Born in the beautiful country of Egypt, Alexandria. Mponda grew up with his father Jeik Kalunga Loksa along with his three sisters. Because of his father’s job as a working musician, Mponda and his family had to move around a lot. Mponda recalls as a young boy moving from Egypt to the Congo, Ethiopia, and then to Tanzania. Arriving in Tanzania during a period where there was a lot of political uncertainty forced Mponda and his family to go through a life changing and character building experience. In 1991, Mponda and his family were mistakenly placed in a refugee camp; there he stayed for seven years. The experience in the refugee camp gave Mponda and new profound understand and appreciation for Life. Mponda talking about his youths says, “I started hunting at the age of eight just so my family and I could eat”. After numerous attempts Mponda’s father got in contact with the Red Cross it was then his family was rescued and brought to St-Johns, Newfoundland.
Arriving in a new place with new people that didn’t like him being there made Mponda angry, he found himself getting into to fights and getting kicked out of schools. That’s when his father got concerned and at the age of 15 Mponda began his boxing career. This path led Mponda to countless medals including a silver medal in the 2007 Canada Games, winning the only silver medal for the entire province. Mponda didn’t stop there; he used his passion for fighting and put it to paper and pen. When asked about his musical influences he said proudly “My father”. He included, Tupac Shakur, Heavy D, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley Frank Sinatra “all those artists combined make music an enjoyable experience for me”. This is Kalunga’s exclusive interview with Rick Jamm and the Jamsphere – The Indie Music Magazine.
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Kalunga: I have been writing and performing songs for 8 years. I started because my father use to tell me stories about his tours around the world as a musician and all the things he accomplished. Hearing his stories fascinated me and from that moment I knew it was what I wanted to do.
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Kalunga: Besides from my father, musicians that first influenced me were Tupac Shakur, Elvis Presley and Dean Martin. I liked how they had the charisma and confidence in what they did.
3. Who do you consider the most influential and successful artist in your genre today and why?
Kalunga: I think that Frank Sinatra would have to be the most successful artist in my genre because he reached worldwide fans with his soothing calm voice. He would sing and make it look effortless. He sold millions of copies and his music is still selling today because he was one of a kind and a master in what he did.
4. Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased with your own money.
Kalunga: I bought a microphone to improve the way I sounded when I sang. When I would practice with the microphone, I was able to hear how I sounded on a louder scale. This gave me that assurance and confidence when I performed on stage.
5. Which of the KALUNGA songs do you consider your personal favorite, and on which one do you think you delivered your best performance so far, from a technical point of view?
Kalunga: I like the song “Without You” because I got to play around with the tempo and switching the vocal chords. It’s a meaningful song and it’s an experience that I went through with a lady I cared for. I sing it with emotion because it means a lot to me. It is a powerful song for me so my team at Think Militant Records and I decided to name the EP “Without You”.
6. Tell us a little about your life changing and character building experience in Tanzania ?
Kalunga: Growing up in Tanzanian refugee camps made me become a stronger person mentally and physically. I had to face difficult things at an earlier time that kids in my age here don’t face. I had to be grateful for the little things I had, patient and worked very hard for the things I wanted. I was forced to be mature and adapt to the harsh living conditions. All me and my family had was hope, hope maybe one day things will get better. My father escaped the refugee camp and got help, this has made me admire him until this day. The experience in the refugee camp has helped me in life and it shaped the person that I am today.
7. What were your first impressions on arriving at St-Johns, Newfoundland, and how did you manage to fit in?
Kalunga: I was the happiest kid in the world when my family and I arrived is St John’s Newfoundland. I remember being very scared when I stepped outside of the airport, because I had never felt cold weather before, it really shook me up. I never tried fitting in because I did not know how to even speak English so I did not know how to socialize with the other kids. All I could do is read people’s facial expressions. If someone smiled at me I smiled back. I had a hard time adjusting and got into many school fights with people who thought they could bully me around. I had maybe two friends who I considered really close.
8. You’ve won countless medals in boxing, including a silver medal in the 2007 Canada Games, after a difficult childhood. Summing up all the parts, do you think life has been fair or unfair to you, and why?
Kalunga: I can’t say that life has been unfair to me because people around the world are faced with struggles everyday that they have to deal with and whether or not life is unfair to them, they have to deal with it and overcome the hard times. The experience in Tanzania made me a strong person so when I got into boxing I had the mentality to work hard for my victories. I used the struggles of the experience I went through in the refugee camp to fuel my will to win and do better for myself. Without that life changing experience I don’t think I would have been as motivated as I am today or achieve everything I have achieved up to this point.
9. What else are you trying to achieve through your music besides commercial success?
Kalunga: My dream is to one day make my own genre of music. Imagine having a genre that musicians in the future will remember as being your own. A genre that fuses different kinds of music to create a new sound and style that has never been heard. I think that is an accomplishment worth chasing.
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you day after day to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion, hysteria or pride and why?
Kalunga: That is a hard question because I think all of the emotions you have just mentioned go well with me. In saying that, one emotion that drives me the most from day to day would have to be joy. I say this because no matter how hard this business will get, when I think of the joy I will get once I achieve my goal, nothing else matters. In anything I do in life, no matter how difficult it may be. In the end of it all I know I will be successful so joy I would say is what drives me the most.
11. What aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most, and what process discourages you most?
Kalunga: I like to hear the end product of my music. It feels very good when you hear the song you have just made come together. Sometimes you ask yourself, “is that really me”. I love always being able to create new rhythms and melodies. It’s exciting to see that a song you have made can touch a lot of people. What discourages me the most is working on something for a long period of time, I lose interest very quickly. I never want the music making experience to feel like a job, I do this because I love doing it and not because I have to do it. It always needs to be fun for me.
12. Do you like collaborations, and if so which accomplished artist would you like to collaborate with in future?
Kalunga: I would like to collaborate with Adele or maybe Michael Buble. I like their styles and I think if I work with anyone of them, we would be able to make some catchy songs.
13. How involved are you in the writing, recording, producing and mastering processes of your music?
Kalunga: I have to be involved in every process because the music I put out represents me. I want to be respected as a musician so the lyrics have to meaningful. I want to have good quality music so if a song is put out I have to truly believe that it is 100% ready to go. I take my music career like how I take my boxing career; I would never go out to compete unless I feel completely ready. I am involved in the training process so when it is time to perform I don’t have second guesses, I know I have done everything and I am prepared. Being involved in every process gives me the confidence in what I put out to the public.
14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t, but now know you should have?
Kalunga: The best piece of advice I have followed so far was from my father. He told me to not be afraid to take chances. In life you have only a few chances to become great. Some people are afraid and feel not ready when the opportunity presents itself. Therefore they never reach their ultimate goal because they back up at the last moment. They spend rest of their lives thinking about what if they chose to take a chance. I am willing to take chances to get to where I am going.
15. This time in your career, as independent artists, which is the one factor you desire most (increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure etc…)?
Kalunga: I think more media exposure is always good but without better quality production or increased music distribution, that goal will never be reached. All of these are needed to support the other in becoming a well-respected and known musician.
16. Which is your favorite music distribution platform ( Tunecore, Audiolife, CD Baby, Bandcamp, Your own Website, etc…) and why?
Kalunga: Anyone of those options is good. I like distributing through my website because if the person purchasing the music has gone as far as to come to my personal website, it means a lot. I also like ITunes.
17. How do you handle criticism and who has been your worst critic up until now, if any?
Kalunga: I handle criticism well as long as it’s given respectfully. I am my worst critic because I know what I expect from myself so I will never give anything less.
18. Is going platinum or winning a Grammy important you? Where would you like to see your career within 5 years?
Kalunga: That’s very important for me because it shows an artist’s achievement. It shows that people accept that you are good in your art, It also motivates to achieve more. I don’t know where I am going to be in 5 years but hopefully a good place. I like to take things one step at a time. This way I am in control of my success. I can’t control what will happen in 5 years but I can control what I’m doing right now and this will lead me to a more successful future. One step at a time.
19. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie artist, in your quest to achieve your goals?
Kalunga: The biggest barrier you have to face as an indie artist is getting the respect of the public. Many indie artists make better music than a lot of the mainstream artists; I think so, at least from what I can see. The problem is that when you come out with something as an indie artist, you are quickly judged because people say well if he is good then how come he/she are not signed. You are constantly struggling to be accepted when you are an indie artist. For me, I like the fact that indie artists are underestimated because it makes me work harder to prove that theory wrong. I breathe, eat and live music. This is my life and my music is the storyteller of it, it is a representation of who I am.
20. If you were not a musician, what would you be doing today?
Kalunga: If I wasn’t doing music I would be a boxing and collecting medals and eventually world championship belts. This takes dedication and a lot of hard work but if I put 100% of my focus on it I will achieve it. In saying that, I have been making music and competing as a fighter for 8 years and it’s hard to see myself doing anything else. I love music and will never stop making it, it is a part of me and is a way for me to reach out to others. Music is my life.
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