Lime interview - Music
Muyiwa- ascending to the next level of success
EDITOR - Vernia Mengot
After performing live at HMV Hammersmith Apollo with his concert with Riversongz ‘All Around The World’; This month Lime talks to the face of British Gospel, Muyiwa.
Known as Britain’s biggest gospel singer and songwriter; his distinctive rich, deep singing voice and unique “spoken word” monologues/raps have seen him become the first-ever international act to perform on America’s popular entertainment channel, BET, for the prestigious annual Celebration Of Gospel show, and continues to be award for his proud list of achievements. The Station Director of Premier Gospel has also won numerous awards, including Best Presenter at the Oasis Awards (2006), Best Radio Show and Best Contribution to Gospel Music at the Gospel Music Awards (2009).
Alongside his group Riversongz they’ve reached number five on Amazons World Music Best-Sellers, with their album ‘Declaring His Name all around the World’ which was produced by Grammy Award winning Kevin Bond back in 2011. In this interview Muyiwa talks about growing up in London, the power of Gospel and his all time favourite African musician.
You grew up in Nigeria; tell us about your younger years.
The first nine years were fun, they were full, even though a lot of the times I only spent the first nine or ten years with my father, it was full of colour and warmth, both mentally and spiritually, and everything was comfortable.
So you came to London aged nine, what was your impression of the UK back then?
The first day I got off the plane and the cold hit me upside my head, I was like oh my God! -the weather, then the cold people on the tube, man these people looked miserable. Coming from a place where everything was warm and not just weather but it was how I felt.
You described living in Stamford Hill 'a horrid experience'
Try and remember when you were nine or ten and you were probably home with your parents. Imagine what it would feel like without your parents, I was just thrust into another country, another culture. At such a young age, you are delicate and fragile, and we need that protection. Imagine what fear and trauma it must cause for a ten year old.
You have worked in different realms of the media; for radio, Channel 4 and even Sony Music. Tell us about some of your experiences.
I worked in Marks and Spencer for six years; I worked all through my school years. The early years of work with Channel 4 and Sony were a little dreamy. But then I was getting quite mature, getting to know life wasn’t a bed of roses. When I left Sony, I started doing voice over work and stumbled into gospel. 7 million people watch and listen to the radio show on airlines. I think I can describe it as terribly fortunate. But I can’t claim to be qualified for what I do.
The church was your saving grace, how did things change from then on?
Most definitely. The change was quite amazing and rapid really, especially in the church world. Once I got on radio, instantly your thrust into some sort of limelight. There is demand for you all over the place. You get stopped at London Bridge and people say ‘can you sign this for my mother or daughter?’ It’s an interesting transition. I’m still on the journey; I’m still growing and learning.
What inspired you to want to be successful in music?
I think everyone has this innate desire to be better at what they do. For me what propels me is the knowledge that UK gospel is not regarded by a lot people. It’s about music that effects people’s lives positively and gives them hope. I meet people, and to go to a place where 10,000 people are singing your song. This thing is worth doing.
In 2009 you became the first-ever international act to perform on America's popular entertainment channel, BET, for the prestigious annual Celebration Of Gospel show. What did this mean to you?
Oh man it was huge for us, with what you consider to be success, when you’re in the middle of it; you seldom get to feel a sense for it. In reality since then there hasn’t been an international act. Even for the big name Americans it was like wow! It changed the game for us.
How did Muyiwa and The Riversongz initially come to light?
The short version. I was in church with a friend of mine one day and we said we should record gospel song.
Riversongz was the first gospel act to sell out at the indigo O2, that's crazy! Why do you think this is?
Because I think there are few people that are willing to take the risk. People are there to support. The Americans have built relationships by releases, concerts and promotion. So we have taken the risk of doing concerts and putting out albums and just kept going. Prior to us at the O2 was Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary on the same night. Thank God we were supported. You have to be willing to take the risk, be willing to be able to fall on your face.
What's next for Riversongz?
We’ll finish the concert, we’ll do a tour, and we’ll do some more releases. We are working on a Christmas album. [Laughs] That’s what’s up!
Where do you draw musical inspiration from?
I have to say I did an interview were they asked me the ‘three songs that inspire you’. One was Labi Siffre- something inside so strong and people like Desere and Lionel Richie. Outside of gospel those are some people I draw inspiration from.
What's your main ethos in life?
There are some guiding principles, in my family we live by the pillars. Firstly gratitude for everything and every moment. Generosity, find an opportunity to be a blessing to someone else, sobriety and also rule number six in my house don’t take yourself too seriously. Rule number one Honesty, just be you.
African All stars:
Who is your all time favourite African musician?
Will have to be Mary Makeba, it’s between her and Lady Smith Black Mombazo.
Which African country would you like to visit next and why?
I’d like to visit next...I think Cape Verde. I think that would have to be it. That would be the place I would like to live. Cape Verde baby! It’s like heaven.
Natty finding freedom
Kwame Kwei- Armah
Lime Magazine interview with Lloyd Newton