… Speaks of her strong foundations and barefoot dreams
AFTER growing up on a Khorixas farm in the Kunene region, surrounded by family members who were musicians, it should come as no surprise that Erna Chimu (EC) fell in love with music at a very young age.
Today, Erna is one of the country’s top Afro-jazz and traditional artists. She is also a songwriter and composer.
She credits her strong musical foundation for her success, saying that her mother, who in her own right was a great singer, encouraged her to become a vocalist.
Erna’s musical career began in the late 1980s, when she and her brothers started a reggae band called Shem Yetu, in which she was the backing vocalist.
It was during her time with Shem Yetu that she further honed her talents, and in 2000 Erna went solo, by entering the gospel genre and recording her first album titled Do you believe?.
Three years later, Erna embarked on a second solo project – this time focusing on jazz music, which she describes as “grounded and mature”.
She wanted to use this platform to share her loves, ideas and messages.
As a jazz and traditional singer, Erna has ensured the country’s presence on the world’s musical map, while winning many awards.
She has performed in arenas across the globe.
In an interview with Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN), Erna took a trip down memory lane, while shedding light on her musical roots, and sharing stories about her love for walking barefoot on the farm and milking cows.
MN: Who is Erna Chimu?
EC: Erna Chimu is a multi-award winning afro-jazz and traditional artist. She is a singer, songwriter and composer. I was born on a small farm called Ondemkaremba (Africa farm), situated 35km outside of Windhoek.
MN: Briefly tell us about your upbringing.
EC: I am the eighth born out of 11 children. I have four sisters and six brothers, and sadly two have passed on. My father is a Wambo/OvaHerero and my mother is a OvaHerero/Damara; they were both powerful musicians and vocalists. I grew up on a small farm in the district of Khorixas called Malan’s Rest, with my grandparents. My grandfather taught us the importance of culture, and I think that’s how it influenced my music.
MN: What triggered your interest in music?
EC: As far as I can remember, as a child I was always around people singing and playing guitars at home. When I came to Windhoek in the early 1980s, to attend school, I met my mother and siblings for the first time. We had a grand piano and mom sang so beautifully. She always encouraged me to sing, and I accompanied her with the family choir. My interests were more in musical instruments, and in 1989, my brothers formed a reggae band, Shem Yetu, which means Our Source in Swahili, I became a back-up vocalist, and the rest is history.
MN: Tell us about your early days as a musician.
EC: I grew up in church and sang in choirs, so when I started going solo, it was for obvious reasons. I wanted to worship. I still think that is my calling in life. I recorded my first gospel album, titled Do you believe?, which consisted of eight tracks. The album was never fully released, but two of the songs led to an appearance on a local NBC program called Voices of Namibia.
MN: How did you develop your sound?
EC: I have a passion for traditional music, and I am 100 percent in love with the clicks and the richness of Khoekhoegowab. I had a message and I didn’t want to just entertain, but educate and share life experiences through my music, in a setting in which people are calm and relaxed, and hence the fusion of jazz in my music. I know the importance for an artist to find their niche, and I am fortunate to have found it.
MN: What are you currently working on?
EC: I am working on my third album titled Uprising, which will be on the shelves by November. I have a couple of charity projects I am busy with along the way, and shows to accommodate in-between.
MN: What has life taught you that you wish to share?
EC: That I should stop feeling sorry for myself and fight with everything I have, to make it count. That I have to make my life, and of those who matter, a little bit easier or better.
Life has taught me that I only have this one life to be a mother, a friend, a sister and an artist, so I must make the best of it, and be the best, in any way I can.
MN: What advice do you have for your fellow women?
EC: Just remember you’re in this life for a reason. Of course you will face challenges and feel like giving up. Have faith in yourself and in God. Remember, prayer won’t solve your problems, for God only helps those who help themselves. Don’t be afraid to fail. Make many mistakes, but keep going. Lastly, you’ve been watching other people’s ideas for years every day, be it movies, actors, singers and designers etc. What about your ideas? What’s your calling in life? Try. Just do something.
MN: What don’t people know about you?
EC: A Lot of things…
MN: What do you do for a little fun?
EC: I go to the farm, away from the noise and walk around barefoot, and I collect firewood and milk cows.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015