Katumbella's vibrant new EP is packed with treasures of tone and syncopation that will lift most anyone to a happier place. And the fans are loving it.

Angola produces perhaps the most beautiful diamonds in the world, some so valuable they have been granted individual names. A precious few of those are so exquisite they transcend the possibilities of sight and touch to become audible. Katumbella's new EP renders the scintillating magic of her homeland through a collection of world music gems that perfectly capture its splendors - and nightmares. The bloody internecine conflict that swallowed up nearly three decades of Angolan peace and prosperity left a deep mark on her existence, and beneath its jubilant intonations her music bears the pressure-hardened angularities of trenchant experience and reflective self-transformation that mark the most authentic and affecting artists. Independent reporter Blake Wright recently caught up with the exquisite vocalist to talk about her complex life growing up in Angola, her long road through the many challenges of professional entertainment, and her ambitions for the coming days.

BLAKE: Let's just get this out in the open - What is the craziest thing that has happened to you in your music career?
KATUMBELLA: Oh wow... I think it was the effect I had on my first fan. It happened in Angola in 2002. I was performing at the Karl Marx Theater as a guest and after I finished a teenager approached me with a pen and paper asking for my autograph! I questioned him 'Are you sure?' I was thinking to myself 'What? No way. He really wants my autograph? Do I even have an autograph?!' I had to start embracing the new reality; I am in the music industry and this is how it will be.

BLAKE: Your song ‘I Love It' is receiving a positive listener response on radio. What was your initial reaction when you first heard your song playing on radio?
KATUMBELLA: I was so happy; mouth wide open, smiling, screaming and feeling proud of myself!

BLAKE: What was the inspiration behind your debut radio single?
KATUMBELLA: The producer (Eno Wills) and I were at the studio writing the song. He was thinking of a convertible, girls, driving, partying and celebration... and we were in sync because I wanted people to feel free, to loosen up... so I thought of a spring break vacation I took with my girlfriends back in 2006 to Miami where I had so much fun. I was just feeling free, walking the Ocean Drive Beach area, greeting people I didn’t know (it was just fun; nobody knows one another on spring break), riding on the back of a convertible, feeling the breeze, going to clubs and dancing, I love to dance. Believe it or not, I didn't drink alcohol. I was just having fun dancing and feeling happy. I think that often times people are so stressed out when they really need to relax and enjoy the precious moments in their lives. Celebrate every victory, stand firm and get out of a depressive mood, be active and express yourself without caring what other people have to say. Do what you want to do! The Video is already available at KatumbellaVevo.

BLAKE: It is often said that great art arises from difficult experience. Is there something in your life experience thus far that you would describe as the ‘catalyst’ or ‘fuel’ for your desire to create music?
KATUMBELLA: Coming from a third world country with a bloody twenty-seven year civil war (1975-2002), my experiences growing up in the nineties left me scarred from... how should I put this... war events I experienced. I remember when my mom, siblings and I were escorted from the province my dad was working at (Huambo) to Luanda (the capital of Angola). I was crying because my dad had to stay and fight and I was scared. As we were traveling, I kept crying and asking for my dad. We got to Luanda and still had not heard from him. I couldn't sleep. Finally my dad arrived, but the war was still going and continued to affect so many people. I had family members coming from other provinces to live with us in the capital. So many people experienced traumatic events throughout the war. I remember hiding under the table at one point because of the bullets. I remember cowering in my bedroom, listening to a bomb as if it was flying through my head, then hearing the explosion far away. All of these events made want to help people. To do something to provide for those who need and give them some kind of comfort. I still feel for the people who go through civil war, often with no basic services (water, electricity, sanitation). There are so many troubling social issues that persist to this day. I look forward to contributing through music to touch the hearts of the people who need comfort.

BLAKE: How would you characterize yourself as an artist/musician? (Ex. Down-to-earth, serious, fun-loving, complicated…)
KATUMBELLA: I am generally down-to-earth, but I'm capable of many other moods. Usually I adapt to whatever the circumstances call for, so I can be loving or serious as the need arises. I'd characterize myself as a mosaic of emotions, rather than only one thing, and I make sure to implement all those flavors of me into my music. No song is the same, in that unique mental states are a part of their design. As an artist my goal isn't only to express myself, but also to empathically interface with the individuals I'm expressing myself to. So sometimes I'll put together lyrics that target the heart and mind of particular types of people. I'm very critical of myself and when I'm recording a song at the studio, the more I listen, the more changes I want to implement - and it gets to the point where the producer doesn’t let me do further alterations. I make sure that when I'm hard on myself it's for constructive reasons and not just a matter of being unhappy. I have a good ear and can easily identify a wrong pitch or change in the color of the voice, so sometimes I'll push myself to really get things 'feeling' perfect, not wanting to leave less satisfied than I walked into the studio.


BLAKE: What has your experience been like working with the other people on your team?
KATUMBELLA: Over the years I have worked with various teams for different music projects. To this day I have had good experiences; we freely interact and exchange ideas. We learn from each other and we listen to one another. The key elements of collaborative success are to be respectful, listen, accept, be humble and act professional. I have discussed these matters with my band and things have been working well. When we do have frustrating days it's satisfying to observe just how many obstacles we overcome through clear communication.

BLAKE: Did you come from a musical background? Are there other musicians in your family?
KATUMBELLA: During his youth my Dad was a guitarist, drummer and lead vocalist of a local band in his community in Angola. He also used to whistle a lot and I picked it up from him. I started when I was little, but now it’s embarrassing... a lady whistling? (laughter) Sometimes when I am in the restroom I start whistling and the ladies think there is a man around! My Dad deeply influenced me by listening to all kinds of music. I remember going up to my parents' bedroom and locking myself in to listen to loud music. A different genre every week. That’s how I came to like all kinds of stuff. The music in my dad’s pulse transposed to me and now it’s my heartbeat. I can’t go a day without thinking, talking, breathing music.

BLAKE: What do you find most rewarding about being an artist? What do you find most challenging?
KATUMBELLA: I am going to start with the challenging areas. It is very hard to be an artist, especially an independent artist - someone with no label representation. You are your own boss, accountant, booking agent... when you don’t have a team it becomes overwhelming and sometimes discouraging just to keep going. Some artists have to work several jobs, and do the music portion of their regime at night when they are already physically and mentally exhausted. But they go to bars, clubs, lounges and festivals to perform because that’s a redeeming activity for them. It’s their passion, and when you do something for love you don’t get tired of doing it. Promotion is a key element. I am glad that we have several resources to help musicians to get exposed, but it can still be challenging. The rewarding areas for me are much the same; I did mention I'm complicated, right? The freedom that comes with music is wonderful; you do what you love but you are an all-in-one unit. You are your own boss, your own accountant, your own agent. Among all those things, you still have another job. And though there are risks, there is also an inherent freedom in knowing that what you put out there is truly you, not something that along the way may have been tampered with. At the end of the day you will have your work exposed to the world, and when you leave it you will do so with a sense of accomplishment because you created art that will impact lives in a positive way.

BLAKE: Who are your role models in music?
KATUMBELLA: Angelique Kidjo, Miriam Makeba, Beyonce. These ladies have fierce determination and discipline and achieved the greatest success in their music careers because despite the obstacles and difficulties they faced they never gave up and continued to work hard on their craft.

BLAKE: Describe your best or most memorable performance.
KATUMBELLA: I have certain performances that left a mark on me, such as the one in South Korea and the one at the Angola Music Awards in 2014. But the most memorable is my performance for the Guine-Bissau Independence Day. I went home that night feeling so happy and appreciated. The people from Guine-Bissau loved my performance - they danced along as I played, surrounding me, giving me gifts... including the Ambassador of Guine-Bissau to Angola and his spouse! They came to the stage and gave me a white handkerchief. Others came and placed a round flower on my neck. People were so happy with that show and they made me happy too. I will never forget the reaction of having a bunch of people being so supportive of me and congratulating me at the end. It was amazing.

BLAKE: What advice would you give to young, aspiring artists out there who are unsure and need guidance?
KATUMBELLA: First, you need to know what you want to do and where you want to go. Then, write down your business plan as a guide, and also to keep you focused on your goal. Do a lot of research online about music and educate yourself. Create your website, do shows even if you’re not confident about your skills, participate in festivals... your confidence level will increase as you go. Believe in yourself and always listen to the advice of experienced people in the field. Be smart, but don’t ignore your intuition when making difficult decisions. Never sign anything without reading it, and if you are confronted with complicated paperwork say you will read it and bring it back with an answer. Then find a lawyer who can go through the details. Never underestimate your creativity. Work hard and be disciplined. Trust in God, for He will open doors for you once you start showing Him that this is really what you want to do. Be persistent!

BLAKE: What's next for you as an artist? Is there a new single in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it?
KATUMBELLA: I am currently working with my band to prepare for future performances and shows. The main goal is to work on the songs for the Album and record it live. My next single is called “African Time.” I will be releasing the music video before the end of this year. The song talks about different aspects of punctuality and how important it is to respect time given the cultural complications associated with it. It was one of the longest productions I have had on a song! I had Mr. VSax as the Producer, Ngenga Giggz as co-producer and Gabriel Bata on the percussion. It is also one of the Official Soundtracks for the Bigobi Productions film, entitled "African Time". People are responding well to this song, it has made airplay on Radio including Simba fm Radio with DJ Sammy K. Actually when I talk about the song, people laugh because they relate to it (laughter). Whether you are Asian, European, Middle Eastern…you experience African Time; everyone has been late to an event or has delayed somebody else for being late. The video was shot by Kelechi Eke in Houston and by MMA in Angola, Africa and it was featured on Voice Of America News report by Greg Flakus. I had the participation of drummers from Burundi, dancers from the USA and the Angolan Dance Group 11 de Novembro. To have easy access to the Video Clip, my fans can Subscribe now on my YouTube Channel, Katumbella TV.

BLAKE: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your fascinating experiences in life - and the music that has arisen from them. You are a talented and beautiful artist and we are sure great things are on the horizon!


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