By Grant Moyo
Being part of a church band as a kid fine-tuned my musical cognition, hence I don’t want to just stop myself at being an entertainer. I merely want to be reputable wholly and well-thought-of musically, soundly dwelling on songwriting and learning how to play loads of musical instruments, says Zimbabwe-born British recording artist Leonard Simbarashe Rwodzi, known publicly as S1mba.
After a lively bank holiday weekend that successfully saw his first ever appearance at the famed Reading and Leeds Festival, the singer-songwriter and rapper who rose to prominence with his viral single Rover, not so long ago released his highly hoped-for debut EP (extended play) called Good Time Long Time.
Elevating to new heights with his chart-topping latter banger which earned him his first Brit Award nomination for Song Of The Year, S1mba’s niche as an artist of African lineage who grew up soaked up in the UK music culture is crisp in his feel-good auditory communication which embraces his heritage and musical upbringing.
Raised more often than not on Zimbabwean music from the likes of Chimurenga music singer-songwriter Thomas Mapfumo and the late Afro-jazz legend Oliver Mtukudzi, S1mba has always been an open-minded listener who also paid attention to traditional and contemporary gospel music, as well as mainstream sounds by rhythm and blues artists such as American singer-songwriter record producer Chris Brown. Relocating to the United Kingdom exposed him to more sounds than ever before. Besides orienting with the grime and UK rap music that most of his peers adored, S1mba also went through phases in electronic dance music (EDM) and indie rock. The musician cites American musical duo Twenty One Pilots and Two Door Cinema Club — a band from Northern Ireland — as particular inspirations.
Having played djembe drums and joined a marimba band before moving to the United Kingdom with his family at the age of nine, S1mba learned to play the piano and soon joined the church band upon his arrival in the diaspora. Feeding on his mania, he spent lunchtimes in the school music room profusely practising piano and drums.
S1mba’s passion for music technology was apparent to his teachers, who gave him software CDs so that he could continue honing his skills at home. Seeking to redo some of his best-loved instrumentals, British hip hop duo Krept & Konan’s DJ Mustard-produced musical composition titled ‘Freak Of The Week’, became the initial beat that the rapper delivered his effortless flow on, raising bars on his first appearance in the booth.
While S1mba initially enrolled to study engineering at New College in Swindon, for his second year he switched to music technology. Learning how to record himself properly, he began to make his own songs from scratch. Not really thinking about releasing any of the euphony, one of S1mba’s pieces of music titled ‘The Plan’ which was recorded in the college’s music studio, got a reaction when his friends teased it on American multimedia instant messaging app and service Snapchat, during a studio session. The recording artist uploaded the single to a new YouTube (video streaming platform) account, after receiving numerous messages asking him to release it. He unexpectedly garnered 10 000 views in a week which triggered him to shoot a video that drew 70 000 streams independently on SB.TV — a multi-faceted British company. The success was followed by the release of four independent songs, all with videos.
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Never allowing his own ego to get in the way of a good song, S1mba began to expand his sound by collaborating with co-producers, beginning with his biggest track to date Rover. Prior to the song’s popularity, when the musician flew out to Zimbabwe to spend Christmas with family, he was not braced for what would be in store when he got back to the United Kingdom. Despite not paying much attention to his phone during his trip, when S1mba opened his inbox he found it flooded with emails from major label — A&R (artists and repertoire) — which is the division of a music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters. Rover, a track he uploaded before he flew out of the UK, was the source of the attention. The musical composition, which organically wreaked up 700 000 views, had also been placed on Spotify’s Who We Be, Afro Bashment, Certi and Motive playlists.
With infectious vocals that twist fluidly between melody and rhythm bending to whatever best suits the song, the singer-songwriter and rapper feels particularly empowered by the Afro-Swing movement — a feel good fusion integrating the sounds he grew up on with contemporary UK rap which he credits for kick starting his career. Though many of the songs he has released so far fall into that category, S1mba plans to add more club references into the mix with his new music.
After a number of meetings following his Christmas holiday, he decided to sign with Parlophone Records Limited — a German-British record label founded in Germany in 1896 by the Carl Lindström Company. The musician attributes the record label for offering him the tools he needs to develop his career.
Forging ahead with his latest 13-track body of work — Good Time Long Time — S1mba’s breakout single Rover featuring DTG, which stormed its way up to Number 3 on the UK Singles Chart as a result of its popularity on video-focused social networking service TikTok, is among the musical compositions on the project. While Jeet, the opening track, perfectly introduces the listener to the carefree tone of the project, Twice is an uplifting offering that S1mba co-produced. Other notable singles in the EP include Star, Moscow, Bounce, featuring Tion Wayne and Stay Flee Get Lizzy, Me ‘N’ U, Issues, featuring Yxng Bane, Baseball Bats, Loose, featuring KSI, Good Time Long Time, Elevate as well as Only Right, featuring S1mba’s long-time collaborator S1lva, a Brazilian musical artiste.
“I want good vibes with this tape, I want people to feel happy about life again and feel comfortable to go out and dance. You’ve got to be who you are! I want the masses to hear the tape and feel like they’re back in a time where they can party in a club or go to a BBQ, and there are no complications,” S1mba said.
An ode to life before a global pandemic is well-stacked with cordial “get-up-and-go” confidence-exuding fascinating feel-good euphony, which makes S1mba’s fans instantly forget about the lockdown restrictions and occurring complications. With this body of work, the Zimbabwe-born British recording artist is set to prove that he is one of the hottest musicians to come out of the United Kingdom now.
- Grant Moyo is a prolific writer, innovative media personality, entrepreneur and a creative artist, who is passionate about using his creative mind for the betterment of society. Follow him on Twitter: @TotemGrant