by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Afrodizjha

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Afrodizjha

Diana Simumpande, aka Afrodizjha, calls Tyler Trench (aka Smyler), her partner in life and a musical mastermind, with credits herself as backing vocalist on Phodiso‘s outstanding ‘Act II’ 2012 EP. NZM caught up with one half of this Tāmaki Makaurau musical power couple in-the-making who released the first single under both artist names, earlier in 2023. The love song duet Fed made it onto NZ On Air Music’s NewTracks compilation this March.

What are your names and what instruments do you each play?

I’m Diana Simumpande and I play the guitar very badly. Smyler [Tyler] Trench, the musical mastermind behind the production, plays the guitar, bass, piano, drums and trumpet and wind reed instruments. In fact, give him 20 minutes and he can probably figure out how to play anything!

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Not particularly.

Any other projects that we might we know you from?

I started out singing in the artist Phodiso’s live band and providing backing vocals on some of his tracks. You’ll find my vocals in Talk Too Much and Goat Curry.

What’s the background story of how Afrodizjha came to be? Who else is directly involved?

Funnily enough, Afrodizjha started off as an experiment in my boyfriend’s bedroom, we were messing around with some chords and happened to make some stuff we really vibed, and it kind of just grew from there. My boyfriend has been producing and making music for a while and pushed me to start making some of my own.

The first song we ever made together was at a time when I was feeling pretty stressed out with life, so he encouraged me to put it into music. I sang a few thoughts and a week later he had built a whole song around it. To this day I still play it to give me some strength when I’m feeling lost. After that, we found that we worked incredibly well together and kept going!

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

I started off as a very shy writer. Writing was something I usually just did for myself alone – kind of like journaling. So revealing some of that writing was always a pretty vulnerable experience. I felt like I held back a lot in the beginning because I was kind of afraid to be seen. Once I let go of that fear my writing became a long stronger because I wasn’t filtering myself.

Now, I have a lot more confidence and that’s a credit to working with people like Phodiso and Smyler Trench who really helped me tap into my voice and feel empowered to tell my story. I also did a few workshops with Takunda Muzondiwa who is currently the NZ Slam Poetry champion and that really helped me refine my writing and really think of organising my thoughts into stories and think about what kind of stories I really wanted to tell with my music.

How and when did you come up with the name for the new project?

The name itself comes from my Zambian origins. Dizjha is a Tonga name from my father’s tribe. As a whole Afrodizjha means a love of my blackness and my culture, my Zambian heritage and the journey of self-love I’ve been on. I spent my childhood split between three different counties, New Zealand, Zambia and England, and it wasn’t always easy to find that love and strength in who I am and where I’m from. I experienced a lot of racism and it had a profound impact on me. I wanted the name to serve as a constant reminder and a bit of a love letter to the incredible journey I’ve been on and all the things that make me, me.

Right now, I think we’re at a time in NZ where we get to decide what it means to be a black artist here. I’d love to be part of the industry in such a capacity, acknowledging that black women are not as represented as much as I’d like. I’ve always noticed a bit of a gap when it comes to hearing and understanding the perspectives of the growing African diaspora living in NZ. As well as other kids raised far from where they were born and the unique experiences and struggles that come out of that. I want to be part of defining that voice and giving it some real strength. There are lots of black people here just like me who have this third culture background and I’d love to be able to offer some representation for them.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date? 

Honestly, it was getting to release the song on the LoFi Barfly show on Base FM. I’ve been a fan of the show for a really long time and actually hearing something I made played on a show I revere so much was surreal.

What makes Fed stand out for you as a single?

The song is real. It’s born from real genuine feelings so it felt really special to be able to share that.

What is the story behind Fed?

Fed started out as a love song between me and my partner Smyler Trench. We were just playing around one day and accidentally ended up making a love song expressing our feelings for each other.

If you’ve been in love, you know that moment when you look at someone and realise, ‘I would go to the ends of the earth to make sure that person never has to worry about anything else ever again,’ and Fed really captures those feelings. It’s rooted in genuine love. This song embraces the romantic, idealistic nature of love. While yes, love can be wrought with pain and heartbreak, it can also be really beautiful and selfless. That sense of duty to put everything into making the person you’re in love with happy, and seeing them grow no matter what it takes.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I love the last part of the song. At the end the track launches into a sunny soundscape of guitars and airy vocals and our two vocals collide to show the euphoria of love. I always find myself singing, “Anything for you, anything for you…”

Who did you record/produce the single with and where? 

We kind of wrote the song everywhere. I wrote it with Smyler Trench and he produced the song. It started off in his bedroom and we actually ended up recording it at my parents’ house. I think that’s why it felt so natural, I wrote it in spaces that I felt super comfortable in.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

It really just comes back to that idea of wanting to make sure the person you love has everything they need, and doing everything you can to make sure they’re happy.

How do you generally work out what track would make a good single?

I think sometimes you just know when you have a banger. For me, it’s when I can’t stop singing it and I can’t get it out of my head, or when I add it to my own Spotify playlist!

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

Right now I’m working on my first EP which – all things going well, should be ready to go later this year. I’m also working on a project with Phodiso as part of the NewMusic Development programme with NZ On Air.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside yours?

  • Mukukā: Sunday
  • Muroki: Summer Season
  • Zoe Moon: Bubbles
  • Jujulipps: Hillary Banks (maybe not so much this song, but I love it!)

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

No, first time lucky I guess! But my advice would be just to keep trying and keep putting your music out there. It’s really easy to get stuck in your head, especially as a less established musician, but people deserve to hear your music!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Of course. I love Pitchfork and the Afrodaze music blog. I watch Colors religiously and Tiny Desk is pretty much everyone’s favourite. For podcasts I like thesongwritersdiary.

Any last words?

Just thank you so much for listening to the song, we’re super excited to be able to share it. Kia ora!

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