Musician singing into a microphone playing the guitar

We supported Namvula to release a double EP but it was the business advice that she found most useful

Returning to music 

As a young girl, Namvula Rennie grew up playing the piano but a hatred of exams pushed her towards the guitar instead. That’s when I started writing songs. I was a typical angsty teenager really,” Namvula explains, although I didn’t have any confidence in terms of performing.”

These doubts meant that during her 20s she forged a career in photography but after a few years realised something vital to her had been lost. Namvula made the decision to change her journey and instead pursue a living as a musician, and having had time away meant she could re-connect with music on her own terms.

I basically realised something was missing in my life, so I went full circle and came back to music. It was the absence that made me realise how much I missed it and how much it was part of my identity. I felt stifled when I didn’t have that outlet

Gratefully she found she was able to move through the performance issues that she had struggled with in younger years. Leaving music behind and coming back to it allowed me to be more connected to the songs I wanted to make. I could be braver with writing the music that felt true to who I am.”


Namvula has Zambian and Scottish heritage, and identity is an essential element of the music she makes. Having lived in Switzerland, Kenya, the US and the UK over the course of her life, her songs are not only influenced by the places she has been but also a way of understanding who she is and how she thinks about her identity. 

Musician singing on a dark stage into a microphone

Photo Credit: Steve Sweet

Your upbringing is who you are, it’s part of your portrait. I think it’s really informed my music. My first album was all about asking who am I, where do I belong and where is my home? Feeling like I’m not anyone if I don’t have roots and a real need to belong somewhere, on both sides of my identity

Namvula’s songs blend traditional Zambian musical styles with genres like pop, jazz and folk. Singing in Zambian languages such as Lenje, Nyanja and Ila, as well as English, music helped Namvula move through anxiety around belonging and she is much more able to talk about her identity with clarity now. 

After releasing her second album and producing her most recent EP, she has relinquished the need to fit either of her identities. I feel like I’ve exorcised that need — all of these experiences are part of who I am and whatever I do, I’m still valid.”

Meeting Hugh Masekela 

One of the more empowering moments of Namvula’s musical career was meeting the legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela during a 2012 Paralympic singing project she was involved in. As well as having listened to him my whole life”, what Namvula admired most were his political beliefs and activism, given Masekela was a person that had done so much to fight apartheid throughout his life. 

I saw someone who has achieved greatness and lived through so much pain, and yet was so intensely human and creative. He was elderly at this point but so vibrant and it was inspiring because you realise age doesn’t matter

Namvula’s mother was born during and experienced apartheid in southern Rhodesia (now Zambia), so the system that Masekela fought against directly impacted her family and he was an inspiration to her mother in terms of politics.

I very rarely feel awestruck around people but I turned into a little child when I met Hugh Masekela. He was humble and funny and it was an honour to meet someone you have grown up listening to and hearing the struggles they’ve been through.”

Musician performing live onstage

Photo Credit: Steve Sweet

Receiving Help Musicians business advice 

Whilst the money to pursue her next musical project was significant, Namvula is in little doubt over why she wanted our support – the grant is helpful obviously, but the reason I wanted support from Help Musicians was because of the business advice sessions.” Namvula firmly believes this element is what makes the charity’s help unique. 

As someone who is used to self-managing and self-promoting, Namvula has done endless online tutorials where nothing felt specific to her. It can be very difficult to know which direction to take if you don’t have backing as a musician from someone who knows the industry, so she wanted help understanding how to navigate her career.

Namvula was particularly interested in branding and social media, and through Help Musicians’ support was able to speak with business advisors Eric Nielson and Jessie Scoullar about these specific topics. Eric was great because he made me realise I needed to sort out what I am presenting to the world. Small practical things – having someone go through your brand and say this is where you could clean up’ was so helpful.”

Social media marketing was an area where Namvula had struggled in the past, finding that it amplified the stresses she had as a solo musician – When you’re a musician on your own projects it can feel very isolating and demoralising.” It would be fair to say the advice she received from Jessie has completely changed her career for the better.

Jessie recognised it is tough as a musician, and she was sympathetic. She walked me through common sense things but sometimes you need encouragement and support. It made me feel less alone trying to work out where and how I fit in and getting some clarity around messaging. It was someone saying you’re not crazy, this isn’t always fun, but we can make it easier and this is how’

Future success 

All Shades of the Sun is the title of the double EP created using Help Musicians’ support and Namvula is grateful the project is at this stage. The financial support gives you extra freedom in so many ways. You can pay people properly and not have to squeeze four days of recording into two.”

It was important to have more time to create music she was proud of, and some money was set aside for marketing as well. Namvula was able to have professional content created to go along with the music.

I’ve never been able to do that before. We are in such a visual age so being able to be creative with things like visualisers and lyric videos is great. It’s a lot better than me thinking I’ll take a selfie on my iPhone and make a cover’.”

Always apply. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. What’s amazing about Help Musicians is you support people through the application. The questions aren’t too hard and the language is really accessible
Musician playing the guitar with her eyes closed

Photo Credit: Ottavia Castellini