QX Meets…Samantha Mumba

Words by Nick Levine
Photography by Andrew Robles

She’s been up and down, been going round and round, but Samantha Mumba is coming back to London for a performance at Mighty Hoopla festival this Saturday.

Somewhat improbably, it’s been nearly 20 years since the Irish singer-songwriter racked up an enviable run of pop/R&B hits with enduring bops including ‘Gotta Tell You’, ‘Always Come Back to Your Love’ and the Bowie-sampling ‘Body II Body’.

Excitingly, she’s preparing to drop a comeback single later this summer, but for now it’s time to talk hits, Hoopla, and her heartfelt connection with the LGBTQ community – she even lived on Wardour Street for a while in her early twenties, and made it out alive…

So, what made you want to perform at Mighty Hoopla?

Oh my God, it’s just such a fabulous festival. I’ve heard people really go all-out with their outfits. Come on, why would I not want to do Mighty Hoopla? And it’s in London! Do you know what, this will be my first ever festival in London, and actually my first performance in London in years. Literally, years. And obviously I’m gearing up now to release new music soon, so the timing is really good too.

What can you tell us about your setlist?

Well, I can tell you that there’s going to be a few little surprises throughout the performance. My intro will be new, and there might be a couple of other new bits and pieces in the set, but I’m not going to be performing my new single yet. I kind of don’t want to perform it until I have a release date set in stone, but it’s definitely coming soon because it’s very much a summer bop. I’m hoping to be promoting it by the end of July.

What does your new music sound like?

I’m not one of those people who’s going to come back saying, ‘Oh, I’m a serious artiste now.’ You know, I’m a pop artist. The vibe is pop-R&B, and I’m all about bops and big songs. That’s what my fanbase want, and that’s what I love to perform. The stuff I’m writing about now is what’s relevant to me now, given the point I’m at in my life. But I feel like that should translate quite well because a lot of my fanbase are around the same age as me.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 19 years since your debut album ‘Gotta Tell You’ came out.

Oh I know! Honestly, it traumatises me.

At the time, did you have any idea that people would still want to hear those songs nearly two decades later?

Not at all. I was just so excited to get my record deal and be off writing songs. I was only 15 so it all just felt like an adventure. This was before social media, so I had no idea if anybody would like my music or even listen go it. I almost had a heart attack when someone called me up and said my first single [‘Gotta Tell You’] had charted. And of course, when you’re 15, you don’t imagine that anything you do will still be remembered nearly 20 years later, but it’s so gorgeous that people do. I get so many messages on social media from people telling me that certain songs got them through tough times, or bring back happy memories for them. That’s so special; it means so much to me.

What’s the weirdest message you’ve received on social media?

Oh God, I mean… maybe a few dick pics? Ha! Whenever I get one, I’m just like, ‘Oh, knock it off!’ No, for the most part everyone’s really lovely and I love having dialogue with fans. But there’s always going to be a few weirdos sending you dick pics, you know?

You might not want to answer this, but do you have a favourite Samantha Mumba song?

I mean, probably ‘Gotta Tell You’ because it was my first single, so there’s a lot of sentiment attached to it for me. But personally, my favourite after that would be ‘Body II Body’, and my least favourite would be ‘Always Come Back to Your Love’. But a lot of people seem to love that song so I’m going to get in trouble for saying that!

But ‘Always Come Back to Your Love’ is such a bop – someone texted me just a few days ago to say how amazing it is.

I mean, so many people love that song and request it and I’m just like, ‘Oh God!’ It’s just one of those things, it’s just not my favourite song that I’ve released. But listen, I’ll be singing it until no-one requests it any more, so you have nothing to worry about!

You released a couple of songs in Ireland a few years ago, but what’s made you want to return to music in such a big way now?

Performing at Manchester Pride last year catapulted me back into it. I remember being on stage and seeing people sing the lyrics back at me, and it just blew me away. I was like, ‘How do you even remember these songs?!’ It was huge for me because I didn’t necessarily think anybody still cared. And I was kicking myself – like, why don’t I have any new music? Why did I stop doing this? So it’s exciting now to be doing Mighty Hoopla, such a big festival in London, knowing that I have new music coming. It’s kind of the beginning of all this amazing stuff that I have planned.

When did you first notice you had a big LGBTQ fanbase?

Honestly, from day one. Even during the years when I wasn’t interested in releasing music again, I would always perform at gay clubs. That’s my happy place, my comfortable place. I know that back in Ireland, a lot of gay people have said they related to me because I was this Irish black girl, and that was just, like, unheard of at the time. People were like, ‘Wow, she’s different,’ so I think they related to me in that sense as well as enjoying my music.  But I’ve always had that support from the community, and always loved having it.

Samantha Mumba is performing at Mighty Hoopla this Saturday 8th June, Brockwell Park. Full lineup and tickets available at mightyhoopla.com.


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