your surroundings.

Living in Holland was different in the sense that it's where I actively started pursuing a career in making music I guess. But Holland's quite homogenous in many ways and I grew evermore painfully aware as a woman of colour how un(der)represent people of colour are which was further compounded by an upsurge in racism and a disturbing unwillingness to confront its problems with institutionalised racism. It all just made me feel less and less at home and was part of the reason we left in the end...new horizons and wanting to live somewhere that felt more inclusive and looked more like the world I knew was out there.

But Zimbabwe in particular holds my heart -- I feel creatively rejuvenated whenever I visit, there is in many ways still a world of opportunity there to make things new, and despite the hardship a hunger to create and express and thrive.

How precisely did Metamorphoses inform the album? Do characters factor as voices in at all, or all of the songs reflections of self?

I think I was drawn by the theme of transformation. I was reading at a time that I was experiencing a lot of transformation in my life and these magical tales of people turning into swans and trees and the layers of meaning just resonated with me. It's all very Midsummer Nights' Dreamish I guess -- the mythical madness of it all and I wanted to bring some of this magical, almost sort of luxurious, tropical vibe I experienced reading it into the album. Of course 'AtalantA' was directly inspired by the story of AtalantA the huntress who I loved using as this symbol of female power and perseverance, this guardian female warrior who'd kick any #metoo #timesup asshole in the nuts. And 'Narcisc0' is a subtle nod to Narcissus and his unfortunate obsession with his own reflection. So there's bits n pieces all over in various forms. But it's not a concept album or anything -- 'Tropix' was inspired by The Great Gatsby for example, so I had no qualms deviating from the script as it were. ;-)

Was Star Wars truly an inspiration for the title? Were you thinking of Joseph Conrad or more just a fan of the movies?

Yeah, for sure. I mean I'm no Star Wars nut by any means, but I grew up watching those films and that opening reel of course ... it sort of popped up when writing 'In A Galaxy' the title track --- that came first really and for the album title I was searching for something all encompassing, something that could convey the geographical scope of the album as well as all of these global human connections I was thinking and writing about.

The concept of Earth as part of a galaxy and how that sort of breaks down all these bullshit borders and barriers we put up to distance ourselves from each other and feel superior to each other, really spoke to me. Also I love those scenes where they're in some alien intergalactic bar and you've got all these wild looking alien species walking around sipping weird luminescent drinks and the humans in that set up always felt very much like the odd ones out which I loved.

What have you been listening to of late?

The glorious new Sharon van Etten album has been on repeat for sure. Also I'm absolutely in love with ROSALÍA -- her album is mesmerisingly beautiful. Beatenberg (South African band) , Kelsey Lu, Noname, BEA1994, Serpent with Feet.

What was (were) the last great thing(s) you read?

Mythos and Heroes both by Stephen Fry I've devoured. They lay out the origins and chronology of Greek Mythology through his awesome retelling of a hell of a lot of the great stories. It's charming and smart and funny and accessible. It helped revise a lot of Ovid's Metamorphosis and explain a huge chunk of stuff I just didn't get.

Is there a genre or artist you love that would surprise people? (K-pop stan here, shalln’t lie)

Ha. I'm not sure how surprising it is... but when I'm on holiday and want to truly disconnect from the outside world I love listening to old country and folk and Americana. Like Dolly Parton and the McGarrigle sisters, EmmyLou Harris ... all that good stuff is totally my musical comfort food.

What were your electronic influences coming into recording? Was it an area you’d already personally been interested in, or something collaborators began to sell you on?

I've always loved and listened to 80s Pop and Afropop / Afrobeats... I was pretty late to the game re HipHop but that's also been a growing influence these past few years especially how genre-redefining it's become.

But mainly it's been through working closely with Frans Verburg. He played keys in my band since my first album. I call him the synth whisperer and besides being a phenomenal pianist he also brings a lot of technical savvy but mainly synthesiser enthusiasm to the table. Frans and I also share a common love for Afrobeat and a common drive to produce something new and fresh sounding, so it was easy to develop a sort of short-hand with him and communicate what I was going for. He's been really...ehm...instrumental in helping me develop my new sound and interpreting and translating all my wild ideas with the warmth and depth and creative capacity synthesisers and electronica bring with them.

Developing the album we were listening to a lot of Afrobeat, but also stuff like John Wizards, this great South African artist who also has this cool way of fusing 'traditional' African textures with contemporary electronica and beats in a way that isn't contrived and that felt really fresh to us.

I really love Francis Bebey too and his weird and wonderful combination of the traditional and the electronic. But yeah, Frans has been key to this whole development and it's been such a joy and honour working with him on this.

Fully realizing it’s early days yet, would you expect to look towards literature for inspiration for your next record, or do you imagine you’ll find the music in entirely different places?

Absolutely. I think literature will always feature heavily in the music I write. I majored in English Lit at Uni, partly because I thought it'd help me with my writing. Also cause I felt literature in a way was like simultaneously studying sociology and psychology and history. But yeah, the stories are all there and writing about how I connect with them or using them as references to communicate personal processes and experiences has always felt very natural. But it's definitely not an exclusive source by any means ... I get a lot of 'material' inspiration from watching bad tv for example, there's a lot of telenovelas and sci-fi werewolf vampire angst in there too ... haha.

It seems you had a bit of a Rear Window experience (minus the witnessing a murder bit, I’d hope) after your injury - can you tell a bit of that story for readers unfamiliar with it, and perhaps if there were any particularly inspiring or memorable experiences from watching the outside world go by?

Haha whoops...I shamefully had to youtube the trailer for this --- aargh. But yeah I get what you mean now ;-)

Yes, the summer after I arrived in London I ruptured my achilles tendon playing football. We were still crashing at a friends place in Peckham and just having a great time being in London. I was pretty gutted cause it was a glorious summer and everything was happening, Peckham was vibrant and just popping and I was stuck inside. But it forced me to stop procrastinating with writing the album for sure. I had a mini set-up in the living room, mic, midiplayer, guitar, laptop and my foot in a cast perched up on the couch. I could hear Peckham outside my living room window which was glazed so I couldn't see much...but that weirdly also helped. I could hear people arguing and laughing and kids coming home from school and people going into town and I'd often hold the mic up to the window to record snippets of conversation or laughter and work those into the tracks. Some of those samples made it to the album, but all definitely helped set a tone. As I got a bit more crutch savvy and could hop into Peckham I started recording more of the sounds on the highstreet, west African hair salon ladies shouting at me from across the street if they could please just sort out my mad hair or just traffic, passing conversations, African churches... I did a lot of lurching outside windows with my phone held up in the air.

Was Paul Simon a direct influence on In a Galaxy or were you more simply comparing the vibes / storytelling?

I think I mean the fusion of Afro/Western Pop vibes more. Paul Simon was a musical staple in my family, and Johnny Clegg too -- they both combined western Pop with AfroPop to create something truly phenomenal. I think that's always stuck with me cause I identified with that on a personal level of course-- like, this music is how I feel, straddling two worlds as it were. It's also always been a challenge figuring out how to create something that's balanced, contemporary and represents all these parts of my musical heritage.

How would you describe the sound of the album? The Afropop angle is certainly evident, but I hear plenty of other things going on~ would love them in your own words~ we just journalists tend to be (partly from necessity, to be fair, gotta sell the reader) so reductive.

I think I called it 'Paul Simon in a sweaty African dancehall club' somewhere. But to be honest I find it excrutiating to really pin it down because in a way we've tried really hard to create something you haven't quite heard before, which granted is rediculously ambitious if not impossible...but yeah. I mean I had a long Yeasayer on repeat phase and discovering them really instilled more confidence to combine Pop with freakier more unusual elements. My song structures tend to be all over the place generally cause I hate repeating anything...which is very un-Pop -- Brett Shaw helped steer things in that department with ' why don't you bring that back again it's really good and I want to hear it again' ... I mean compliments will get you everywhere.

Vampire Weekend, Blood Orange, Santigold, TuneYards, Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire. All that sort of off kilter synth pop with afropop flourishes really speaks to me and has undeniably helped me push that vibe on the record.

I read that Charlottesville informed ‘Glory’ (which I think might be my favorite track, but tough call!), would you say the Trump era / encroaching bitterness and terror of the world at large influenced the record in other ways? (Or you can simply speak on ‘Glory’, I can always edit questions to fit the answers you give later :) ) I came home from Korea, who had just ousted a corrupt President, and put a (reasonably) forward-thinking, good man into office, it gave such a feeling of hope to witness, and returning to Trump...it was truly soulsucking.

Yes I feel you on that. And coming from Zimbabwe where we've just gone from one nutso tyrant to the next has been equally soul sucking. I think what I mentioned earlier about living in Holland and experience this upsurge in racism and xenophobia played a huge part in the anger I was feeling writing this and 'Narcisc0' too. It feels so personal, my father (who's Zimbabwean) literally left Holland cause he felt so undermined and belittled, a professor in business studies and governance until you go to the job centre , there they immediately suggested he try and do some work as a janitor or cleaning office buildings. I could see him grow tired and angry and sad...every time he flew anywhere with my Mum (who's Dutch) he'd be the one singled out and stopped to search -- like my parents told me this almost as an afterthought because they got so used to this they kinda felt it was normal -- and it just enraged me --- I mean fuck-- all these nations built on the backs of the peoples and countries they're trying to keep at arms length --- the injustice, arrogance and inhumanity of it just makes enrages me. Seeing those people en masse chanting and marching the streets with tiki torches and brazenly out in the open as if they had nothing to be ashamed of -- it just set me off --- that feeling of being violently hurled back in time, as if all that struggle amounted to nothing --- that's that sentence ' and backwards we won't go' ... and then have a 'president' so jaded and corrupt not call it out and condemn it in no uncertain terms...that's just brutal...but yeah...stick it in a song n carry on I guess 🙄

I see and hear your remarks about white male fragility so clearly. (admittedly speaking as a white male) It’s so draining seeing these vital movements being twisted...like the recent stuff with people boycotting Captain Marvel simply because Brie Larson said something entirely harmless...I imagine it’s just the patriarchy having been comfortable for so long the slightest jolt to their power frightens them...I didn’t so much ask a question here but I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject. Go off, if you like.

Ah -- yes -- it's just so sadly predictable and yet I still somehow find myself in a constant state of shock. I think it's the hijacking of the narrative...the blatant disregard of what's being said and just bulldozing back with 'not all men' or 'that's reverse sexism/racism' --- that bugs me the most --- that people can be so unwilling to look passed themselves to try and comprehend or empathise with someone else's propagated, state sponsored subjugation and feelings of exclusion and inequality that are like embedded in the fabric of our society.

Anyways, I think what's powerful about what Brie Larson's doing here --- when POC or any women call this shit out most of the time it'll be eye-rolling -- 'oh you're pulling the race card or the gender card again' type responses -- but I'm like...Hello !! Pull that fucking card and wave it in the air till your arm drops off and if you're white or straight or male then help call it out all the more -- be aware -- look around and think what am I contributing to this narrative...is this the space and time for my interjection, or am I hijacking someone else's narrative cause I love the sound of my own voice. Lord believe me I know it's tiring --- but think of how exhausting it is being on the receiving end of this for a kazillion years n then come at me.

So, how did you break into the music industry itself? I imagine it’s been a journey. Were you playing and recording while in India or Zimbabwe or so on? (I don’t know how young you were in either place, my bad if you were 5 or something haha)

Haha no worries -- I was born in India and left when I was 2yrs old -- so no studio time in India. It has been a long journey and honestly I still feel like I'm breaking in but yeah... I started performing in Harare at a joint we all hung out at on Thursday nights called The Book Café. It was thé spot where we could try out material but also jam with each other --- a bunch of culturally intrigued teenagers being all hoity-toity and artsy haha. It was pretty awesome though and I learnt a lot. I met Chiwoniso Mareira there around those early days -- she was one of the up and coming greats in Zim and we became good friends. She, again, blended traditional textures, played the Mbira but wrote songs with these contemporary Pop structures. We became fast friends and I learned a lot from her. She's the first person to deconstruct 'Strange Fruit' for me (the Nina Simone cut). I left soon after high school to study in Europe. I put my music on hold to focus on my studies...but the moment I graduated I was like --- right -- this is the thing I want to do most. I went back to Zimbabwe to reconnect with my music there I guess, I craved somewhere I could just try shit out and jam, no pressure or expectations and learn from local musicians and see where my sound would land and fit.

A friend put up some bucks for me to record an EP. It got picked up by an agency in NL and I moved there soon after and things kind of picked up from there. I landed a deal quite quickly after that and recorded my first album etc etc. And then a whole other crazy journey started haha.

How did you go about finding collaborators you felt at home with? Whether Brett Shaw or Frans Verburg, or so on? I see Verburg is referred to as a bestie, how did you originally link up, there a fun story there?

I met Frans when he joined my band in Holland playing keys. I love his musical choices and his style of playing and it was obvious from the start that he had a lot of great ideas to contribute and I dunno, I just trusted him quite quickly. Working together just sort of developed quite naturally. It's kinda like working with family really --- like we can cut through the bullshit and say stuff like 'I really hate that sound you're making!" or "that sounds like balls" and it not be a whole personal drama thing and I think that was really important for me going into making the second album, feeling safe enough to fully take charge and ownership of my ideas without feeling guilty or embarrassed. He never co-opted or sidelined my opinions and ideas -- and you'd think that was a normal thing considering we're working on my record...but being in a studio with mainly men can all too often become all about their feelings and their ideas and I wanted to stay well clear of that...I needed to in order to make this album and not look back and think damn, if only I'd stood up for myself more.

We initially went into the studio with Brett and recorded 'AtalantA' to just get a feel for each other and see if it'd work. Brett's personality is very different to mine and Frans'. Frans is like super Dutch as in pretty blunt or direct haha. Together we're also quite nitpicky about stuff plus we already had this shorthand working with each other -- but Brett brought this quiet steady force, gently guiding us here and there, always respectful of the ideas we brought with us into the studio. Frans and I had done a lot of the preproduction already and sometimes it's hard to let go of those ideas -- demo-itis ... but Brett was always just able to steer us to impliment small, smart changes here and there that had a huge impact on the overall outcome. Haha, reading that back Frans and I sound like a nightmare to work with...but we're darlings I promise ;-)

So the recording process was mainly just the three of us in the studio -- which is what I wanted -- a small intimate team -- to shut out all the noise and opinions and be better able to tune into my own thoughts and gut instinct without interference.

What are your hopes and aspirations moving forward?

I mean, I obviously hope that the album helps create more and better opportunities to create, perform and collaborate. I mean I think it sounds pretty straightforward -- but it's some serious hustling just to make music and tour and all the fucking hurdles you have to jump through to get ahead --- the bills --- the industry, and all the noise and logistics --- it really makes making music pretty hard sometimes.

I've always really admired Justin Vernon and how he works on all these different projects, musically, but also creating these great platforms and festivals. I love that idea of project based work cause it'd give me room to make music that sits in different genres and not make me feel trapped into having to only produce this one type of sound.

So basically make more amazing music and work with brilliant people preferably in beautiful places haha --- and I'd like to do more music for theatre and film. I wrote the score for a friend's documentary last year (Big Wata) and I really enjoyed that process.

But yeah -- I just want the good life really --- making music and travelling and exploring all the new creative possibilities that come my way.

If you could hypothetically record your next album anywhere on Earth, where would that be? No constraints from reality, in the ruins of Pompeii, anywhere!

I'd love to just take a small team of good people and record somewhere beautiful like Mozambique or Brazil or Jamaica -- somewhere warm and gorgeous with lots of rum and a beach nearby and ... hang on... this is sounding more like I just want to go on holiday with my friends -- hahaha ...which, to be fair, ain't no lie!!