Marcina Arnold is a secret talent living in the heart of London. I went to meet her in Stockwell to speak to her about her new release on Counterpoint Records, an EP called ‘Introducing’
Her front room in her Stockwell flat was filled with African instruments, and cultural influences. She had a vast record collection ranging from Jeff Buckley’s Grace album to Hugh Masekela ones.
I’d been having a bit of an identity crisis. Growing up in London, I’m surrounded by a lot of culture, and multi-racial people, but yet not really understanding where I sort of fit in. I realized it’s actually about who you are, and not where you’re from or the colour of your skin
“Eska Mtungwazi and Heidi Vogel got invited down to the studio”, says Marcina Arnold about the recording process for her ‘Introducing’ EP. “But people were showing up at different times of the day. I intended to record four tunes, which is really quite a big deal, for the amount of time that we had. It’s very live, it’s not over mixed and it is what it is. It’s like a back-in-the-day kind of recording.”
She’s recorded a great song called ‘Forefathers’, which can be found on this EP. Marcina Arnold continues to explain… “That’s how ‘Forefathers’ came about, it was written about my first trip back to South Africa, which is where my father’s from. I met all my family out there, and realized I’d been having a bit of an identity crisis. Growing up in London, I’m surrounded by a lot of culture, and multi-racial people, but yet not really understanding where I sort of fit in. I realized it’s actually about who you are, and not where you’re from or the colour of your skin, but ultimately I’m from Britain. It was great to go back and meet my forefathers and where they came from, what my forefathers backgrounds were like, and also, to discover why I’m here today.”
Marcina Arnold remembers when she first wanted to sing. “I knew I wanted to sing from the age of seven, it was always very clear to me but how I was going to do it, if it was going to happen, was a dream that I had as a child but somehow it manifested itself in the right way for me. I call it grace, the fact that I happened to be exposed to so much music at such a young age and to such a variety of music. Especially the folk music scene, growing up I went to Scotland a lot because that is where my mother is from, I was introduced to Chinese folk music and Japanese folk music.”
And which artists influenced you while growing up?
Marcina Arnold says, “I had been influenced by African artists like Miriam Makeba; also being exposed to African drumming and things like that, they all influenced me. I call it God’s grace, in his beneficial ways. I mean, why is it that I was born into a family of musicians? I could have been born into a family of tailors, or a family of scientists, or God help me a family of politicians (laughs).”
Marcina Arnold is very much a part of the up coming London jazz scene, artist names include Jason Yarde, Heidi Vogel, Julie Dexter, and many many more. She reflects, “I’ve had the chance to work with some of them, we’re very much all the same, we hang out together, we grew up doing the same rounds. People like Jason Yarde, Wylee Kyat, Eric Appapoulay, and the whole thing. Going through that schooling, and then going on to doing our own things, we all have expressed in our writing the infliction of Quite Sane (our jamming band back in the day), which was musically directed by bass player Anthony Tidd, and how we’ve been influenced by jazz music.
“Also me coming out with the South African influences, I was into artists like Eugene Skeef, Hugh Masekela, and South African Gospel singers. For me music is like my big family, whichever genre that I happened to be exposed to, be it folk music, jazz music, soul music, or R&B music. My Auntie’s a traditional folk singer, she sings laments, I grew up being surrounded by a lot of Celtic music, so I’m into that as well. I think with that space in music, is probably why I took so much interest in Indian classical music but my thing for the CD player now is Femi Temowos album Quiet Storm.”
For me, Marcina Arnold sounds very much like Anita O’Day. She says, “Oh yeah! I know her music, one thing that I heard was the Live In Newport album where she sings the song ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, she’s got a lovely voice, I grew up listening to her but I wouldn’t say that she’s been my main influence. A lot of the time I get compared to many people such as Sade or Randy Crawford, but because of the schooling I had, I can use my voice like an instrument, I can do a lot of different things with it and create a lot of different sounds.”
Due to Marcina Arnolds education in music, and understanding of the voice, she often uses it as an instrument. “I’m into scatting, I’ve always been really into that, the voice is malleable, it can mimic, it can do things and growing up I used to do all the R&B licks. After a while it became clear to me that it wasn’t about doing those things. It was about doing me. Doing my song, my voice, and how I’m going to phrase this lyric or can I keep doing me or am I going to have to go the American styles?.”
Marcina Arnold gives advice to those who are interested in learning to sing or pick up an instrument. “When you’re young someone needs to show you everything; it’s the same in music. As we get older I think we can take for granted knowing that we have the capacity to be intelligent and to be creative. We start to feel that we own it but we don’t. The older we become the more we’ll forget, but we have to let it all go, we can’t take everything with us. Whatever I do, it’s coming through me and I just feel very grateful for the people that have influenced me. All the jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, and all those people. All the blues women, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, then Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, all the great jazz and R&B singers. I’m a musician so I’m going to like good music, and being introduced to all these genres such as South African music, jazz music, Asian music, you know, I love it. I’m born in the 20th Century so I can’t help but be exposed to all these genres, I’d be interested to see how Martian music sounds, if anyone’s got any recordings from Mars, send them my way.”