She is a top class act performing her own originals as well as cover versions of some of Zimbabwe’s leading musicians. She can speak Shona and just loves people. Here Zim Abroad Editor Martin Chemhere brings her story.
Gemma studied Commercial Music Composition and performance at Snow College in the USA, which she describes as “such a great experience” as she learnt a lot. This was also her first time living outside of Africa, which to her was such a different experience, a different lifestyle in a lot of ways.
Currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, she explains that this South African city has an amazing music scene, with live music every night of the week. She recalls a jazz club called Harringtons being one of her favorites, and it’s literally a 30 second walk from her flat in town.
“There are also so many Zimbabweans in Cape Town, I meet them all over. I used to play at the piano bar every Tuesday and there was a Zimbabwean bartender who worked Tuesdays, it was great, we would joke around in Shona and the other barmen wouldn’t have a clue.”
She like to call her music “acoustic soul, often stripped down, but there are always surprises.”
The type of messages in her music varies, sometimes brining in personal experiences, sometimes an idea or concept she is exploring. She also likes to tell stories with her music, also love to write about home – the smell of rain, and sunsets, that she says she misses so much when away, and that however gets her in a writing mood.
During the last week of June she was very excited to have delivered the finishing touches to her debut EP. “I am really proud of it, but as yet, there is no set release date yet. I have many singles though, which are all up on my Youtube page including some of the various covers of other musicians too.”
Gemma has performed in the UK, where she graced the Zimfest stage in London and in Zimbabwe, at the Shoko Festival, Zimstock, Miombo Magic, HIFA. “It is actually incredible that there are so many Zimbabwean promoters who work fearlessly to provide Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora with some good feel good music. Long may it continue?”
So far she he has been lucky to be invited by Jah Prayzah to perform a show with him in South Africa. She is a massive fan of his and she ended up doing a cover of one of his tracks Mdara Vachauya (check it out on YouTube). Recently though, she was part of an incredible line up of women – herself, Ammara Brown and Tamy Moyo who all supported UK Grammy Award winning artist – Joss Stone. “It was such an amazing evening you know and I was so proud to be involved. Elsewhere, I have been privileged to work alongside Majozi, Jimmy Nevis and Matthew Mole.”
How do you see the future of Zim music?
“Zimbabwe is so full of talented and vibrant musicians, it really is an amazing growth spot for musicians to collaborate and create magic. I love that more and more you see collaborations happening across the space whether that is Jah Prayzah with a Tanzanian artist like Diamond or a Nigerian artist like Davido or with myself – watch this space. Or a collaboration between Ammara Brown and Tytan which produced one of my favourite songs Mukoko. I think the more we Zim artists think outside of our own spaces, the better as we then expand into new areas.”
Asked which artists from Zim, Africa and international would she like to collaborate with and why, she said:
“Where do i even start? For me Ammara Brown has always been amazing to watch. She has the energy and drive I like and I believe both of us on a track together could be magic. Who knows… Jah Prayzah and I have been talking about working together for ages so definitely watch this space on that one. I also really love Cynthia Mare and Shingai Shoniwa from The Noisettes. My other long time wish is the legend that is Oliver Mtukudzi. I mean it does not really get any better does it? He is our national treasure and I would love to pen a song for him (although equally, I would promise to do justice to any of his catalogue. I am a trumpet major so another one of my ambitions is to grace the stage with Hugh Masekela. Who else…. Ed Sheeran. I would absolutely love to work with Ed Sheeran. I reckon only time will tell, I believe you can learn something from any good musician.”
Music has always been part of Gemma’s life. Her family is musical and many of them play instruments – it just felt very natural learning music, and she has sung for as long as she can remember.
She explains that she is very happy with where she is at the moment, pointing out that playing music really lights up her soul, and she’s so glad she gets to do that every day. To be able to do what she loves and share it with people – to her that is success. She can see herself growing every day. She notices what people respond to when her socials go up or messages on Facebook. She handles all her own messaging so when people ask questions, “they are really getting me”.
Also she loves speaking and interacting with fans. She recalls she just did a Sofar session in the UK (www.sofarsounds.com), of which she has always wanted to do one, So to be asked to do one in London when she not even based in London makes her feel like her music is travelling. Last year she filmed a Mahogany session for a song she wrote called One More For The Road so to expand on these looks makes her happy.
“I am also very proud to have been asked to feature on a track by a DJ called Askery who is based in Amsterdam. The track called ‘Headlights’ is on Spinnin Records, which is a massive label and the video has had almost half a million views on YouTube.”
“Through that collaboration, I have been exposed to so much more. I am really loving my journey.”
Gemma loves doing interpretations of songs which she says it’s such a fun process. She did a version of one of Cynthia Mare’s songs – Zuva Rimwe.
“I love her voice, it’s so powerful. I covered Jah Prayzah’s Mdhara Vachauya, Winky D’s – Musarova Bigman and also Andy Brown’s Mapurisa. I love putting my own spin to these songs. I have more coming so watch this space.”
She thinks that any challenges she has encountered have just taught her to work harder, dream and plan more, and sometimes to step back and take a look from a different angle. So she guesses she views them (challenges) more as lessons. The biggest challenge she has learnt through all of this is “to stay true to who you are in your heart, and to focus on your goal when you encounter temporary setbacks or obstacles.”
The rising singer and song writer says it is important to love people.
“Love people, just love people. Take the time to rest and then you can be a giver, of time, of energy, of compliments. How you make people feel is incredibly important, no matter what your job is, or where you are in your life.”
So far her secret to success has been to work hard, believing in her goal. She says “don’t make excuses and don’t blame others. Just focus, and love the journey. You can be successful from day one if you think about it, success isn’t about just the end result, but how you deal with and view every step along the way. Work towards your goal yes, but also decide to enjoy the process and be happy along the way.”
She grew up in Harare, pretty close to the city center. There they had a garden overgrown with plants, flowers everywhere as her mum filled the home with colour. She says there were always people sitting at the table in their purple-walled kitchen, and the kettle was always on for another cup of tea.
Gemma went to Heritage and Bishopslea for junior school and the Chisipite for senior school. She played music at all three, whether it was in a choir, orchestra, solo or group, all the schools she went to have such great music programs.