Fresh on the Scene

David Numwami

Pictures by Annika Wallis

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After winning the Fresh On the Scene category on the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards 2020 and working closely with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sebastien Tellier and Air, David Numwami’s time for a solo chapter has finally come.

Some have already obtained small successes, spending years in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to shine, and others have barely left their bedroom studios. Some aim for headlining festival stages, others aim for nothing in particular – but all of them have developed a sound with the potential to turn heads. With this feature, we shine a light on some of the most exciting new musical talents our tiny country has to offer.

In November 2020, David Numwami secured a well-deserved number one spot in the Fresh On the Scene category at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards 2020. Last Friday, his debut album Numwami World finally dropped. "It’s an introduction to… well, me", he says. "A collection of some very light-hearted pop and R&B tracks". We visited the Brussels-based producer-songwriter at his temporary studio in the Jam Hotel, where he currently finishes a residency.

Can you start by telling us how you got into music?

“I was born in Rwanda, and my family fled the genocide in 1994. After a brief time in Switzerland, I grew up here in Brussels. My mother believed in the healing powers of music. She thought that if I learned to make music from an early age, it would prevent trauma later in life. And so, I picked up the guitar when I was about six years old. Only during my university years, I started taking music more seriously. First, I was part of Le Colisée, a band with some college friends, and then I joined Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains. I wrote most of my philosophy master thesis while I was on tour with them (laughs)”.

I applied to become a Deliveroo bike courier, but I received an unexpected phone call from the creative director of Charlotte Gainsbourg instead.

Is that when you realized you could have a future in the music industry?

"During my college years, I realized I wasn't made to be a philosopher; I was made to be a musician. But, of course, that's easier said than done. After my time with Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains, I was 21 years old and desperate for money. It turns out a philosophy degree doesn't guarantee you a job (laughs). I eventually applied to become a Deliveroo bike courier. While I was waiting for their answer, I received an unexpected phone call from the creative director of Charlotte Gainsbourg instead. He asked me if I wanted to play guitar, bass and keys on her upcoming tours. He asked me if I could be in New York within three days. I had never been to the US before".

How did working and travelling with an artist as Charlotte Gainsbourg feel like?

"I learned so much during those two years. I became part of a group of friends who made music and travelled the world together; how cool is that”?

It’s not just me who feels lost – everyone feels lost! And that's not particularly a bad thing.

You've always been part of bands before you started releasing music under your own name. So what made you decide to go solo?

“I never chose to become a solo artist; it happened because of the circumstances. As I was on the road for so long, I spent many boring nights alone in a foreign hotel room. I always wrote music during those moments, keeping things simple with just a Macbook, guitar, and mini keyboard. That desire to make new material became incredibly strong. I would stay up until 4 AM every night, and I showed the results to the band members the next day. After a while, many of these tracks started to crowd my hard drive, and I first wanted to release them with my old band. But when I returned home after so many years, I realized we had all moved on. The only logical thing left to do was to release them under a new solo project”.

It's weird to interview an "emerging" artist who has worked with major acts like Air or Sebastien Tellier and has already played Coachella. Do these experiences change your opinion or attitude when working on your solo career?

“I guess one of the lessons I’ve learned is that it’s not just me who feels lost – everyone feels lost. When I grew up, Air’s ‘La Femme d’Argent’ sounded like a masterpiece. To make music like this, you need to know exactly what you want and how to do it, I thought. I never felt remotely ready to make music on such a level, but when I had the privilege to work with Air’s Nicolas Godin, one of my heroes, it struck me they don’t have a clue either. Just like me, they try things out, they fail, start over, etc. That scared me in the beginning. I always assumed that artists get an aha moment that would fix everything. Slowly, I realized that moment might never come, but that's not particularly a bad thing. In effect, that means I'm already there, just like my heroes! We can do what we want, and we don't have to wait for anything"!

I don't care about fame and money – I've seen first-hand that this doesn't make people any happier.

“This is what my track ‘Beats’ is all about. I don't care about fame and money – I've seen first-hand that this doesn't make people any happier. I couldn't care less about fancy recording studios; I just want to make beats in my room. My mom was right to introduce me to music; it's the only thing that makes me happy”.

Can you tell us a bit more about your debut album, Numwami World?

“I wanted to create a safe space, like a motorway parking and service area - a place where you can let your hair down. The idea was that when you put on the record, it would feel like opening a door, and you enter a completely blank space devoid of stress. In that space, it's me, smiling and welcoming you to my world".