BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Rockstar of the Week

According to the dictionary, rock and roll music is a fusion of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums. Yet, despite the heavy influence that people of color have had on the genre, they continue to be excluded from this musical culture and industry. Over the decades, a handful of men of color have managed to successfully break into the scene, but the women of color rock artists come few and far between.

Enter Shingai Shoniwa, frontwoman of the UK band The Noisettes and this weeks’ Rockstar of the Week. While growing up in the UK public housing system, Shingai would use music as a form of escape from her surroundings. As she stated in an interview:

With my music and lyrics I’m communicating the perseverance of the human spirit… and that doesn’t come without tragedy or comedy. Music is the soundtrack to my life and I see everyone’s life as a feature film – it’s not a rehearsal. [1]

The name Shingai actually means perseverance in Shona, a language in Zimbabwe, the country where Shingai’s roots reside. Her desire to experiment with rock and roll music stems originally from Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo’s guitar translations on the mbira. After honing her musical gift at the BRIT School of Arts and Technology (the alma matter of Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse) and a brief stint as a burlesque performer, Shingai decided to pursue her dreams and create a band with friend and classmate Dan Smith on the guitar. Later, drummer Jamie Morrison would join to make the trio complete.

With two albums to date—the 2007 What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? and the 2009 Wild Young Hearts—The Noisettes have brought a wonderfully refreshing element to rock and roll music, not only musically but aesthetically as well. Normally, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, and Karen O comparisons would make even the most original artist become a bit jaded, but not Shingai. In an interview with Venus Zine, she reveals her thoughts on the origins of these comparisons:

It’s because I’m a girl and because we’ve come so far as women in the music industry. We are able to speak for ourselves through our music rather than being defined and put into the spotlight in a very male kind of groomed way for an obviously predominantly male audience…I feel like it is our time now…There are a lot more women behind the scenes and lots of the people who end up comparing us are male journalists writing for men who might not get it.” [2]

Of course, any feature on Shingai would be incomplete without any mention of her distinctive style and her fierce showmanship abilities. In terms of style influence, Shingai has credited her infatuation with bright colors and loud prints to the bold and fabulous flamboyance of African women. In addition to her extraordinary fashion sense, Shingai rocks Google-worthy hairstyles that defy gravity while rivaling the beauty and grace of traditionally classic coifs. The same goes for her performances, when her natural rockstar quality really shines through. Not only has this leading lady dislocated her shoulder while rocking out on tour, but she’s even jammed on the bass with a loaf of bread! “Someone handed me a stale baguette and I carried on playing with that,” she said.

Shingai Shoniwa proves that black girls can and do rock, literally!

Check out some of The Noisette’s tracks and performances below:

“Don’t Upset The Rhythm”:

“Never Forget You”:

“When You Were Young” (cover of The Killers):

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