The NYC-based singer-songwriter Nasimiyu Murumba was born in Minneapolis, but New Orleans is the place she really calls home. A few years ago, Murumba arrived in the southern city for a short visit with just three outfits in her backpack, danced for hours with hundreds of others in a parade, and ended up staying. That city’s blooming, boisterous sound is all over her latest EP, dirt, and you can also hear it in “Hungry, Hungry,” the original track she wrote for this month’s theme song. We talked to her about growing up with a “different” name, leaving your hometown, and the power of marching-band instruments. Check it out, and follow her on Twitter, Soundcloud and/or Facebook for even more of Nasimiyu’s music!
ANUPA MISTRY: I just did that thing where I ask you to pronounce your name for me—I have to do that all the time, too!
NASIMIYU MURUMBA: It’s very easy and phonetic: Nah-SIM-ee-you! Just four syllables with no hidden sounds! Growing up, I absolutely couldn’t forgive my parents for giving me such a difficult name. Everybody knew me as “Simi” because I was ashamed of my full first name. But now I feel like I just had to grow into it—it’s a woman’s name, and “Simi” kind of represents a child.
It doesn’t bother me when people mispronounce it unless they make me feel like I’m asking them to go out of their way. A lot of times, people are like, “I’m sorry, that’s inconvenient for me. Can I call you something else, instead?” Even if someone tries and they’re way off, I’ll still respect the fact that they tried. Sometimes I wonder if I would be more memorable with an easier name! But then I remind myself that there are so many words of different origins that American culture has embraced over the years: chipotle, quinoa, Jamiroquai. So, I’m like, “Just give them time!”
Do you ever miss your hometown?
I was born in Minneapolis, and growing up, I felt very stifled. So even though I’m in New York now, New Orleans is actually the first place I felt I could call home.
Why did you feel stifled?
There’s something about the culture that really vibes with some people, but I always felt like there was some big practical joke going on that caused me to be born 2,000 miles away from home! As a kid, if there was a parade going by with a marching band, I’d jump into the middle of the street and start dancing with the band while everybody else was very stiff and reserved. You know, they’re clapping on the one and the three. I always felt like there was something very wrong with me, until I got to New Orleans. My second week there, I joined a second line parade and followed it for four hours with hundreds of other people who were just as crazy about dancing and sweating. That’s when I was like, Maybe there isn’t something wrong with me. Maybe I just had to work to find my way.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
I loved singer-songwriters and grotesque art in my teens. Fiona Apple was my world; I loved her lyricism and grittiness. I was obsessed with the rappers Ant and Slug, who were in Atmosphere; Etta James; Kurt Cobain. I just appreciated the vulnerability artists could experience, and that they were able to give others something so sacred. Music pulled me out of so many tough spaces growing up, and I think it saved my life. All I can do is try to do the same kind of work.
What was your first instrument?
I’ve always been a singer, and I’ve been writing songs since I could speak. I have boxes of notebooks full of lyrics from my childhood years. The pen is my true instrument, because I like to deal in ideas; I don’t have enough of an attention span for the technicality of things. I’m lucky to work with people who do have that ability, because it gives me the freedom to see the big picture and put the puzzle pieces together.
When I started getting into Fiona Apple, I taught myself piano. I play drums. I don’t play guitar very often. And I’ve dabbled in brass, because it’s in so much of my music, though it requires the dedication of horn players.
There must be a ton of Rookie readers in school orchestras or marching bands. Where’s a good place for a young sousaphone player to get started when they’re trying to write pop songs, like you do?
Parades and second lines are so powerful to me because they are completely of the people—they have their own acoustic power. A trumpet or sousaphone doesn’t need to be put through a microphone to be heard. You can feel the actual vibrations of these instruments passing through you. And, also because they’re not chordal instruments [like piano and guitar, which have strings and can play multiple notes at once], they inherently depend on cooperation, community, and teamwork. Creating one chord with three other people is so much more unifying than what I can do myself with one hand on the keyboard. I think that’s something brass people love, and I share that with them.
How did the idea of consumption inspire you on “Hungry, Hungry?”
I noticed most people have done covers for these theme songs, but I’ve had to do so many of those in my life for audiences I’ve wished I could share my own music with, so when I was given the option, I just had to write my own piece!
I usually write music first, but I wanted to get a message across, so I started with five pages of lyrics that looked like an essay! Making them sound the way they do was a process of elimination: simplify, then do it again. I wanted to describe a situation I felt very passionately about—I thought of it as a teaching opportunity, and the chance to take responsibility for my feelings about consumption. In thinking about how to do that in a poetic and musical way, I looked to Fela Kuti, because I love the way he used tiny, tiny terms and words to describe very complex issues. I think you can hear that in the song. ♦