Samantha Mumba told David Hennessy how proud she is of ‘the little girl from Drumcondra’ who took the pop world by storm in the 2000s, why she is excited to be making a comeback now as an independent artist and why racism was never an issue for her growing up.
Samantha Mumba was still a teenager when she burst onto the scene as a pop princess in 2000 with her debut track Gotta Tell You making it to number one and number two in Ireland and the UK respectively while also making the top five in international territories such as the US, Australia and New Zealand.
After making US chart history as the youngest international female soloist to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 with Gotta Tell You, Samantha became one of only five Irish acts to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award for her follow-up Baby, Come on Over.
Her debut album Gotta Tell You sold over 1.7 million copies in the U.K. alone, went to number one in American and sold over 5 million worldwide to becaome one of the biggest selling debut albums of the 2000s.
It had been six years since the Dublin singer had released any music but Samantha has made a return with her comeback track Cool followed by the current single Process.
Samantha told The Irish World it is good to be back: “I’m really excited to have some new music and new stuff to share.
“Obviously doing everything myself and as an independent act this time around has been great and stressful.
“Creatively it’s great because I get to really do what I want and I think I’ve enjoyed even the stressful elements of trying to put so many things together as well to be completely honest.
“There’s so much new material. The first single Cool was very much me dipping my toe back in the water and it’s interesting because it’s not necessarily reflective of the rest of the album but I personally just loved it so much. It’s very much a vibe, it’s not a traditional layout even in terms of songwriting but I just really connect to it and this time around I really want to make sure I’m doing stuff that I love so it’s very much so a fun record.”
The current single Process has some prescient themes as we experience a festive period like no other with its strong message of, ‘Hold on, things are going to get better’.
“Then Process is really polar opposite to Cool. I just feel like the timing couldn’t be any better. I think it very sums up how most of us are feeling at the moment, what we’re literally all going through but I don’t think it’s an all doom and gloom song. I do think it’s uplifting and positive. It just felt like a nice song to close the year out with.”
You wouldn’t blame Samantha for being annoyed that live performances are very much off the agenda when she happens to make her long awaited comeback but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself on that note at all.
“I think it’s one of those things. The beauty of it is that everybody’s in the same boat.
“That was why there’s been such a delay in releasing. It just didn’t feel right with the way things were this year. It was like, ‘God, the last thing anybody needs right now is new music from me’. As it was getting later in the year and I was realising, ‘I don’t think this is going anywhere in 2021 either…’
“Certain things just have to go on and keep happening. I think it’s just finding and utilising different ways to get things done. In the new year I’m looking at maybe doing online performances and just changing it up.
“Look, it would have been great to actually be able to be in the UK, be in Ireland to be more hands on with this but it is what it is.”
Returning as an independent artist is a very different animal for Samantha who was launched the first time around with the backing of Polydor Records and Louis Walsh.
“Back in the day when I was releasing music I was a lot younger. I was a kid myself so I think I’ve put a bit more care and thought and work, I suppose blood, sweat and tears into it this time around.
“I’m really proud of it and I really stand behind both new singles and I’m glad I got a few out this side of the new year just to be accountable to myself more than anything else. There have been a few false starts.”
Can Samantha believe it is now two whole decades since Gotta Tell You became an international hit? “Yes and no. It’s kind of like, ‘God, how is it that long ago?’ But then at the same time it feels like a lifetime ago so it’s kind of both but it is weird. It’s weird to be adulting and be at a point in your life even where something is that long ago but I’m sure we all still think we’re young, younger,” she laughs.
Samantha was training for stardom from a young age but says she could not have known at that point she was going to be a performer.
“God, I started Billy Barry (stage school) at three. There was no grand plan behind that. I think we had literally just moved into the area. It was around the corner, it was walking distance and I’m sure at that point- as I’m a parent myself now- I’m sure my parents were just like, ‘We’ll have an hour to ourselves’. They were giving me something to do to burn off some energy. I don’t think they thought it was going to be as big in my life as it actually was.
“Really more than being driven in a work sense, it was more that to this day my closest friends are from there. It just became my social outlet that I would look forward to seeing my friends.
“This is pre-mobile phones, pre-social media. My daughter is 5 and she is playing with friends across the world on Road Blocks. You have a different connection with people that when I was a kid wasn’t there. You would be waiting all week and excited to go and do your little Billy Barry class but it was great for me.”
Although fame came to Samantha at a young age she feels she was somewhat sheltered from it by being in a pre-social media age.
“I was in such a bubble and I was working so much I wasn’t aware of what was going on around me. That was before social media so it’s not like I was being tagged in stuff or seeing things on social media. If I didn’t see the newspaper, I just didn’t see it. In a weird way I was in this little vortex bubble a little bit oblivious if I’m being completely honest which maybe is a good thing as well. I don’t know.
“I was 16 when the first single came out. I left school as soon as I signed my publishing deal. I was like, ‘I’m done. I would be staying in school if I wanted to go to college, if there was something else I wanted to pursue. I’ve got my career a little bit earlier so I’m done’.
“Which thankfully my parents supported but I think looking back I was very, very young. I was a kid and I think like all teenagers do, you feel like you know everything and of course you don’t. But I think there’s a gusto in that kind of ignorance that you feel like you can do anything. I would love an ounce of that confidence now.”
Samantha got to star in the film The Time Machine with Guy Pearce and tour the states with Justin Timberlake and N Sync, two things she describes as highlights of a career that went very quickly stratospheric.
“To this day I would say doing The Time Machine is absolutely a stand out. Even for me, and I had experienced a lot of things at that point, that was an incredible experience just to be on a set with a budget of that size and working with such incredible people. It was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.
“I opened for N Sync. Again, they’re probably the two biggest highlights in terms of what I personally enjoyed the most but it was great travelling around America on a huge tour bus. I think we were performing to 80,000 people a night- Something ridiculous but it was incredible. Good times.
“I think everybody’s on their own journey but I’m absolutely proud of the splash that I’ve made for a little girl from Drumcondra getting all of those deals and accomplishments. Of course, I’m absolutely proud of that little girl.”
Things took a turn for the worse when Samantha was then dropped by her label but after being on such a rollercoaster for so long this actually provided some relief rather than the despair you might expect.
“It actually wasn’t hard to deal with to be completely honest. I think it was when all the labels were merging so it wasn’t even an instant drop but at that point I had bought my house in Ireland and I was so happy just to have a break.
“It had been full on non-stop for four years straight and at that age as well you’re feeling like you’re missing everything with your friends. To be able to be 20 with my own housee and having people over partying, I had a ball.
“It was a weird one because I wasn’t dropped straight away but I wasn’t releasing music. Because it was such a long process to even get to that point it was just a relief that it was over with and I was free to explore other things.
“I’m kind of grateful looking back. I actually value the fact that I’ve been able to have my twenties for the most part very privately, being able to grow up and have experiences in life without that being anybody’s business. I think that’s a good thing.
“I’ve never looked on it as- Maybe I should have looked at it as a bad thing but I actually never have,” she laughs.
“I’m a glass half full type of person anyway.
“Then I was at the place where I wasn’t even sure if that was even what I wanted to keep doing and to be totally honest I wasn’t in a rush to jump back into that.
“For a long time the passion was gone for me and I think as well, because my experience had only been with a big label and machine behind me, I couldn’t really get my head around doing it independently and so I think just seeing the success that so many people are having and the freedom that they were having creatively- Maybe it’s tied in with having my daughter, I don’t know. I just felt a kind of stirring of, ‘Why not?’
“I do feel like I have more to give. Over the years I’ve always done performances and club gigs and it’s always when I’m onstage that I always have that feeling of, ‘Oh, I wish I had something new to perform or something that’s more reflective of me now’.”
There has been much talk about racism in Ireland in recent months but Samantha says it was never an issue for her growing up in Dublin as one of very few mixed-race kids but says she realises this would not be the case if she had not been well known from a young age.
“I don’t know if it’s that I was made to feel different or if I was just oblivious in my own little world to be honest.
“It was never something that was an issue for me. It was never something that we spoke about in our household. My family didn’t make it an issue so maybe I kind of continued that mindset.
“I think back in the day as well it was very, very different. There weren’t many black people in Ireland when I was growing up. There just weren’t and I feel like I probably knew anybody who was there. They would be friends of my Dad or whoever so it was just very different and now obviously the country’s changing, there’s so many more people and I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s amazing.
“Would my father have had experiences and certain things said which ultimately would have been aimed at all of us? Yes, absolutely.
“I think I was very lucky in the sense that being in the public eye from a very young age people at home embraced me and supported me. I think it was more just a, ‘She’s one of us, let’s support it’. But I have no doubt that if I wasn’t in the public eye, if I didn’t have that afforded to me I would have had very different experiences to this day.
“When I go home, I do think the climate is changing. Every time I go home I am aware of different things. There’s even a Black and Irish instagram page that I follow and they post people sharing their stories and it’s horrendous. It’s absolutely horrendous but I think the positive of that is that the conversations are being had now and it can’t be ignored anymore.
“Thankfully as well overall I don’t feel like Ireland is a racist place. I think you will find good and bad apples everywhere and so it’s just weeding that out.”
Samantha’s own five-year-old daughter took part in a kids’ march against racism which made her mother very proud but she would of course prefer that such a march was not even necessary.
“They stemmed from horrendous acts and from a very dark place so I would rather that in 2020 those conversations don’t even need to be had anymore.
“From watching on news my daughter really wanted to get involved. She went and did a kids march and I was so, so proud of her. So proud.
“But it’s disgusting. The basis of it is disgusting and it’s hurtful and it’s just senseless so no, I can’t say I was happy to see it. That just probably wouldn’t be the right word for me. But it’s necessary and I think as a result things will have to change and I think people just aren’t going to tolerate certain things that have been tolerated before and so kind of that just is what it is.”
It was reported in 2015 that Mumba had been in a car crash just weeks before she was due to give birth but thankfully the accident was nowhere near as serious as some had feared. When Samantha took a picture of her feet being placed into an ambulance, certain people feared the worst.
“If it had been a bad car crash, of course I wouldn’t have time to be taking photos and posting them. That became a bigger thing than I suppose I was aware of.
“You know normally if you’re driving and you see an accident it’s like, ‘Oh God’. You’re normally the spectator so to be sitting in the ambulance I as like, ‘This is madness. I’ll take a photo and show it to my mam or whoever’.
“Then of course I put it on my instagram page genuinely not thinking anything of it because I was absolutely fine and it kind of just became a bigger deal than I had planned but lesson learned there.
“It was on the news at home and my family were panicking. God, I forgot about that until you brought it up.”
Samantha spoke to the Irish World from her home in LA but says Ireland remains her home and has hated not being able to jet back as much as she would like due to the pandemic.
“Before this year I was getting home four or five times a year and I would be home for weeks at at time so it almost felt like I was living in both places. This year has been a strange one in the sense of I only got home once this year and it has been hard. I’m really missing home. Home is always home.”
The singles Cool and Process by Samantha Mumba are out now.