A global artist by any measure, the eclectically versatile and ever-passionate Yvonne Mwale returns this year with her fourth album release, the brilliantly vibrant and immersive ‘Free Soul’.
From difficult beginnings, Yvonne’s journey through life has been one that ultimately showcases an entirely unique style and perspective in her music. Currently residing in Germany, Yvonne works hard to leave her struggles behind her, to move on from the past and embrace a brighter future with open arms. ‘Free Soul’ is absolutely an embodiment of that progression and intention.
A supreme collection of original recordings, designed to provoke feelings of energy and blissful escapism, ‘Free Soul’ incorporates tribal rhythms and a number of different genres and styles. Leading with an organic world music vibe, yet skilfully fusing this with multiple layers of pop, jazz and even EDM (Electronic Dance Music), the album is an easy must for world music and pop fans far and wide. Wherever the moment takes her, the songs represent this in a unique instance of expression and creative freedom. Even amidst such variety though, Yvonne’s inherent connection to her roots can always be relied upon to breathe life and authenticity into the process.
Far from a new starter, Yvonne has already performed at a plethora of international music festivals and has bagged a handful of impressive awards along the way. In 2009 she won Best Upcoming Female Artist at the Ngoma Awards in Zambia. That same year she took home an award at the CrossRoads InterRegio Festival. In 2013, her well-travelled nature found her as a finalist at the RFI Prix Decouverté in France, and in 2018 she took second place at the World Citizen Artists Awards in Jamaica.
The journey has been a long and unpredictable one, but these qualities and experiences undoubtedly shine with stunning brightness throughout this latest project. From mellow layers of melody to choir-like harmonious anthems and outright dance-floor smashes, ‘Free Soul’ encapsulates precisely the concept implied by its title. Yvonne Mwale is a free soul, through and through. A talented, emotionally intentional and musically skilful artist, who we can expect and hope to see performing on stages across the globe in 2020 and beyond.
Hype Magazine Zambia: The album will be released on Friday May 29th. We caught up with Yvonne Mwale to talk about the new album, the new single “Free Soul” and much more.
HMZ: Thanks for your time today! How are you and your family keeping during this crazy Covid-19 pandemic?
YM: Thankfully, we’re coping quite well with the situation up to now. The kids have their daily school routine and since we have our studio in the house we keep ourselves busy. Just now, before the album release, I’m giving a number of interviews for radio stations and magazines over the phone. Right now, here in Germany, things are going slowly back to normal.
HMZ: I want to get straight into the main event, Free Soul. Congratulations on the release of your fourth album.
“Msimbi Wakuda” “Kalamatila” “Ninkale” and now 2020 Free Soul. The song “Free Soul” is it a just creative expression, or is it based on personal experience?
YM: I’ve been through a number of hardships in my life. Losing my parents early, living on the streets, shifting to Tanzania and then Germany. It took me some time to get settled and understand who I am. Now, I can say I became a free soul since I’m finally the free spirit I always wanted to be. So, it’s definitely a personal experience, delivered in an artistic way.
HMZ: I must mention the entire album is a great piece of work, can you walk us through it, what other songs would you like to tell the people what your message really was?
YM: Oh, thank you! Actually, most songs have a connection to my personal life. One of my favourites, for example, is “Amulange Mwana,” a song performed with the handpan. It talks about disciplining a child. In our Nsenga culture, as girls we undergo a certain training/session to prepare us for womanhood, being a married person and mother. When I grew up I had to go through “chinamwali” or “Ndola” as we call it.
Another song I would love to mention is Confidence. Before my mum passed away she left me some words of encouragement, telling me not to be scared but being confident. She knew that I’ll have difficult times ahead and wanted me to be strong enough for the life ahead of me.
HMZ: Your sophomore album “Kalamatila” a combination of blues, jazz and elements of the gospel was kind of a deeply reflective album. You took a look at your journey and the struggles you faced, is “Free Soul” the conclusion?
YM: To make it short: yes, I think so. I recorded “Kalamatila” when I just arrived in Tanzania. I never recorded my own album before, so I had a good number of songs I composed during my most difficult times that needed to be listened to. Now, 10 years later, I have grown mentally, have seen more of the world and have finally settled down. Besides that, I feel that also musically I have grown. I would say, just like “Kalamatila”, “Free Soul” comes directly from my heart, but it’s the result of a one-decade evolution.
HMZ: I know this new album just released, but what projects can fans look forward to hearing from you next?
YM: We can’t wait for Covid-19 to finally be over to start our release tour, first with some shows in Europe. At the same time, we are still working on some videos and a collection of merchandise products. Other projects are in the making, but it’s a bit too early to talk about for now.
HMZ: How would you describe and/or define the style of music that you create and perform?
YM: Oh, I have even given up to try to categorise my music. If you want, you can see a bit of Jazz, Pop, Soul, Blues and Traditional music is in my songs. Sometimes a bit of Funk or Reggae as well.
Call it Afro-Jazz, Blues, World Fusion. But basically, it’s a blend of inspirations from Zambia’s Eastern Province with whatever comes in my mind. In my latest album, I was experimenting a bit more with sounds as we added various instruments like Handpan, Sitar, Aliquot Guitar, Synthesizer and so one to create a unique, fresh sound.
HMZ: What do you all feel you offer the music industry that we don’t already have in other performers?
YM: Maybe I should leave this question for others to answer? I know in Zambia we have great talents. I wish that sometimes we learn more about music or have a bit more creativity in our own music. It’s a pity, that in most countries people don’t know any Zambian musician. Even here in Europe, you won’t see any Zambian performing at any of the big festivals. For now, I’m trying to fill that gap.
HMZ: Have you all encountered any problems in getting to this point in your career?
YM: Definitely you can’t reach there without struggles, a lot of hard work and once in a while some jealousy people who think they can take shortcuts. As a professional artist, you have to keep your management, record label, distributors and booking agents together, listening to their pieces of advice and develop a business strategy. You can’t just record a single and think you have made it already. It’s a long way that requires patience and hard work.
HMZ: What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part?
YM: In recent years I started understanding how the music industry works. What surprised me is that behind the scenes many things work not the way it looks from outside. Some of the best parts have been to be in a foreign country but still have thousands of people coming to watch me on a stage. And I appreciate getting around the world thanks to my profession. I believe I wouldn’t have seen that many places if I was not a singer.
HMZ: Being an international act that you are, did you find it a lot more difficult trying to crossover into the European market?
YM: I actually feel that here in Europe I started getting the appreciation and support I somehow was missing before. In the beginning, it’s hard to get the right connections and get things started. But if you deliver quality, eventually things will work out. Especially in Germany people are very open and curious to learn about various cultures. That helped me to get an audience right from the beginning.
HMZ: You were born in Zambia, tell me, growing up in Zambia who did you consider to be your strongest influences?
YM: My Mum was my biggest inspiration. She was a dancer and singer in the Masiye Band. Through her, I also got introduced to the music of Brenda Fassie, Michael Jackson and many more. Later, I stayed for a while in a village close to Petauke where the local music inspired me a lot. Years later, Sir Jones Kabanga was my musical mentor and inspiration and helped me to become who I am today.
HMZ: How was it like embarking on a solo career after being in a band?
YM: In my case it was a process over time. I started singing with B-Sharp Band which helped me a lot getting an income from music and getting off the street. It was also a good practice in getting experience on stage with Sir Jones being my music teacher. Still, I couldn’t really record and perform my own songs. After winning the Music Crossroads InterRegio competition in Zambia, we formed the band Nyali to compete even on an international level and then won Music Crossroads for Zambia. With Nyali, I started recording my own songs and we toured Europe in 2010. The project ended, when I moved to East Africa. There we formed a new band and things started taking off. In Europe now, I’m working with many musicians and really appreciate how we musically get along and they understand my music.
HMZ: On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of music? And, even more specifically, where exactly do you “fit in” when it comes to today’s current/trending sound-scape?
YM: Trends are ever-changing and at the end of the day, the market decides if we made the right decisions. But with my latest album “Free Soul”, we tried to add more spice and more modern sounds to my tracks. From the first feedbacks, we see that probably we have done some things right.
HMZ: Do you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from entertainment?
YM: I have acted in a movie for German TV and I have been working for a while on a book project. Music is still my main thing, but I’m open and love to express my creativity in various ways.
HMZ: If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
YM: The late Prince. I hardly can imagine anybody else who lived music in the same way. He was a true musician and could play so many instruments, being open to so many musical styles.
HMZ: Where would you love to hear a song of yours played?
YM: Wherever it makes people happy. Most, I would love to hear it at places where people didn’t have the chance to listen to Yvonne Mwale before.
YM: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
YM: Encouragement, Joy and Positivity about life.
HMZ: What advice do you have for young artists coming up in the industry?
YM: Permanently keep working on yourself, improve every day and be patient. Big things don’t happen overnight. And don’t expect others to push your career. It’s you who have to prove you’re serious about it.
HMZ: What is The Yvonne Mwale’s legacy? What do you want Yvonne Mwale’s legacy to be?
YM: I feel like it’s 30 years early to answer that question. But I can already say I want to be known for peace, positivity, kindness and respect.
HMZ: What does or would success look like to Yvonne Mwale?
YM: Having a happy life with my family, seeing the world and making enough from my music to not worry about money. Success comes in different ways. When I think about where I come from, I see it as success to be alive, having a shelter and every day enough food on the table.
HMZ: Is there anything I left out, or just plain forgot to mention?
YM: No, I think we covered everything.
HMZ: Any “closing” thought(s) for our readers
YM: I believe in our Zambian people, I believe in art and believe that as Zambians we still can still get our country highlighted on the map if we open our doors for opportunities and real art, breaking the cycle of envy and changing our mentality to support each other instead of taking each other down. Let’s empower one another! As Zambians, we can go far!
Be better than good to yourselves, blessings!
And, please, check out my new album “Free Soul”
or https://ampl.ink/G6aZO for other streaming services
Best Upcoming Female Artist, Ngoma Awards, Zambia (2009)
Winner Music CrossRoads, national competition, Zambia (2009)
Winner Music CrossRoads InterRegio Festival (as ‘Nyali’, 2009)
Awarded at Jahazi Jazz Festival, Tanzania (2012)
Nominated at the Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition, Switzerland (2013)
Nominated in two categories at the Kilimanjaro Music Awards, Tanzania (with Fid Q, 2013)
Finalist at the RFI Prix Decouverté, France (2013)
Thomann Blues & Jazz Competition, Germany (2017)
World Citizen Artists Awards, 2nd winner, Jamaica (2018)
Festival Afrique-Carib, NL (2010); Junction Festival, IRL (2010); Festival de la Cooperación, ESP (2010); Wild Rose Festival, SE (2010); Weltmusikfestival Kassel, DE (2010); Imagine Festival, NOR (2010); Lake of Stars, MLW (2010); The Beat Festival, TZ (2011, 2012); Dar Jazz Event, TZ (2012); Jahazi Jazz Festival, TZ (2012); Hakuna Matata Festival, DE (2014); Afrika-Festival Stuttgart, DE (2014); Afrilu Festival, DE (2014); Musig am Zürisee, CH (2015); Stoffel Festival, DE (2015, 2106); Sound of the Forest, DE (2015); Kulturfest Löherstraße, DE (Headliner) (2015); Weltnacht Festival, DE (2015, Headliner); Amani Festival, DRC (2016); Isaano Arts Festival, RW (2016); Tollwood Festival, DE (2016); Kasumama Afrika-Festival, AT (2016, Headliner); African Summer Festival, DE (2016); Jazz & The City, AT (2015, 2016); Afrika-Festival Münster, DE (2017); Burg Herzberg Festival, DE (2017); Tucher Blues & Jazzfestival, DE (2017); Contaminafro, IT (2017); Weltklang-Festival, DE (2017); Bob Marley Celebration, JM (2018); Horizonte Festival, DE (2018); Women in Music Festival, ZM (2018); Kulturfestival Goldener Grund, DE (2019)