An Interview with Berklee Groove Sessions Vol. 2 Performer: Mufaro

by Lily Lyons

Mufaro is a songwriter, a musical healer, and a consummate musician who uses her voice to radiate warmth and spread positivity. No wonder she is one of our featured artists for Berklee Groove Sessions Vol. 2, a show celebrating the music of strong women in honor of International Women’s History Month. We caught up with her a couple days before the show to have a conversation about her journey to and through Berklee and her empowering musical mission. Here are the highlights of that conversation for your reading pleasure:

Berklee Groove: Tell me about a time when music helped you get through something difficult.

Mufaro Kambarami: Honestly music helps me everyday. I find it difficult to live in the states because it’s a different culture for me. Even though I’ve been here for almost four years, I’ve found that I’m not able to fit in exactly. So writing music is my release. Whenever I feel like ‘I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to be here, I just want to go home,’ I write, and it restores and refreshes me… I can get to a space of freedom where I’m just making or playing the music. It eliminates everything—all the bad emotions or thoughts—and replaces it with the goodness of the music, which is really powerful. I see it as a spiritual thing: I’m not present because I’ve allowed the music to take over.

BG: Speaking about Mufaro3adjusting to the United States, you’ve lived in a number of places, from Zimbabwe to the Netherlands: how do you feel those places have impacted your music?

MK: I think those places are definitely part of my music… I’ve had the musical opportunity to dip into every culture that I’ve passed through and I see it as such a blessing. I gained so much knowledge and musical sensibility from all these different places. It reminds me of the quote ‘to whom much is given is given much responsibility.’ I feel I have to make use of all these cultural experiences that I’ve gathered through my journey. It’s impacted me in an amazing way. I enjoy how African music is so different from European electronic music, which is so different from neo soul and gospel, but they all have such deep emotions you can feel and go through…You become one with the music and then you may move to a different place, but you still know what it feels like.

BG: What’s a song you’ve written recently that you’re excited about?

MK: I started to write this song about a month ago called “Don’t Deserve.” It’s got a parallel meaning to it: we don’t deserve all the bad things that happen to us but maybe we also don’t deserve all the amazing things either. It’s kind of a somber song that says: ‘I’m grateful for all the good and bad experiences I’ve gone through. I don’t deserve any of them, but at the same time they are such a blessing to my life.’ I’m really excited to see how that song evolves. I haven’t finished it entirely, but I already feel very passionate about what it means to me. I think it represents my life lesson at the moment, that you’ve got be grateful for what you have.

BG: Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be doing for your Berklee Groove Sessions performance?

MK: I’ll be doing an acoustic set of a bunch of songs about my journey at Berklee. Through each song you will hear the story—or at least feel what the song is trying to say emotionally. And I try to involve my audience a lot so I look forward to doing that, just singing along with everybody and hoping that everyone can feel what I am feeling.

BG: Since Berklee Groove Sessions Vol. 2 is celebrating International Women’s History Month, I wanted to ask you: who are some women who have inspired you in music and in life?

MK: I would say Esperanza Spalding. She’s the reason I came to Berklee really. I saw her get nominated for a grammy award on TV and I heard the song “Black Gold.” I had never heard music with a harmonic color like that before, and I’m so in love with harmony. For me, instrumental music is incredible—it says so much to me and I connect so much with it. Her music had such rich textures, and with her voice and her bass, and the bassline, and the chordal changes underneath I was like ‘this woman is doing everything I want to learn in one song.’ So I researched her, and I found out she went to Berklee, and that she was not a singer before she went. So as a woman musician she really inspired me, but as a woman in general, I’m inspired by my mother. She’s always been musical, and sung with me and my sister in the car. We’d play music on the radio and harmonize together. She encouraged me to do what I love—she was like ‘if you love music you’re going to do that. There’s nothing else you can do.’ I was afraid to tell my parents I wanted to be a musician, because loads of people get shunned for deciding to make it their life career. But they said ‘we know you want to do this. You can’t hide from it. It’s all you ever want to do.’

Mufaro 1BG: How do you feel going to Berklee has changed you?

MK: I was changed by all the different kinds of people that I met; I never expected it. I grew up in a very close community…when I came to Berklee I had to learn that relationships with people can pass by very quickly and intensely. I’ve become more open mentally about our psychology and physiology as humans; not everything is what I expect because I don’t know everything. But Berklee affected me socially, mentally, physically—on all the levels of life. My body changed, my mind changed, but I believe all for the better. Even though some of the experiences weren’t amazing, they all have sculpted me into who I was supposed to become…

BG: The cover images for your songs are really beautiful; what’s the story behind them, and what were you trying to convey with them?

MK: That photoshoot was by the Boston-based photographer Ash Soong…I’m a photographer as a hobby, so I’m very picky about how the art is portrayed. I feel like every artist, whether visual or sound, has a voice, and so I’m also particular about how a person expresses somebody else. But I saw what she did, and she just presented people in their highest form, at their most regal. That was her style. Through my journey I had been going through a lot of self doubt and personal struggles, but because I’m somebody who wants to do music healing I knew I needed to empower myself to empower other people. So I went and had a meeting with Ash and she said ‘I see you as a queen,’ and I was so excited. I told her that I had a vision about me wearing white: I didn’t know where I was, or why, but I felt like white was my color of choice for my dress because I felt light in it. She had the perfect place and she set it all up and did the photoshoot. It was almost like she read my mind, honestly. I barely had any makeup on for those photos. I wore one simple dress, but she made me feel like I was wearing thousands of jewels. I wanted the photos to show what my purpose is, which is to carry the light…to show people that they can carry it as well, but also to emit it. Light goes through everything, and it will get to wherever it needs to get to.

BG: Tell us about your future plans!

MK: I plan to become a music healer, somebody who focuses on how to heal people through musical experiences, as opposed to just music therapy as a practice. I want to be in the industry creating an atmosphere where people are safe and can be healed: physically, mentally, in all ways. That’s my goal but that’s also what I’m trying to do all the time.