We Salute................. Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes
Seismic prog-rock trio The Noisettes are a force to be reckoned with, rising steadily from the depths of South London. The pint-sized singer Shingai Shoniwa leads them with a snarl and a wink.
Think Grace Jones crossed with Bette Davis crossed with The Mars Volta and you might come close to her soulful, searing energy. Best described as urgent, their musical influences range from “weird avant-garde over the My mum’s brother, who has unfortunately passed away, was an amazing drummer in an East African guitar band. They were quite punky - they used the things around them to make their instruments, and the music sounds amazingly energetic and raw and pounding and fearless. He was a drummer and on the side, to make a living, he made clothes. In the late 70s he made my mum this dress to wear for when she sang in a band, back in East Africa. It’s got these amazing angles. That’s a treasured possession, which I wear sometimes when performing.
WORDS BY CAMILLE ROSS / PHOTOGRAPHY BY KATE MERRICK
Shingai has collaborated with experimental gurus like Matthew Herbert, lending her vocal acrobatics to three of his albums including a duet with Dani Siciliano. Not only is this diva talented and a stunner, she also sports a striking and individual aesthetic.
Combining new bits and old bobs, Shingai is a modern punk starlet. With a fondness for some sparkle, found objects decorating her intricate fro-dos, and the obligatory stretch fabric to accommodate her on-stage physical theatrics. Clash caught up with Shingai during lunch on the set of the film clip for their new single ‘Don’t Give Up’ to find out what inspires her unique sense of savoir fare.
So what are you wearing today for the video? Are these stylists clothes or your own?
Most of them are what’s left of my torn up wardrobe. The stylist, my friend Nasarin Jean Baptiste, bought some accessories and bits. My flatmate Tasha has a jewellery label, Justine’s Virtue, and she made the resin jewellery.
The set resembles a New Orleans voodoo salon - where did the concept come from?
We were talking about performing- that it’s a bit like a ritual, sometimes you get possessed by certain spirits. Sometimes they take over and use you as a vessel because they’re passing through some kind of vortex and they just catch you by the tail. You can really get into it if you really let go. Sometimes they just pass you by. But the whole voodoo thing was just a starting point as a style reference.
So do you mostly shop vintage for your clothes?
I just find stuff, like in skips. Like old toys that have been discarded on the street. I like to be able to turn copper into gold, I think you can make artistic things with whatever’s around you.
Do you have a favourite haunt?
My friend Mel’s shop Prangster in New Cross is amazing. It’s Little Lord Fauntleroy type stuff mixed with neon punky things that could cause a car crash if too many people wore them. Like a bird of paradises vomit. I also love Rubbish Fairy just next door.
Have you got any favourite designers?
Sue Rider, she’s alright! I find it really hard to pledge allegiance to any specific label. I like to support people who are using their hands and their imagination to make stuff that jumps out at you and is quite individual. You can make thousands of black t-shirts but not everyone will wear them the same. But I just like taking things from the everyday and mixing them with the odd designer thing that I can afford. I like to support people’s work by wearing it, like friends, designers, young and old.
How would you describe your style?
It’s influenced by the city; sometimes it’s quite tribal. It’s just quite a clash really. I’m a twin you know, identical twin, so I’ve got lots of opposites.
So you studied drama?
At school I was always hanging around the music department and musicians were always hanging around the drama department. They’re quite complimentary, music and theatre, but I was sort of a moth to the flame with music.
When you get dressed to perform do you put on a stage persona?
When you’re getting ready what you wear is going to influence your character. Sometimes what you wear encourages you to do more with your body and face.
I noticed that you make amazing use of the stage space when performing?
I don’t like being inhibited. I’ve done quite a lot of gymnastics and I was an adventurous child, so I like being mobile.
So wearing something that enables you to move must be a priority? You go barefoot on stage don’t you?
Oh man, I’m not standing in no stilettos for no one! The only thing stilettos are good for is playing drums.
And with that Miss Shoniwa is off to snarl into the camera seductively and dive off her amp without dislocating another shoulder.