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Turunesh: The unapologetic voice of East African Music

Turunesh: The unapologetic voice of East African Music

Turunesh, the Tanzanian singer-songwriter, is a trailblazing artiste who embodies the essence of Afropop’s future. Her sophomore album “Satin Cassette” is a master class in sonic intimacy, with tracks like “Cigarette” and “Rum and Butter” celebrating self-expression as she weaves a sultry fusion of neo-African soul, traditional sounds and unapologetic sensuality. 

Turunesh’s journey began at 16, performing at Dar es Salaam’s “Alternative Nights”, and has since supported Afropop giants like Burna Boy and Wizkid. With multiple singles, EPs and two full albums under her belt, Turunesh is leading a wave of left-field East African hit makers, fearlessly pushing boundaries and redefining traditional Tanzanian genres. Her music is an unbridled exploration of love, desire and empowerment making her a true icon of modern African music.


How did you get into music?

I’d say I officially started age 20, maybe like 2014, 2013 though I’ve always been musically inclined since I was a child; I participated in recitals and performances at school. I think the first time that I knew I wanted to be part of performances was when I was in the first grade. After that, it was a passion for writing poetry; I used to share my poems with my parents, who also were poets back in their day, in their 20s, it was a way to bond and share my passions with them. I began to marry my love for writing poetry with my love for singing at age 15, that was when I started to sing covers and write corny love songs and put them on SoundCloud, so that’s when and how I started music. 

 What was the pivotal moment that actually made you decide to pursue music full-time?

The pivotal moment would be in summer of 2018 after my second year of university. I went to university in Vancouver, University of British Columbia and on my way home, I decided that I didn’t want to go straight back to TZ. I  wanted to pass by London and see friends, but mainly just to crash at a friend’s place while I just did a bunch of gigs and performed in the city. So that was sort of a really adventurous thing that I did. It was very much a solo mission because the friend I was staying with had exams so I was exploring the city on my own; putting myself out there, going to open mics and other creative events and watching a lot of live performances and that was the first time that I realized that music is the only thing that could ever inspire me to put myself out there and be adventurous and challenge myself in this way. I don’t think I’d ever pack up and go to a country that I’ve never been before and just roam the streets like for anything else, music is the thing that ignites my ambitious and adventurous nature, music is something that chooses you, and life can feel unnatural if you’re not living in that truth. That’s when I knew that this is what I want to dedicate my life towards. So yeah, I think that was the pivotal moment,  nothing else could have inspire me in this way 

How do you blend traditional East African music with neo-Afro soul in your work? 

With the East African sound, there’s just so many genres that come out of TZ, the main one being Bongo flavor, I obviously like Swahili, like pop music. When it comes to African music, I listen to mainstream African music a lot, alternative African music, but when it comes to listening to records on records, it’s always more of the  traditional and old school stuff, those are the kind of records that I grew up listening to with my dad and my mom and they’ve always had a place in my heart. So when it comes to incorporating East African sounds into my music, it’s always the drums and melodies of that and then infusing it with Neo-Soul and R&B. My approach is to see myself, my culture and history reflected in the music, in a more contemporary sound.  

Regarding your themes and music, your music often explores subjects centered around liberation and feminism, can you elaborate on what these themes mean to you personally and artistically.

Exploring my womanhood has been a significant part of me, my mum and aunties are huge influences in how I see the world. I also believe that there’s a lot of sensuality in the African culture; when you think about the way that we dance, the way that we express ourselves, the way in which we approach romance, there’s a lot of sensuality and empowerment tied into who we are prior to colonization but now all that has been suppressed due to religious indoctrination and colonization. I don’t think I’m the first African artist to be comfortable with their body and speak on these themes, it’s always been done but for me, my focus isn’t on selling sex but decentring those taboos around sensuality and pleasure. I find romance intriguing so I’m always trying to understand who I am and what love means to me and just kind of take my fans with me on that journey of self-exploration. As human beings, there’s so many things that we want to do; we want to make money, we want to be comfortable, we want to travel, we want to see the world but at the end love is what actually makes us feel complete whether it is romantic, platonic or love for family. That’s why I never get sick of writing love songs because I feel like love is key to our evolution as a people and in our personal lives. So, yeah, that’s a big part of who I am. And that’s why I love to explore those themes.

How do you hope to impact your community and the music industry through your work?

I want people to be able to find themselves in my music and art, to not only enjoy the music but also resonate with it. With my work as a songwriter, vocalist, creative director and producer, I challenge myself to execute stronger creative concepts that powerfully depict the environment and experiences around me, that’s why I made sure to incorporate relatability into my songwriting for my new work because I want my fans to be able to resonate with the things I’m saying and see themselves in the words. 

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What have you been working on lately? 

Prior to my latest release “Virgin Denim”, I’ve been on a hiatus because for me to be able to grow and start working on the next thing, I need to distance myself from the burden of work in order to recharge and come back better. When I released Satin Casette in 2021, I was constantly working- shooting visuals etc, it was a really busy time though incredibly rewarding. I did a lot of shows in that period, two headliner shows; the first was a smaller one at a small venue, the second, was a bigger show, more of a concert at a really dope venue in Vancouver called the Biltmore. I think in order to be able to make a good album, you need to take a break to experience life organically, just going about the motions, reflecting on the things that are happening to you and the world around you so that’s kinda what the hiatus has been. It’s been a combination of living life and also creating.  

What are the challenges you faced being an independent artist?

It’s incredibly challenging to be an independent artist, you can have all the ideas in the world, constantly improve yourself as a songwriter, singer or creative director but it takes resources to be able to execute all these ideas. One thing I’ll say is that the importance of having a team as a small or growing artist can never be overemphasized, you need a community of people that can help bring your creative visions to life. The incredibly talented creatives that I’ve worked with over the years have really helped cultivate my growth, having a team, and the willingness to not give up, has helped me navigate the challenges. 

What matters to you most and why?

Honesty, I appreciate genuity in everything especially in my relationships with people, honesty is a huge part of my work and every song that I write; it’s at the core of my ability to connect and be able to perform in anything, I want to make music that is reflective of where I’m at as a person, where my talents and my strengths are.

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