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Songtrust Spotlight: Nsimbi

Nsimbi is a Ugandan-American international award-winning duo formed by Ugandan hip-hop pioneer GNL Zamba and American world fusion artist Miriam Tamar. Building on the acoustic sounds and indigenous instruments of Africa, Nsimbi blends contemporary elements of "Lugaflow" hip-hop and spoken word with English/Western songwriting and vocals to merge the traditional with the modern. A global sound anchored in the rich universal messages of ancient East African proverbs and folklore emerged in 2018 with their debut self-titled album, featured on KCRW's Rhythm Planet and Public Radio International’s The World, and noted by NPR’s Tiny Desk/All Songs Considered. Their dynamic style embraces the beauty of dialogue and human connection through music and bridges cultures with lyrics in English, Swahili, Luganda, and Lingala. Upon release, Nsimbi quickly charted on iTunes World Music top 5 in the U.S, Canada and Uganda. Within one year, the album received 2 international awards and 10 nominations.

Nsimbi creates a vibrant interactive live experience that invites us to celebrate around the communal fire, and was an official artist at the SXSW 2019 Music Festival including showcasing for Afropop Worldwide. Sonically and visually dynamic, and at the same time rich in cultural content, Nsimbi has also been welcomed into prominent art spaces including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Fowler Museum UCLA. “Leo Ni Leo” took home the 2019 Independent Music Award for World Beat with a live performance by Nsimbi also at the awards ceremony.

As lockdown loomed and the duo could no longer be so mobile, Nsimbi shifted back into creation gear, first releasing a single “Searching” in August 2020 which was also GNL Zamba’s directorial debut. “Searching” talks about the basic human need for love and connection which became even more apparent as we spent time isolated. This worldbeat song carries the spirit of searching for connection, offering a hopeful feeling for anyone needing some music therapy.

November 19th, 2021 brought their next release, "Infinity," a 5-track EP that reveals how, when we love each other, our love transcends time and we become infinite as love is infinite. The first single “Mbaga” was released September 14th and tells the story of two people from different planets falling in love, merging two worlds which combines Baganda folklore storytelling and Jewish niggun vocals merging on a bed of Zanzibari inspired East African rhythms. Infinity is a celebration of Ugandan / East African consciousness. The sounds are recorded, mixed & mastered in East Africa, the birthplace of humanity!


WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO MUSIC?

We both grew up in music-loving households and were exposed to so many diverse genres as children. But it’s really like music is buried deep within each of us - like we each just discovered a creative conduit within to express ourselves.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC AND PERFORMANCE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND STYLE AS AN ARTIST?

We always think of our art as inviting the community to gather around the fire - a space for storytelling, sharing knowledge, and connecting. We fuse traditional with modern, and sonically incorporate world music, hip-hop, Afropop, spoken word, and jazz with visual elements.

WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CREATE, AND HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS FOR YOURSELF IN MUSIC?

Our music is not particularly mainstream, so in some ways, it frees us to just pursue the expression that inspires us. Success is having an idea, and being able to translate that world or feeling into a song or visual that can be shared.

THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, WHO HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST WITH DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT?

We strongly believe that nobody will support you or know you the way you know yourself and your vision. We are each our own best motivators. 

SOMETIMES BEING IN THIS BUSINESS CAN BE OVERWHELMING. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR MAINTAINING PERSPECTIVE AND NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF?

We’ve learned that every project or launch is a learning experience. There’s always something that doesn’t go according to plan, or an area you feel you could have done better. We try to focus on the fact that every little piece contributes to the larger picture or portfolio, and that together they tell the full story. No one song or video or interview can define you.

YOU RECENTLY LAUNCHED “THE NSIMBI PODCAST,” WHICH “OPENLY TACKLES ISSUES THAT ARE OFTEN TABOO OR UNCOMFORTABLE TO INCREASE PUBLIC DIALOGUE ON ISSUES AROUND CULTURE, RACE, AND IDENTIFY.” HOW DID THIS PODCAST COME INTO EXISTENCE? WHY DID YOU GRAVITATE TO THIS MEDIUM/PLATFORM INSTEAD OF OTHERS? AND, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE COME OUT OF THIS SPACE?

Being in a cross-cultural, interracial, interfaith relationship and business partnership brings up so many interesting conversations in our day-to-day lives. As a Ugandan (Catholic-raised) man who has lived in the U.S., and a Jewish American woman who has lived in Uganda - we see things from very different perspectives, yet agree on so many ideas and values. We feel that these are conversations that should be had on a larger scale. So we decided to start "The Nsimbi Podcast," to increase public dialogue on issues around culture, race, and identity. While we deal with these issues in a more subtle way through our music and art, we feel that engaging in open dialogue with our community is a great way to raise the global consciousness.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MUSICIANS JUST STARTING THEIR CAREERS, BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?

Be yourself and know that success in this industry is really about endurance.

WHAT MOTTO, AFFIRMATION, OR QUOTE EMPOWERS, INSPIRES, OR MOTIVATES YOU?

“Mtu ni watu” is a Swahili proverb that means we all need each other.

FOR FUN, IF YOU WERE STRANDED ON AN ISLAND AND COULD ONLY HAVE (3) ITEMS WITH YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU BRING?

Guitar, solar charger, fully loaded iPad 

WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING UP NEXT?  

More episodes of “The Nsimbi Podcast,” and we’re finalizing our short film based on the Infinity EP.

WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH SONGTRUST BEEN LIKE SO FAR?

Songtrust appreciates us as unique, niche artists, and helps us to share our art with a larger audience, by featuring each new project on their social platforms.

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