Alexandra Shungudzo Govere, aka Shungudzo, is a Zimbabwean-American singer, songwriter and media personality known for her efforts aiding AIDS orphans and being the first black female gymnast to represent Zimbabwe in artistic gymnastics way back in ‘99 – what an incredible brag sheet. We chatted to Alexandra on her music, her inspirations and extensive list of collaborators.
How did you begin your musical career?
The first full songs I wrote and recorded were with my little sister. We made songs about HIV/AIDS prevention, one of which we even presented at a world conference in Toronto what feels like many lifetimes ago. She has always been the most encouraging person in my life when it comes to music. My big sister too, who is a phenomenal musician and was the first in our family to take the brave leap into a creative career. Her bravery gave me courage to pursue my dreams too.
I’ve always been a poet, which naturally led me to songwriting, but it wasn’t until about six years ago, when I quit my job in journalism, that I had the guts to fully go for a career in music. And it wasn’t until last year that I remembered that all great things require great risks, and I put most of the songwriting that paid my bills on hold to write and produce an album for myself. I truly believe in the power of belief. That believing you can achieve something is 80% of the journey towards achieving it.
What positive aspects did you take from growing up as a Black woman in Zimbabwe and America?
Thank you for how you worded this question! People often ask me about the hardships I face as a Black woman, but not about the positives! To be honest, I don’t think that being Black presents any challenges that being HUMAN doesn’t. White supremacy and greed — these things are the challenges, the problems. Traditional Zimbabwean culture is so kind, generous, grateful and physically and spiritually close to both the nature we can see and the invisible forces of nature that work around us. These are all beautiful things that I try to hold onto as I navigate this weird, capitalistic Western world.
Can you tell us about your process of writing lyrics?
So much of my lyrical process is purely instinctual. I just try to listen — to both life and to myself — and then to write down what I hear. First, I act as a sort of translator between my outer and inner worlds, and then I do any rearranging necessary to make it all make sense. I tell all of my friends who don’t think they’re good writers to simply listen to themselves or their surroundings and write it down. If you can think, you can write. If your innermost thoughts seem to be failing you, just observe whatever’s on the outside of you. There are lyrics everywhere.
For your latest album ‘I’m not a mother, but I have children’, you worked with musicians from your homeland in Zimbabwe. Can you tell us more about this?
We all have a responsibility to recognize the areas of our lives in which we are privileged, and then to share what we can with those who don’t have those same privileges. We can’t just step through the doors we’ve fought hard to open and then close them on everyone else behind us.
I recognize the many privileges I have that other people don’t, including the privilege to be able to make music on a global scale. It is so important for me to share this privilege with others, which is why there are five phenomenal Zimbabwean musicians who currently live in or near to Zimbabwe performing on my album: Kudzai “KuKays” Mudzimu (bass), Kudzai Muwori (marimba), Ian Tatenda Mhlanga (piano, guitar, production), Scara (drums) and Shekinah (electric guitar). I also reached out to my amazingly talented artist friend, Tkay Maidza, to sing backgrounds with me on “Already free.”
Who do you look up to for musical inspiration?
I look up to a lot of people, but lately the birds in my neighborhood have been my greatest inspiration. They sing loudly all day and night, and waking up and falling asleep to their songs has been the most calming and motivating thing in my life this past year. They’ve helped me through a lot of tough moments — to remain in wonder of nature and all of its creations, and therefore also in wonder of my own life. Simply being alive is inspiring. If you’ve not done it intentionally lately, go outside and listen to the birds, or to any other sounds of life in your community. I promise you’ll feel less alone.
What impact do you hope to make with your music?
I hope to help people feel the things they’re afraid to feel. Sometimes we’re afraid to feel emotions like anger and grief, but even more often we’re afraid to feel great. Maybe we don’t feel like we deserve it. I hope this album takes you through a range of emotions, after which you feel more available to feeling. I truly believe that feeling can save the world, especially feeling in the form of empathy. But any emotion we’re blocking in ourselves is one we won’t be able to recognize or understand in others. Until we grant ourselves permission to feel and then heal, we cannot heal the world around us.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
There are lots of people I’d love to collaborate with, but I’m currently manifesting opening up for Michael Kiwanuka, and mentioning him every opportunity I get! Yes, Michael, it’s me again.
What can we expect from you for the rest of the year?
This year, you can expect me to strive my best to be a better person than I was last year. You can also expect lots of music, poetry, visual art, and hopefully live shows too. If anyone who’s not Michael Kiwanuka wants me to open up for them, I’m currently available as I’m still waiting on Michael’s call!
Listen to Sungudzo’s latest album ‘I’m Not A Mother, But I Have Children’ on Spotify here.