CHINESE-BASED Zimbabwean multi-talented Afro-jazz and pop singer, actor and play director Brity Yonly says she initially wanted to become a humanitarian lawyer before she decided to pursue her artistic talent after completing her Advanced Level studies at Lord Malvern High School in Harare. The 27-year-old Marondera-bred songstress who is also the founder of MuFoGwO Festival said she feels safer in the Asian country as the cases of COVID-19 have gone down significantly, allowing business to resume. She is in China after she struck a two-year deal to perform at an international tourist destination, Ling Ling International Circus in China. She has been performing there since September last year until the outbreak of COVID-19. NewsDay (ND) Life &Style reporter Winstone Antonio yesterday caught up with Brity Yonly (BY) (pictured) from her Chinese base and shared her artistic journey. Below are excerpts from the interview.
ND: How did you find yourself in China and how is life there as a musician and foreigner?
BY: I came here (China) after I was shortlisted among other Africans to be a performing artist at the Ling Ling International Circus. That was last year in September. Life here in China as a musician is good because it promotes cultural diversity, I also have quick access to resources and modern technology which can help me to improve my art. I am happy that people are loving my jazz music which I fuse with mbira sound. Most of them have expressed that they love the unique sound from my music since it is original and they are used to western music. The feedback I am getting is inspiring because when people from different parts of the world appreciate my music, it gives me confidence.
ND: When did you find your passion in music?
BY: Growing up, I wanted to become a humanitarian lawyer, but I later traded that for my art talent after I finished my studies at Lord Malvern High School in Harare. I started singing and composing songs at a tender age of nine. I could write songs for the Sunday school choir and perform in Scripture Union clubs and at major school functions. I recorded my first song in 2010 — a collaboration with Nyasha Timbe titled Brity @Large and later joined a contemporary band called The Blacks as a backing vocalist in 2013. After the collapse of The Blacks in 2015, I them started to pursue my solo career that saw me releasing my debut six-track album titled Mwana waMambo featuring Damson “WeDande” Madzikaminga. This is the album that carried celebratory songs like Makuwerere and Pamuchato and it also had love songs like Wandaireva and Ngikhulumele and the title track Mwana waMambo — a gospel track that praises God and Vabereki, a track which portrays certain situations usually faced by orphans.
ND: What inspires your type of music?
BY: My Afro-jazz music is inspired by our culture as Africans, i appreciate our originality and uniqueness, so I also want to share that experience with the whole world. My greatest inspiration came from the late Oliver Mtukudzi and Chiwoniso Maraire. I play and teach mbira and marimba instruments, Mbira has become my trademark instrument because it gives an African melody to my music.
ND: The music industry is a male-dominated one, how have you managed to survive?
BY: This has been and is still a big challenge for me because I am struggling to gain exposure back home since much attention is being given to male musicians. Outside Zimbabwe, my music is being appreciated very well, but charity begins at home. It is my wish to see my music being appreciated as well back home.
ND: What are some of the challenges you have faced in your artistic journey?
BY: I have even expressed this in a song. I released a single, Fame without Money featuring Datler, Proskan and Gracious that talks about the issues we face as artists in the arts industry. As artists we work so hard, but sometimes we do not earn what we deserve, we do not eat the fruits of our work due to certain challenges like piracy, meagre payments on gigs and lack of performing slots, hence most of us end up failing to pay our own bills, to feed our families or even to pay band members. Some are even quitting art in search of better opportunities. So the song emphasises that fame only without anything tangible to show for it is not enough, we need both fame and money because we also want to survive, and we need money to produce music and videos. Those are some of the challenges I have faced in my musical journey.
ND: Any new productions?
BY: Will be releasing a new single tomorrow titled Vachabaiwa that has an accompanying video. The song was produced by a Harare-based producer Gibson Makumbe of VOT Studios while the full video of the song was shot in China, but edited in Zimbabwe by Marondera-based filmgrapher Angel Arts. The songs talks about how we have varying opinions as we thrive to make ends meet, making our own rules as we go. However, there are some people who are always waiting for our downfall, hoping to see us lying six feet under as they judge us being unique and mock us for being good to them.
ND: As a singer, what motivated you to also venture into acting?
BY: I started acting when I was a child as I participated in high school dramas. I even wrote some of the plays, henceforth I decided to pursue both music and acting simply because I love art. I have starred in a feature film titled Maroro. Apart from acting, I am also a writer and theatre director, so in short I can say art is my life.
ND: How do you balance music and acting?
BY: I can balance both acting and music because they are not very different, i can even act in a musical video as I can also sing in a movie. It only depends with the concepts and schedules, but I always create time for both careers.
ND: So in the world of acting, which famous actor do you admire?
BY: Danai Gurira is my favourite actress, she is very good in acting, so natural and unique.
ND: In 2018 you represented Zimbabwe at the Bergen Afro Arts Festival (BAAF) in Norway, Europe. How was the experience?
BY: The Bergen Afro Arts Festival in Norway was a huge stepping stone and an eye opener for me. I got to meet various artists from all corners of the world, exchanging ideas and doing collaborations. I managed to do a collaboration with a German violinist, Steffi Wissing on my song titled Tinzwe Kuchema. I even conducted mbira workshops and concerts while I was there, which was an amazing experience since it was my first time to ever host an international mbira class. I even landed an ambassadorial role for a Texas-based clothing line labelled Lamonki Collection because of that tour.