The Godmothers of Pop – Rozalla interview
As a young girl in her native Zambia, Rozalla began singing in clubs and made her television debut aged 13. When her family relocated to Zimbabwe, she fronted several R&B cover bands before, as a solo artist, clocking up eight hits on that nation’s chart.
In 1988, she teamed up with the production duo Band of Gypsies and, two years later, had a club hit with Born To Luv Ya. Then came the dance anthem, Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good), which peaked at No.6 in the UK. It made her an international star and she supported Michael Jackson on the European leg of his Dangerous Tour.
You first enjoyed success in Zimbabwe. How did this help launch your international career?
UK producer Chris Sergeant saw me on a local TV show in Zimbabwe. He got in contact and said he wanted to work with me. He had a record studio in Wolverhampton, and it was my dream to become an international singing artist. Chris introduced you to Nigel Swanston and Tim Cox [Band of Gypsies].
How did they help develop your sound?
At the time we were sending round cassettes (that’s how long ago it was!) to record companies and producers. Tim and Nigel loved my voice and said they had the perfect sound for me. They were very significant in helping to develop my sound.
Was London a big culture shock?
The cold was the shock for me, and, of course, missing my family made me feel homesick quite a lot. Did you know that you had a hit with Everybody’s Free…? Nigel had this up-tempo music, and asked me to go into the booth and sing the words over and over again. We kept making up the melody to the chorus of Everybody’s Free until we were happy we finally had a chorus. Then the verses followed to make a story from it. I didn’t have a clue, but I knew it was a good dance track. It was electric on the dancefloor, and still is 26 years later. I wanted lyrics that were positive and uplifting. I believe that’s what we achieved.
Was there a particular point at which you realised it was going to be huge?
For me, it was when I was invited to perform on Top Of The Pops. I thought, ‘This can only be good’. It went Top 10 in several European territories, and made the US Top 40. What was it like being recognised and feted wherever you went? Being recognised at the time was exciting and put a smile on my face. I couldn’t believe people wanted my autograph and picture. I still don’t. But I prefer now not to be recognised when I’m doing my own thing. I enjoy my privacy.
What were your most memorable moments from that time?
The whole rave scene was incredible. That dance scene was massive in the UK and performing in those giant warehouses, in the middle of nowhere for 10,000 screaming fans was amazing.
And you also played a part on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Tour…
I’d just signed to Sony and Michael was looking for a dance artist that was doing well across Europe. Someone had sent him my stuff, as well as other artists. I remember at the time I was in New York at the Sony offices, and they called to say he chose me and I had to fly back for rehearsals. I met him a couple times and took pictures with him. He really was a top guy. I will always believe in my heart that he was the most talented artist ever.
You reunited with Band of Gypsies on 1998’s Coming Home. Was the old magic still there?
I don’t think we can ever recreate another Everybody’s Free, but I loved working with the guys again. Their sound had changed and had moved with the times. There was a significant shift in direction on 2009’s Brand New Version.
Was that move into jazz/ soul a conscious decision to escape your past on the club scene?
It was always a dream of mine to do something that was more mid-tempo and mellow, as I felt as a singer I had more to offer then just dance tracks.
Earlier this year, you were part of the Rewind 80s Music Festival. Why do you think there’s such nostalgia for that period in music?
You hear people say that 80s music was the best, or 90s music was the best, but I believe it’s all to do with nostalgia and the memories those times bring back to one’s life.
Rozalla is currently working on fresh material, and hopes to release a new album in 2018. More info at: www.rozallaofficial.com