Episode 8: Sassy Souls with Bx Sassy and Viva Msimang
Viva Msimang is a musical force of motivation. Having developed a name for herself on the London Latin music scene, Viva's skills as a trombonist and multi-instrumentalist have led her to play across multiple genres and continents. With a back-catalogue of performing, collaborating, and recording with world-class artists, Viva's intentions are deeply rooted in encouraging further inclusion of marginalised genders and ethnicities within the music industry.
Investing in these ideas, Viva founded COLECTIVA; a collective of musicians bringing feminist Afro Latin Music and Jazz vibes to the stage. Known for their fiery energy and exceptional standard of musicianship, COLECTIVA is built around a philosophy of anti-hierarchical sistership. By facilitating one another's growth, Viva talks to us about actively dismantling patriarchal structures through collective creative development.
Tune in to the full interview and hear our Sassy host, Bethany Burgoyne, ask Viva about the multiple avenues her work journeys down. She discusses her latest position behind the decks, playing out at parties and radio shows under her DJ name, AUKA, (also Viva's middle name meaning warrior woman). In this way, Viva is leaning into more electronic aspects of making music, as well celebrarting her sonic inspirations. In true AUKA style, Viva plays us 5 tunes spotlighting fellow musicians surfing a fresh wave of creation. We hear COLECTIVA's debut single 'Under The', a track from Chelsea Carmichael's solo album as well as unreleased music from Eliane Correa and saxophonist Allexa Nava, before playing us out with a tune from margomool.
Growing up in South London, Viva Msimang's childhood was a valuable soundscape of music from around the world. Ever grateful to her parents for their excellent taste in music, Viva reminises on how dub, jazz, salsa and hiphop all formed a backdrop to her upbringing. Her parents own involvement with the music scene led to her mum working as a backing vocalist, singing on the London African scene in the 80s. "I'm so proud of her. She held down a job in law as a barristers clerk and at the weekend she'd be out gigging." This ethos of hard work is something we see inspiring Viva's ambitious direction today, alongside the influence of London's cosmopolitan environment. "That's the beauty of the diversity here; growing up you hear all kinds of music and [are] inspired by the richness of the culture we have." As a profressional musician and DJ, Viva forever celebrates this abundance of sound, embedding herself in amongst an array of live, electronic, and instrumental movements.
I could never shout as loud as I can play my trombone. It gives voice to a lot of emotions that I might struggle to express otherwise
Becoming known for playing her trombone on stages across the world, Viva first picked up the instrument when she was 10 years old. After seeing a brassband performing in the park, Viva became intrigued explaining how "I'd never seen a trombone before and it looked like a lot of fun. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it would be slightly subversive but I was quite an eccentric kid so I was into that!" This rebellious streak is something that continues to shine through in Viva's personality as she uses the loud grandeur of her instrument to hold space for fresh perspectives to be shared. In this way, Viva credits the trombone for helping her embody a new found confidence both in her career and her stage presence.
Viva exapands on this by explaining how "Music provides me with everything I need at this stage. Not only financially, but I'd say spiritually, physically, socially... and I'm just so grateful to be able to live my life in this way. To be a musician is a calling but it's a lifestyle as well. To have peace in what you're doing (because it's a really precarious existence) you have to really embrace the fullness of it and I feel that's the position I'm in now." In balance with this, Viva expresses how the cathartic nature of playing helps her vocalise emotions through her instrument. "I could never shout as loud as I can play my trombone. It gives voice to a lot of emotions that I might struggle to express otherwise". Reflecting on how society can shape and hold us back from voicing an opinion or emotion, Viva tells us how "British culture especially can be very prone to encouraging us to bottle things up and think that certain emotions are bad. And they're not, every emotion is natural, human, and healthy. It's just about finding where you're going to put it and making sure you find somewhere to release it." For Viva, this has been something the stage has really allowed her to explore further.
Every emotion is natural, human, and healthy. It's just about finding where you're going to put it and making sure you find somewhere to release it
A joyful result of Viva's progress as a professional musician has been the creation of COLECTIVA; a sisterhood of feminist musicality. COLECTIVA channels a firey combination of Afro Latin Music and Jazz through rhythmically eclectic compositions and melodic arrangements. On stage, they completely reinvent the male-dominated space and show just how wild women can be when making music together. Describing COLECTIVA as an outlet for her fight for equality, Viva founded the project "to try and create a more active form of feminism in the way that I can, a format that I can as a musician and female instrumentalist.". Despite the diversity of their political opinions and views, COLECTIVA prides itself on respecting one another and fostering their commonalities. Viva links this back to sisterhood and continually recentring oneself around the question of acting in solidarity with each other as women.
Sisterhood is a central pillar to my conception of feminism and I always try to bring myself back to that - Am I acting in solidarity with this woman as a sister?
This considerate approach consciously orientates COLECTIVA around an antihierarchial system. Viva descibes how this was the result of "wanting to create something that doesn't have one bandleader but a collective where we are all leaders." In this way, COLECTIVA sets out to empower eachother through every step of the creative process. Fluidly moving between logistics to musical composition, leading rehearsals to managing social media, each member shares the responsibility and supports eachother as they progress collaboratively. Viva explains how, "in that way, we all have become more empowered as women and musicians because we've had the space to grow into leaders together." With this goal, Viva explains how it's about "always checking for ourselves that we're not dominating. It's kind of a form of anarchist thinking - that what needs to be done will be done. We have that trust and respect for one another." This mindset is one that we appreciate hearing, feeling encouraged by the level headed approach to collaborative work.
When asking Viva about her Sassy side, she shares how "performance in and of itself, the physical side of preparing yourself, adorning yourself, learning how you want to hold yourself on stage" all plays a part in uplifting ones spirits and liberating the confidence. Viva explains how the feeling of being on stage and "projecting an energy to carry forward into the rest of life is very good for one's mental health and sassy quota. Music and Sass go hand in hand". This mentality is something we see work in Viva's favour, particularly when facing personal challenges. "If something scares me a bit, that will be the thing I'm like 'Go on Viva, go and do that!'" Having suffered with crippling stage fright, Viva's courageous mindset has resulted in her continually moving past fears. "I suppose that's how you grow really; seeing what is it that makes me feel unsafe or confronted and then exploring why and finding out what you can do to overcome that and live a fuller life." Within her musical lifestlye, Viva reflects on how this can become a practise of moving past the ego and stepping freely into the energy and spiritual relationship music can evoke.
We all have become more empowered as women and musicians because we've had the space to grow into leaders together
Inspite of this outlook, Viva explains how it's hard to escape additional expectation put on female performers regarding their appearance. "Our bodies are just these carriers for who we really are, the soul, the character and the personality. But as women, there is a lot of pressure, especially in the music industry, to look a certain way, to be conventionally attractive, and certainly not to have body hair, facial hair, or acne. [Yet] all of these things are natural and should be just fine." Sharing her own experience of developing acne as an adult, Viva explains how"it was really tough just trying to proceed with my career during that period and feeling like I had to hide all of the time." Aside from the physical discomfort, Viva explains how her experience led to a level of awareness around the discrimination toxic beauty standards encourage.
Digging deeper into this topic, Viva contemplates on how,"if you're somebody that has the privilege in our society of being slim, able-bodied and has got clear skin, for instance, I feel like we also have a responsibility to show solidarity with our sisters of all physical types." Asking how we can do that is something that leads Viva to describe the positive impact of receiving kindness and acceptance from people. "When I did have acne, everybody who was just kind to me and didn't stare at a portion of my face, and just gave me love...I'll never forget." Alongside this human compassion and acceptance comes the need to change who we see in mainstream media. We second Viva's opinion that "as female creators, we must make sure to be inclusive when we're presenting what womanhood means, to make sure we're representing diverse bodies within that". This can manifest in so many ways to encourage the humanisation of the female form, rather than the sexualised objectification.
Our bodies are just these carriers for who we really are, the soul, the character and the personality. But as women, there is a lot of pressure, especially in the music industry, to look a certain way, to be conventionally attractive
Bringing the conversation to a close, Viva returns to her childhood recognising the way her local environment shaped the understanding and advocacy she has for social equality today. "Where I grew up, there was a lot of poverty around me, I didn't come from a wealthy family but there was a lot more poverty around me than I experienced at home. I think that taught me a level of humility". Embodying this mindset, Viva explains how "I will always try to carry with me an understanding of why equality is so important and why I will always be anti-hierarchy ." It is this acute awareness of the role Viva wishes to play in society that makes us excited for her future. Grounded in humble self belief, we look forward to hearing Viva's voice grow louder and louder.
When do you feel most confident?
After a gig, that's always a very confident moment for me. There's this certain post-gig high that makes you feel wonderful.
Name one key experience that has shaped you positively?
Growing up where I grew up. I didn't come from a wealthy family but there was a lot more poverty around me than I experience at home which taught me a level of humility.
One dream that you wish to come true?
To go to South Africa where my Grandfather was from...I've never been and never met my family there and I'm absolutely desperate to.
Can you tell us about a cause close to your heart?
There are so so many - I'm very interested in decolonising our world. I think we're all living in a neoliberal paradigm that was colonially created, and for me, it's about deconstructing those narratives. When we look at gender representation and dynamics, we can see that often patriarchy is another very colonially installed mentality.
What's the best thing about being you?
That I've dared to dream. And a lot of the dreams that I hope for are becoming a reality and I feel so blessed.
Can you tell 5 songs off your Sassy Soundtrack?
Chelsea Carmichael - All We Know
Allexa Nava - (Unnamed, unreleased) Perdon
Eliane Correa and En El Aire - Before We All Grew Up, unreleased
COLECTIVA, Maria Grapsa - Under The
margomool - Night
Interview by Bethany Burgoyne @bxsassy