It’s a sign of Niwel Tsumbu‘s talent that as an absolute outsider to the Irish music scene a few years ago, he’s found himself on stage with an absolute who’s who of our city’s music right now. The Congolese born guitarist has fingers in a lot of pies. His latest project RiZA is his third that I’ve been particularly taken with (on top of his solo work and his guitar contributions as part of Donal Dineen’s Parish), and explores seriously personal themes (the first single about his kid turning out not to be genetically his) in gorgeous Central African language Lingala.
I caught up with Niwel to learn about promoting African music in the Irish market, the background to his new project and his numerous other explorations…
Tell me about the idea behind RiZA. It’s a phenomenal line up; how are you all going to work together and fuse your styles?
RiZA is based on Risa, a fictional planet located about 88.2 light-years from earth, known for its beauty and relaxing tropical atmosphere. It is a world commonly sought by interstellar vacationers and starship crews on shore leave.Anybody into Star Trek would know this.
After I released my last record “all vibration” in 2011, I went into a whole different journey of operas, theatre and performing with bands like Republic of loose, New Triangle, D.F.F ,The Multiverse, Donal Dineen’s Parish, Crash Ensemble, Treelan and Anarko Flamenco in Spain. I could not focus on my music that much. I was also part of the Cork Opera house production of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Roger Doyle’s “Burned” opera and also the Abbey Theatre’s fantastic Risen People-a rendition of James Plunkett’s best selling novel Strumpet City.
So, I went for a long period without playing my own form of music and I started missing it. Strangely enough I really missed singing, as with all these projects I was just playing the guitar. Last year I was having really tough time and that’s when I decided to use sound to create an environment just like RiZA here on earth and viola the concept of RiZA- A place of beauty and relaxing atmosphere. As you may have noticed I changed the “S” to “Z”
I am really happy with it,It is a line up of super stars in their own right. Eamonn Cagney is my long time collaborator, we have done so much together that it is nearly telepathic between the two of us at this stage. Paddy Groenland plays in many bands around town such as Ensemble Eriu, Manden Express and others and I am enjoying paying with him. I really like his touch. He then introduced me to Ema and Sally who are sisters and when they sing together- we used to call it “murder”.
I wrote all the music for this album but I am already looking forward to our second one as I want everyone involved to contribute with their composition for this one.
How easy do you find it to ‘sell’ African musical styles in Dublin? I’ve certainly seem some impressive live reactions. Does the language barrier prove an issue?
I don’t think it is that difficult if you know how to sell it. There is a dedicated audience of “world Music” who would be used to listening to music with other languages. In Ireland I notice when people talk about “African music” they mean West African music, more precisely Malian or Senegalese music. I asked a promoter friend of mine once, why do you mostly bring west African stuff here Africa is big?
Her answer was it is easier to sell. As soon as you mention a griot from Timbuktu or something the tickets fly out of the door.So,that is the angle…