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Country Zimbabwe UK Genres acoustic band spoken word fusion urban Website Festival Sauti za Busara 2007 Recordings
Chimurenga Soul (2006)
Netsayi was born in London in 1973 to parents exiled from Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. While their dad was in the guerrilla camps of Mozambique and Zambia, Netsayi and her two siblings were raised by their mother in Camden. There were always other Zimbabweans passing through and there was always talk about what was going on at "home". "My mother always used to talk about how sweet the water was and how blue the sky was ... I think I became familiar with the idea of yearning for "home" before I knew what yearning was!"
In 1980 the family moved back to an independent Zimbabwe – the year that Bob Marley rocked Rufaro Stadium in the township of Mbare where Netsayi's grandmother still lives. It was on weekends here that she heard her uncles playing records by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Denis Brown. "I remember the bass pulsing under the garden," she says. "It was like the lifeblood of the earth."
Growing up in the Harare, the soundscape was completely eclectic. There was kwasa from the Congo, South African jazz and pop, local jit, mbira, UK and US R 'n' B, and the beginnings of hip hop. There was music at home, in church, at traditional events and ceremonies ... "The police brass band played at these huge, socialist-style celebrations at soccer stadia on the big national holidays and, even though it pissed us off as kids to have to be there, I just loved the music."
But Netsayi doesn't think of herself as a musician so much as a person who's developed skills in anything that doesn't require equipment or money to practice. "Both before and after independence our home life was constantly suffering upheaval," she says. "It was the aftermath of apartheid and I think my father struggled to distinguish the practicalities from the ideal. I think that if you have contributed to freeing a nation, you've fulfilled one HUGE role. To then go on and live successfully as an ordinary man is almost the opposite skill; it's a role you could have imagined, but could never be prepared to fully inhabit. So when it finally comes to it, you're overwhelmed and incapacitated, like a rabbit caught in headlights.
"Anyway, writing poetry and stories, listening, thinking about how to put music and plays together, and singing – they were things I could do despite the chaos. By the time I was 11, I'd been to nine schools and lived in about 11 houses. But, everywhere we went I had my voice, pen, paper and about a million ideas."
Netsayi performed and wrote throughout junior and high school. She went on to study Visual Art at university and then worked in film and TV production in Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was halfway through an MA in Film Producing that she decided that she wanted to focus on music.
"When I decided to play music it was so that I did not have to ask anyone for permission: I could write a song in the morning and play it in the afternoon and that would be that. I became a musician because I wanted to be free to express the breadth of my experience as a human being and not be limited by commercial constraints or any other categories ascribed to me. I wanted to be free to investigate aspects of my own culture that had become obscured by a colonial and elitist education. I wanted to be able to be proud of all the components, fucked up and otherwise, that make me who I am – the hustler, the thinker, the romantic, the cynic, the analyst. For me, it's not so much a question of loving music – it's as good a medium as any, really – it's a question of being able to drive the vehicle for expression."
Netsayi started playing on the UK concert circuit in 2001. Within a year she'd built a reputation as a sensitive but powerful live performer who was holding her own on some of the world's most prestigious stages including The Royal Albert and Queen Elizabeth Halls and the Hammersmith Apollo. With her hypnotic compositions and personal, playful and often-politicized lyrics, she immediately set herself apart from her peers in both "world" and pop music. Her music was at once accessible without compromising her or her audience's intelligence.
In 2004 Netsayi set up her own label, Militant Prince. In the same year her debut single, the underground hit, "Tatters", was remixed by Charlie Dark and caught the attention of UK tastemakers Ras Kwame and Trevor Nelson at BBC Radio 1. This led to invitations to play live on a number of radio shows including a coveted Peel Session, a Maida Vale Session and, as testimony to the universal appeal of her style, a host of other sessions at Radios 3, 4 and The World Service.
In July 2006 Netsayi released her first album, "Chimurenga Soul", to critical acclaim from broadsheet, style and specialist press alike. Robin Denselow of The Guardian hailed it "one of the finest debuts of 2006". Shortly afterwards Netsayi signed to small but influential Netherlands-based label, World Connections, also home to platinum-selling fado singer, Mariza, and Sara Tavares. In 2007, Netsayi is homeward bound for an East and Southern Africa tour before returning to the UK and Europe to tour throughout 2007.