Analogue Music | Shungudzo


By Matt Conner

It's taken some time but Shungudzo has learned to trust her instincts.

It's a tension common for all of us as external voices and internal fears can often keep us from moving forward with the creative endeavors that we envision when we allow ourselves to dream. For Shungudzo, she's needed several years as an artist, songwriter, and poet to turn the corner and lean into her unique perspective and vision.

The results on her full-length debut, I'm not a mother but I have children, speak for themselves, an important and captivating record that speaks to myriad issues on political and personal levels. These are resonant anthems on par with the likes of Lauryn Hill, yet the tone is far more vulnerable than preachy, showcasing a subversive power all her own.

We recently caught up with Shungudzo to hear more about her creative process and how she's learned to lean into her gut instinct.

Analogue: How much of what you create is just organic, and how much of it begins with,'I feel like it’s important for me to say something toward this thing that I’m seeing and confronting.' Is it a both-and? Is it always in one category or another? How does that work for you as a songwriter?

Shungudzo: It’s definitely a both-and. When I started writing, not songs but poems, as a kid, they were always so socio-politically minded and pertaining to the way that we treat each other as people and also to the way that we as humans treat the earth. When you think about things logically or politically, you can go, oh I can see how greedy people could want the world to be this way. But when you think about them with your heart, they really don’t make any sense. And I guess that’s where a lot of my songs start from, from an experience or an observation of something that makes no sense to my heart.

I really wanted the album to express the full range of emotions I felt surrounding being a woman, being a person of color, and being a human on earth. I wanted to express overwhelming optimism, but I also wanted to express frustration without a solution. And I also wanted to express anger, because anger is an emotion that for so much of my life, I was told you should suppress or not express. Really learning a lot of my adulthood has involved learning the difference between taking the blame for things, victimizing oneself, and going, you know what, actually, this is not my fault. Fuck you. And really learning in different situations what the appropriate response is.

"I really wanted the album to express the full range of emotions I felt surrounding being a woman, being a person of color, and being a human on earth."

So on this album, I wanted to, in addition to express optimism, kind of express anger. But not anger in a negative sense; anger in a constructive and almost introspective sense, like this is really frustrating me, and that’s why I have to do something about it. If I’m feeling anger, that means I need to make a change, or I need to push for a change.

The album for me felt like both an expression of those emotions and a way for me to do something about it and not just sit on the couch and complain. I’m trying to be more of a solutions-based than a problem-based thinker and feeler, in the sense that it’s so easy for us to sit around the dinner table with our friends and talk about politics and kind of repeat the same stories over and over again. But the real question we should be asking at those dinner tables is what are we going to do about it? What are we currently doing about it, and what are we going to do about it? What can we do together?

Analogue: Do you lock yourself in one mode until you feel that’s done, and then go into another?

Shungudzo: I used to very much be the kind of person who needed to finish everything in one go. Ooh, I’m having a birth to creativity right now, and I need to get it out before I lose the creativity. But I would say over this past year, especially in the process of making this album, which I did so much of alone in quarantine, that I formed a better relationship for me with my creativity, or more so a trust in it.

I used to have this fear that if I didn’t finish something immediately, the creativity wouldn’t come back. And it almost came from an insecurity or disbelief in the fact that creativity is infinite. You can’t always control when it comes and goes, but it is infinite. It won’t just go away. And I started with this album to start a song and then close the computer and do something else, and come back to it later in the day or even weeks later. I found that I enjoyed that process more because I had more time to really think about what I was making.

I find that when I’m writing, whether it’s a poem or song lyrics or in my journal, I really can’t lie to myself. I might even think something is true for me, like a feeling or an emotion or a desire. And as soon as I’ve written it down and I read it back, I go, you don’t believe that! You’re not that sad. Or you’re sadder than this. Or you’re more hopeful than this. Or you need to take more personal accountability for that thought. I end up changing a lot of poetry lyrics and songs as I go, and actually learning a lot about myself through putting it down.


I’ve learned a lot about how thoughts in your head can be all kinds of truth that you have yet to understand, but that also thoughts in your head can be tainted by the voices of other people or the voices of your traumas, or the voices of your government, or the voices of your religion or religious influence, that there are all of these other things that can impact our thoughts, even subconsciously without us knowing it. But that once I write something down, I can really discern who I am out of it.

Analogue: It feels like a mantle that you may have to wear. Is that okay with you, or at times are you like, I don’t want——

Shungudzo: I would say that for years, it was really easy to point fingers at the industry or a team or whatever and say this is why I’m not making the music I want to make. And although that may have been an element of it, the greater element was my fear of putting myself out there.

I’m pretty introverted and have a little bit of social anxiety, and I don’t really have a relationship with the internet in the sense that I want to be on it. I understand that in this day and age, it’s a good way to spread a message, but I don’t really have a desire to exist on the internet. It doesn’t feel healthy for me. And I also knew that a lot of the things that I wanted to write about, although they feel right to me, are completely wrong to other people, and that in talking about some of the things that I talk about, I would be opening myself up to people disliking me or disliking my art, simply because they don’t like the message. And that’s really scary.

The internet can be a really scary place. If you’re a sensitive person, it’s even scarier. So I was really holding myself back out of fear, and then I decided that it would be so the opposite of what I want to do with my life, which is I guess to be the kindest person I can be, and to be the best activist I can be in whatever I do. To not release my music because I’m selfishly afraid of internet haters. And I really had to get my mind around that and out of that fear in order to make the music that I wanted to make and then to share it with other people.

Analogue: What do you learn about yourself on the other side? Do you feel changed because of this process?

Shungudzo: I do. I mean, I guess the album was a great step in what was already the process of me learning to stand up for myself, which I could always do with words, but I wasn’t necessarily doing in practice. I could write the poem or the song, and I could be so brave there, but I wasn’t really being brave in my own life in the ways that I wanted to be brave.

Making this album was sort of in that phase of me going, I need to do what feels best and feels right for me and not give in to the pressures of other people or of competition or of the music industry, or of financial fears or insecurities that we all have when we’re doing something that’s a little outside the box. And making the album really helped solidify that for me. It helped remind me of the importance of trusting your gut and of the fact that you know better than anyone else what’s good for you.

I was talking to a friend the other day. I was saying, if anybody ever tells you your gut is wrong, which I think happens to women a lot, but I think we all have kind of been told many times that our instinctive feelings about what’s right and wrong for us are wrong, and somebody else’s thoughts and feelings, or the system’s thoughts and feelings for you are more pertinent and truer. I was telling a friend, if someone ever tells you your gut is wrong, tell them your life has been one long science experiment, and your hypothesis is that your gut is right all of the time, including when you work against it. And your life is a long science experiment in that sense, and your gut has always been right.

So logically and scientifically, your gut is always right. And there’s no reason not to trust it or to let somebody else diminish your trust in it and this album was sort of the solidification of that notion.

VISIT: Shungudzo