“Being the odd one out doesn’t really mean that it’s wrong,” Rowlene said in a tone so graceful, I could tell how honest the statement was. “The journey is only going to be a little more difficult because the choices you make are not going to be the ones that are generally accepted, so it might get difficult, lonely and tricky.”
This is typical Rowlene — an open book with almost no secrets. Her level of transparency and free-spiritedness happens to be one of a kind, especially considering the kind of background from which she’s coming from.
Rowlene Nicole Bosman spent most of her early years in the busy city of Cape Town in South Africa and only moved to Johannesburg when she was 19, even though she didn’t get the best of its street life; credit to her strict parents.
“My parents were very strict, so I didn’t really have a life where I could just do whatever I wanted to do, which I am now appreciative of because I feel like most of the things that I endured, experienced and went through in my childhood turned me into the person that I am today.”
Today, Rowlene lives in London, home to 8.982 million people who have their personal interests at heart and it is important that the singer protects her tender, artsy heart. She explains that her music comes from a place of honesty and how that makes it different from those by other musicians.
In this interview, Rowlene talks about her music, the early days with Nasty C and how she manages to preserve her personality, even in a world that doesn’t really care.
This piece has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you describe the kind of music that you make?
I would describe it as very honest. I don’t believe in the fact that as an artiste you are supposed to be distinguished by a sound specifically. What if you decide to change? But you have already boxed yourself? When I tell my story — maybe on a Hip-Hop song, I will still be Rowlene. Or if I make Ballad, I will still be Rowlene. I am not classified by a genre. I feel like people are ever changing, the sound is ever changing and the music is ever changing, so we have to evolve with time. Where I am at right now, a lot of my stuff does not sound like what I was making a year ago, or two years ago, but they still sound like me.
Did music start in Cape Town?
Yeah, I used to sing in the church a lot.
Were your parents pastors? That’s usually the narrative with many artistes.
No, they weren’t pastors, they were just normal people (laughs). I also sang in high school and primary school. At the time, it wasn’t something that I really wanted to do, it was just something that I enjoyed doing. In high school I always felt like the odd one out. I didn’t even know how to accept compliments.
What made you feel that way?
I dressed differently and I was very opinionated. If I didn’t want to do something, I would fight, I wouldn’t do it. I was that person in my family .
Are you still that person?
Yes I am. As aforementioned, I feel like all those experiences I had in my childhood contributed to who I am today. Being the odd one out doesn’t really mean that it’s wrong. It kinda sets you apart from everyone else. No one’s life is easy, but the journey is only going to be a little more difficult because the choices you make are not going to be the ones that are generally accepted, so it might get difficult, lonely and tricky.
How does it feel to be an African artiste living in the UK? What’s the experience like?
So far, I have been doing a lot. I have had media sessions, recording sessions and stuff. I get to meet a lot of people, which I am grateful for. I try to take everything as a learning experience, like there’s something I can take from every encounter. I have met a lot of cool, and genuine people. So far in my space of being here, I have learnt so much.
Your last Single release was in October last year and your last album was in 2020. Should we be expecting something? Is this why you have been low key?
Yes, definitely. That’s definitely why I have been low key. I have been so focused on my music lately, sometimes I need to get out of my head. I have songs for days. I have so many songs. I have so many features. It’s just about finding the right way to push it as an independent artiste. I just don’t want to drop music aimlessly. I want it to reach the target audience. My songs are a part of me that I want to share with the rest of the world. Personally, I feel like I am in a space where I am way more confident than I have ever been.
At the moment, Who are the artistes that you would say influence your sound the most?
I don’t think my sound is influenced. I think it’s inspired by a lot of things. It could be the weather, an emotion, an experience, or even my friends. I was in a session with Blaqbonez the other day, and I have never been in a session with so many people before. Like it was so crazy. I am used to recording myself, so I prefer working alone. Some people prefer having other people around them because they feed off their energy. With him it’s like he can work alone but also feed off of their energy. I can’t do that. I can feed off energy, but I don’t work well in spaces where there are too many people. Seeing how other people make shit work like that inspires me. It makes me crave to be there. I wanna be able to write a song in 10 minutes, you know what I mean? Stuff like that keeps me going. Even Oxlade. He is one of my best friends. We send each other music every time. Nonso Amadi as well. I try to have people around me that are pushing me to do better, and be better.
You seem to have a cordial relationship with Nigerian artistes.
Oh yes, I do!
How do you feel about Afrobeats gaining more global attention?
I love that. I love the narrative of “the world to Africa” as opposed to “Africa to the world”. The latter makes it sound like we have been doubting ourselves for so long that we need recognition from the Western culture. I love the fact that it’s now the world to Africa, I feel like people should adapt to that more. It’s about time. I’m glad to be a part of this time and era where we are recognized for our hard work.
How did the record deal with Nasty C go?
Myself and Nasty C go way back. We started this music thing together in 2014/2015. We literally started from the ground up. It’s so cool to see everything we talked about, and still talk about manifesting. He said we were going to own these things, and travel, and be on these platforms. It was just us talking, but we didn’t know how powerful those words meant. We used to sleep on the floor. We were all in a bedroom apartment. I can’t even begin to explain how things were when we started and how far we have come and how grateful I am to be a part of these experiences. He’s one of my biggest inspirations and one of my best friends. He helps me through the times when I have no idea what to do. Especially as a woman. As a female I think it’s way more difficult to be in this industry. For so many reasons.
Can you mention the ones realest to you?
The industry is male dominated. Although it seems to be getting better, it’s still all just talk. It’s irritating. When people are trying to work with you, you would need to first ascertain if their intentions are pure. There are fewer female artistes than males, and that’s not because women are not equally as talented, but because there’s a lot that we have to go through and so many unnecessary spaces we would need to occupy before we get to the top. I know that I’m good at what I’m doing, but there’s still a male person they would tend to consider first before me. Women need to be confident and firm to fill some spaces. That’s why I’m cool with having my five friends (laughs). Because they’re my people.
You seem like a soft person.
Yes, I am. And I’m okay with being a soft individual. I’m not going to change for any reason. My friends tell me ‘look, you’re a nice person and you’re going to get hurt’ but I’m not going to change because the world is wicked. I’ll be who I am and just stay at home.
How does this affect your work?
I’m working, staying focused and pushing. I make sure that I have sessions with people who I’m comfortable with. If you really want the best out of someone artistically, then you should connect on a very friendly basis. It shouldn’t be a label to label thing. I don’t like that. It would be just a song, without meaning or value to me personally. If I don’t like the person I’m working with, I’m not gonna do it. That is why I haven’t worked with a lot of people. Every song that I’ve made is still going to be great in 20 years time. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind. I want my grandchildren to listen to my music and still love it in their time.
Are there days you wake up and not want to make any music?
Nope. I want to make music everyday. I write a lot so sometimes I write songs that I know are not for me, so I give it to others who can resonate with it. But I always want to make music.
You’re a superhero, Rowlene.
(Laughs) I’m taking it. Yes, I am. I just need to work on my translocation and super-strength. But I always make music. When I’m down, I make music. When I’m uninspired, it’s an inspiration in itself to make music. I might not put it out, but I write regardless. It’s like a diary for me. Sometimes, you don’t understand what you’re going through, and I write about it, listen to it and know that it will help someone else. Music is my outlet.
What would make you feel fulfilled at the end of the day?
I used to have this organization called Utopia. It means the perfect place. Some people’s homes are so broken that they feel like they are broken themselves. So music and arts is that place where we all come together and share something in common. I wanted everyone to feel safe with Utopia. I was 15 when I started it and everyone involved was either the same age or younger than me, but we all had the same vision. It was a safe space. People would come watch us rehearse. We weren’t making any money off of it. I just felt like everybody needs someone or a community of people to go through life with. Utopia created that space. I want to be able to leave that legacy with my art and have more of such initiative. There’s talent everywhere, but so many of them cannot manifest because they think they’re not good enough or something. I want to have millions of things like Utopia all across the world to help these people overcome their limitations.