Namibia’s Shishani goes back to her roots on new album

Namibian musician Shishani is currently touring Europe with her new band, The Namibian Tales, in preparation for a new album, Itaala, to be launched officially later this year.

Shishani revisits Namibia's musical heritage on her new album, 'Itaala'. Photo: Victoria Torii Ashipala /
Shishani revisits Namibia's musical heritage on her new album, 'Itaala'. Photo: Victoria Torii Ashipala /

Combining the rich musical tradition of her native Namibia with western influences as soul and jazz, Shishani has teamed up with Hungarian cellist Bence Huszar, German-born Debby Korfmacher on mbira, kora and vocals and Dutch percussionist Sjahin During.  Adding his kora, ngoni and guitar skills will be Malian guest musician Zoumana Diarra, currently based in the Dutch town of Nijmegen, who is is expected to join them in studio in August and for the CD release tour in 2017. ​

In preparation for the upcoming album and current tour, the band recently released a video of a live performance of the songs from the new albums: ‘Itaala’, ‘Salifa’ and ‘Kuku’. The medley was recorded live in Amsterdam in May. The artist told Music In Africa: “We recorded this video in the living room of percussionist Sjahin During in Amsterdam. This is where we rehearse and create music together, so we wanted to keep that personal, intimate feel. What I personally love about this space is the light wood and beautiful wooden furniture hand made by Stefan During, Sjahin’s father. The house oozes a vibe of creativity, space and special attention to every little detail.”


Speaking about the upcoming  album, Shishani explained: "Itaala means ‘believe’ in Oshiwambo, language of the Aawambo people in Namibia, my mother's tongue. Itaala is a journey of me going back to my Namibian roots and where all the musicians are bringing new influences along, in a way carrying new gifts and goods into Namibia as part of this dialogue. These influences stem from Turkey, Hungary, Netherlands, USA, India, Cuba - the many countries we hail from and/or have been inspired by."

Though rooted in ancient traditions, the band create unexpected harmonies and rhythms in songs that are contemporary and refreshing. Shishani explains:  “Our music is a dialogue of the present - looking into both my personal past and the country's history. We're in a way also whispering to the future, where the idea of the global village is coming closer and closer; where the whole world is exchanging all sorts of influences, and yet we celebrate particular artistic and cultural practices. Coming from Christianisation and apartheid, where so much of the local beliefs and practices where shunned, Itaala is also a way to praise the country, the people, the languages, the traditions, the music.”

The upcoming album is a conscious attempt by Shishani and her bandmates to explore Namibia’s musical traditions. “In 2015, Sjahin During and I created this new project, Namibian Tales, to dive into the different musics from Namibia,” she explained. “We're especially interested in researching the traditional music practices from various ethno-linguistic groups in Namibia and creating new work inspired from this, mixing it with our many influences. For me this is a personal journey going deeper into my Namibian roots. Growing up in Europe, I had no access to any Namibian music - this was before the internet. So I've spent most of my life feeling cut off from these rich musical cultures. This project is our way of honouring Namibian heritage through our personal creativity and celebrating our cosmopolitan lives and influences."

Shishani’s new songs represent a clear departure from her earlier work, both as a solo artist and fronting the band The Dub Colours with musicians from Greece and Belgium. “This project definitely represents a change from my earlier work: I now also sing in Oshiwambo whereas this was only English and some French before. We create songs based on traditional Owambo rhythms, sounds inspired by music of the San people and other countries in Africa. So Africa is the starting point, and we take it from there.”

Shishani and the Namibian Tales kicked off their European tour in May with performances at Oosterpark Festival (1 May) and Mezrab (12 May) in Amsterdam ahead of the Amersfoort Jazz festival on 28 May. Their upcoming gigs include various performances in The Netherlands until September this year, before the band heads to the World Music Expo (WOMEX) in Spain in October, then home to Namibia in November.

  • 25 June: InJazz Showcase - Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2 July: Westwaarts Festival - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 3 July: Amsterdam Roots Festival - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 28 Aug: Itaala CD recording - Netherlands
  • 3 Sept: Korzo Uithaags Festival - Den Haag, Netherlands
  • 11 Sept: Buiksloterkerk - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 19 Sept: Zilveren Notenkraker Prijs. Paradiso - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 14 Oct: official release of Itaala
  • 19-23 Oct: WOMEX - Spain
  • 1 -15 Nov: Namibia tour, special project with the San people
  • 22 Nov: Stadschouwburg - Haarlem, Netherlands
  • 20 Jan 2017: CD release concert - Korzo Den Haag, Netherlands

Asked how it feels to be representing Namibia on European stages (along with the likes of Elemotho), Shishani explained: “It's wonderful to be able to talk to people about Namibia. Many have never heard anything from Namibia, nor do they know much about the country, the people or the history. So I feel honoured to be able to share my experiences, stories and music. I realise so many people become curious and want to know more, so they start googling the map to find out where it is and research more about other Namibian artists.

“What we do in this project is not traditional music; it's very much a contemporary take on these influences. But it's definitely a celebration to share what we do in Europe,” she continued. “The response is great, they love the sounds and the language, it's something new. There is definitely a difference in response between audiences in Europe and Namibia: whereas Europeans love to listen quietly and attentively, in Namibia people rise, dance, and support you loudly if they feel it! Both energies are great - at the core it's love people are sharing. I feel privileged to be able to travel between both.

Looking ahead to the future, Shishani said that the band will be heading home to Namibia in November and plans to tour Southern Africa with the new album next year. “We are very excited about that because we will also start a new research project on some musical traditions while we are there. We will be doing our album release tour in 2017, so we hope to visit South Africa, Zimbabwe and more African countries during our travels.”

For more details and updates on her upcoming album and tour dates, visit her website or keep an eye on her Facebook page.


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