Ela Crain 00:00
Hello and welcome to Nonconventional. My name is Ela Crain, and I'm here today with Selma Uamusee. Selma is a Mozambican vocalist who has worked on projects ranging from rock Afrobeat to gospel, soul, and jazz. She has two albums, 'Mati' (water) and 'Leave Oningo' (light). Selma believes in music's transformative social and political power. She speaks up for those who do not have a voice. Selma, welcome.
Selma Uamusee 00:37
Thank you so much for having me. I'm overjoyed and honoured.
Ela Crain 00:43
Thank you for your visit. I liked the final sentence of the introduction because it reminded me of Nina Simone.
Selma Uamusee 00:51
Nina Simone is one of my favourite artists. I began studying jazz music in 2007, and it was then that I realized I needed to start a solo project. My first project was to form a group called the 'Selma Ramos New Jazz Ensemble.' I didn't know much about Nina Simone in this ensemble, so my best friend gave me a big box containing an anthology of Nina Simone's music, which was like a pearl. Of course, I had heard of Nina Simone before, but it was only then that I realized her significance. She grew up in a Christian home and sang in church. She was studying classical music at the time and had a unique style of music because she didn't only do jazz. I thought I had so many things in common with her, like all of her work against segregation and raising awareness during such a difficult time in America. So, she was truly inspirational to me, and I sang Nina Simone for a long time. Nina Simone's spiritual music, as well as her most political and activist music, were always my favourites. I'm not a big fan of love songs, but she's an inspiration to me. When people ask me what my influences are, I tell them Nina Simone is one of my biggest influences. The voice of the voiceless was provided by a woman I greatly admired. She goes by the name Heidi Baker and works as a missionary. She is an American woman who left her privileged life and the US to work for Mozambique. I met her in Mozambique in 2019 during a difficult period for Cub Delgado, the region where she chose to work. She mentioned the terrorist attacks that were taking place in Cub Delgado. It was heartbreaking to hear about people being persecuted, killed, and erased from the map. We were crying and praying for those people.
Ela Crain 03:52
When and how did you first meet Heidi Baker?
Selma Uamusee 03:55
In 2019, I'm sorry, I'm just getting a little emotional because I've listened to this woman's testimony about being forced by terrorists and having her husband burned. They then chopped his hands and forced her to eat his brains. It was a difficult set of stories. A large flood occurred in Mozambique in 2019, killing many people as a result of climate change. When the news came, I knew I had to act. I'm Mozambican and I live in Portugal. So, I organized a large event to raise awareness about the organizations working in Mozambique that could assist people in need. So, in the end, we raised around 500,000 euros, which was a really beautiful thing. The Portuguese people supported me in my fight to bring aid to Mozambique. Following that, I travelled to Mozambique to see what organizations were doing there. I didn't want to work on a solo event like, oh, let's raise money. But first, let's get to know the organization and see how they operate. So, I travelled to Mozambique to see what they were up to. At the time, the United Nations was still in Mozambique, assisting the country in its fight. They invited me to accompany them and distribute food in the areas most affected by the flood.
So it was at that time that I met Heidi Baker, who was a member of one of the organizations that were assisting people affected by the floods. She gave me more than just a prophecy; she gave me a mission. "You're the type of person who will be able to bring awareness and use your voice for the voiceless, you'll stop for a year, you don't have to stop for the multitudes, you'll stop for the one to that one person your love and that's a weapon," she told me. I listened to her because I understood what she was saying was part of my mission, part of my job to do, and ever since I've been repeating that sentence to remind myself. After all, it's easy for me as an artist to find joy when I'm on stage, tours, music, and the flashes. But I'm happiest when it's more than just music. Every time I say this sentence, I remind myself that I'm not in the music business or the music industry to be a star, but to spread the light.
Ela Crain 08:10
Your second album is the testimonial of that?
Selma Uamusee 08:12
Yes, because it is about being a beacon of light in the world. And about not keeping that light inside of me, but spreading it and letting others know that each of us has the potential to have that light, rather than keeping it to yourself. One of the issues you're dealing with at the moment is that many people want to have a spiritual life and are aware that it's important to have spirituality, but most of the time I see people who are like, oh, I'm so spiritual, but don't have a communion sense of spirituality. My spirituality isn't just for my benefit; it spreads in the form of joy, hope, and awareness.
Ela Crain 09:29
Is it true that your grandmother saw this mission before you?
Selma Uamusee 09:39
My grandmother was the first Christian in our family, even though I do not come from a religious family. When I was born in 1981, we didn't have a phone at home. And my grandmother had a dream in which I was born. In that dream, she imagined that I would be the light of the world. My great grandmother was named Lucia, which means light in Portuguese, and I would have a special mission in the world. So, she said, Selma, will be like Lucia, a light in the world. She doesn't live close to my parents, but she drove to Maputo and went straight to the hospital, saying, "I want to see my granddaughter." She was present on the 25th of December because I was born on the 24th. It's very spiritual and full of signs. The 24th of December is symbolic because we don't know when Jesus was born, but it doesn't matter. However, it was highly symbolic at the time. So, my name is Selma Lucia. She had a dream that I was born, and she was correct, so she gave me that name. Lucia, my great grandmother, was the only singer in my family. So, in a way, I inherited her gift of singing, and my grandmother has prayed for me every day since I was born. When I moved to Portugal by myself, she assumed that her role in her life would be to spend the rest of her life ensuring that my life's purpose was fulfilled. So, she's my strong lady.
Ela Crain 12:29
What does having this mission now mean to you in comparison to earlier in your life?
Selma Uamusee 12:45
I had no idea I was on a mission and that I would have to work for it. When I became a first-time mother. I realized that I wanted to be the best professional I could be. But I also want to be happy; I want my daughters to know that I'm a happy person who strives to improve herself. I began singing in 1999 and 2000 and have spent the last ten years singing and having fun. I was picking up a lot of new information. I aspired to be an engineer, I worked as an engineer, and now I am an engineer.
Ela Crain 13:49
You studied engineering, received your degree, and started to work as an engineer.
Selma Uamusee 13:52
From 2004 through 2010, I was a student of engineering. My goal was to become an engineer and help Mozambique become a developed nation. Until the early 1990s, Mozambique was engulfed in civil strife. As a result, there was a lot to create and build. I earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and worked in urban planning, territory management, and environmental issues. As a result, I decided that my objective would be to make Mozambique a wonderful and developed country. So, for me, that was my mission to work in a very practical way. I was singing all that time. I did my graduation while I was singing, but when I was pregnant, I was like, "Oh my God, what's happening? I like singing and I'm going to be a mother. The first job that I got was working at a university. In my first contract, I worked 100% of the time, the second was 75%, the third was 50% of the time, and in my last contract, I worked 25% of the time at university. I did a lot of touring and singing. Then, one day, a girl with my name appears. She works as an actress. She said she came to see a concert, but I was paying tribute to Nina Simone. She told me that she had been attending my concerts since 2009. It was my first concert, and it was a tribute to Nina Simone. She was saying that she had been depressed and that the songs and words I sang and said had brought her healing and were transforming her life. She was addicted to hearing what I had to say. Every time she went to a concert, she felt a different way than she did when she left and she felt more hopeful and joyful. That is a massive responsibility. Whatever you say has the power to change people's lives. I believe that words have tremendous power. They can both bless and curse. I began to realize that whatever I said had the potential to change people's hearts. I wanted to have this power taken away from me, but I still had it. "You're going to sing to multitudes," a friend of mine told me in 2001. I was in a rock and roll band, and sometimes we sang for 10 people, and other times we sang for 100,000 people, and singing in front of a crowd was like, let's do it. I began to realize that it wasn't about large crowds. It was perhaps in the midst of a large crowd to touch just one person's heart and transform that heart, not through me but through the love that I carried within me, and it was not about me. It was much more than me, and so the God inside of me, it was not about vanity, but it was to be used always as a service attitude. Perhaps I won't become a millionaire as a musician. Maybe I'll never make it to the top of the charts. Perhaps I won't be called up to the big stage. But whatever I do, it must be for this purpose.
Ela Crain 18:31
If you're called on big stages, I think the conditions remain the same. I heard something similar to what you're describing from Beyonce. It's not about me on stage, it's about channeling something that people need and being that vessel.
Selma Uamusee 18:49
It's like being a vessel, and whenever you think about vessel symptoms, you might think the vessel is empty. If you've recently dropped, the drop can be contagious. Mozambique was devastated by AIDS a few years ago, and they launched a campaign featuring Xuan Maria. They are a couple who are madly in love with each other. But all he had was an AIDS relationship. He had sexual relations with Anna a few years ago, and she had AIDS; now Xuan has AIDS. Xuan and Maria have never had sexual relations with anyone, and they are about to have their first because they are madly in love with each other. They weren't going to use a condom, then draw a period with a red T-shirt and Maria in white, and then have their first time. And then there's a big red stain on how things can spread in a very innocent way, how bad things can spread even if you have good intentions. So, I'm also aware that being exposed and being on big stages can sometimes give me great intentions of spreading good, but if I'm not humble enough, I can spread something that's not so good. So, it's a daily exercise for me to recognize when the Selma in me is speaking louder than the mission in me.
Ela Crain 20:57
How do you balance your responsibilities as a mother, singer and missionary?
Selma Uamusee 21:10
It's agonizing, but it's also an honor. As time passes, I realize that my responsibilities are increasing. I wasn't aware at first; I just wanted to do things. I wanted to spread the love by going out and hugging everyone. We're in pandemic years, and I can't do something I used to do a lot at concerts. When I left the stage and came down, not just for the show, but to be able to say, "Oh, artists, they're up there, and I just wanted to be on the same level so that people understand that I've gone through the same struggles, I'm just like you," a lot of people were like, "Oh, artists, they're up there, and I just wanted to be on the same level so that people understand that I've gone through the same struggles, I'm just like. And one of the things I did was simply walk-through people, looking them in the eyes and sometimes touching them. But we don't look at each other like this, and when you look like this, a reflection of your soul, when you can just make someone feel love just by looking at them because there are people who aren't seen. I am not only the voice of the voiceless, but I am also bringing visibility to those who are not visible. Several anti-racism campaigns are among the things in which I've been involved. When it comes to racism, I believe it is critical to bring this visibility to those who do not have it. You may believe that it is as simple as "you're black, you're white." No, it's about social standing; people who cannot speak out. In their places of invisibility, they are unnoticed. So, it's more than just ash technology; it's also more than just a campaign. It entails more than simply going out on the street and declaring, "Look, I'm against this." It's about bringing visibility to the voiceless and giving them a voice.
Ela Crain 23:47
And doing it alone, looking at people coming down the stage and looking people in the eyes, is the role model, rather than saying, "Oh, we should see the unseen people." You're doing it on your own. That's heartwarming.
Selma Uamusee 24:03
I consider myself extremely fortunate. A journalist once asked if I had been invited to perform at a festival. "Selma, how do you feel about being the only black immigrant woman on the show?" one of the journalists asked. That was extremely distressing. I'm hoping they've invited me because I'm a talented singer and musician. And then I paused to reflect. "No, I'm the only woman on the show," I said. I am, in fact, the only immigrant on the programmed. On the show, I am the only woman who is labelled as an immigrant. Am I the only black mother who is also a mother? And then I realized what I had assumed that it was like, "no way, I hope I'm a good musician. “I realized it was a place of privilege and that I had to make the most of it to be there.
Ela Crain 25:24
The communities you represent are mothers, black women.
Selma Uamusee 25:31
There were a lot of communities that needed me, and I had to be there for them. It happened during my pregnancy, and I lost the baby. My pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I had two concerts scheduled. They came one after the other. On Saturday, I had a concert, and on Sunday, I had another. I miscarried and it was excruciatingly painful, not only emotionally but also physically. I didn't want to tell my team about it. I just told my manager about it, and he said, "You're so free not to do this because it's very painful." I was bleeding profusely. It was the week after I lost the baby on the seventh, and the concert was on the fourteenth and fifteenth. It's not about me, so I have to be there. It's about what God wants to do with me in those circumstances, and no one had to know. I'm just sharing it because I haven't done so before. I'm just sharing this because when we talk about responsibility for our mission, you have to go all the way to the end. And I knew it was a great honor. In that case, I was the only woman who possessed all of the traits. On the other hand, I was the first black woman to perform in the National Theatre, which was revolutionary in its own right. Piatra CinaHL, Dona Maria Schooner is the theatre's director. He wrote about it about a week ago. He was saying that when someone was singing, he thought about all the future sadness that could be in the National Theatre. What if I didn't show up? What if I had stayed at home, sobbing in agony? As a result, the mission is more important than the individual. I don't like to talk about it too much, but it's exactly how I feel when I propose doing something. I'll stay until the end. My husband was very concerned when I went to Cub Delgado. "You could die there," he said. He was aware that I was going to dangerous locations. "If I don't have a reason to die, I don't have a reason to live," I reasoned.
Ela Crain 28:40
Your bravery is truly inspiring. So, did you have this courage all the time, or was it something you worked on and boosted throughout your life?
Selma Uamusee 29:01
It was always with me, but I didn't realize it. As the year's passed, I realize that so many of the things that have happened to me have been to build the woman that I am now and the woman that I will be after. I've been through a lot, from divorce to sexual harassment and living alone at a young age, and it's never turned into bitterness or pain for me; it's always turned into love and enjoyment. So, when I was six years old, my parents brought me to Portugal. They were both students and immigrants. They were studying in another country and wanted to return to Mozambique. "Oh my god, I'm 13 years old, and the most important thing in my world are my friends," I thought when they decided to return to Mozambique. I returned to Mozambique with them. I don't easily identify with children. I miss my old friends, and I was supposed to live with a godmother. She, on the other hand, had a nervous breakdown. It went wrong. We couldn't get in touch. And it was my Portuguese friends who saved me because they knew all of my best friends, their family, and that I was a very responsible girl and a very good student. And they were like, oh if someone is staying here, she can come and stay with us for a while. And I stayed for six months, living in one of my best friend's houses with their family, but they hadn't chosen that. So, I wasn't happy about it, and my mother told me, "You have to come back to Mozambique because if it doesn't work, you have to come back." No, I'm not, I told her. I'm a very responsible person; I'll study and look for a scholarship. I'll find a way to live in Portugal because they have money, but even if you graduated in Mozambique at the time, the minimum wage was extremely low. So, they made some money, but not enough to sustain my life in Portugal. As a result, they informed me that we would be unable to assist you. You're living on your own and renting a house. I began working because I wanted to live in Portugal. I told them to give me a year, and if my grades are poor and I don't have a way to support myself here, I will return. So, I worked, fund a scholarship, and rented a room from an elderly lady. She was extremely pleasant.
Ela Crain 32:32
My friend, you're a true warrior. What would you say to people who are unable to make decisions?
Selma Uamusee 32:46
As I previously stated, I was not raised in a religious family, but I am aware that God was always with me, and I am very aware of that. I remember telling my father once that I will never marry and will never attend a church because they did not provide me with that background. He stated that we are raising you so that you can do whatever you want with your life. We are raising you to be whatever you want to be when you grow up. My parents gave me that freedom because we are preparing you to believe in whatever you want to be responsible for. So, faith is something independent for me. When I arrived in Mozambique on vacation at the age of 18, I told my father, "I'm a Christian now," and he was like, "Please tell me you're not going to become a fanatic." I'm like, I don't know, you've raised me to be free, so I can be a fanatic too. In response to your question. I'm not sure how people can survive without faith or something to cling to. Because, as I previously stated, I was aware that something was protecting me at all times, even when I wasn't aware of it. I was sexually arrested several times, but nothing physical happened. I was oblivious to situations because I was young and fragile. I was detained by people who held positions of power, such as ambassadors in Mozambique. And in each of those cases, an angel appeared, but nothing happened. I believe I was saved in several situations. And what I would tell someone who lacks courage is to surround themselves with love, because where there is love, there is no fear. We are paralyzed by fear. Fear prevents us from following our dreams and accomplishing the things we know we were born to do. Fear is the polar opposite of love, so surround yourself with it. Be surrounded by love even if you don't believe in anything. Don't go to places where your fear, which you already have, will grow stronger. But be surrounded by love, joy, and hope, and be in places that have what you feel you don't have, that you wanted for yourself.
Ela Crain 36:29
I appreciate your interpretation, even with the unfortunate events you went through because someone could look back and say, oh, my God, I was sexually harassed, and just focus on that, but what you're saying, but I was saved, so there's still that positivity in there even though you got out of it with the least amount of harm and the belief that you're protected is still with you.
Selma Uamusee 36:57
Because the stories of harassment and rape are painful, not only in terms of physical pain but also in terms of feeling as if your boundaries have been tarnished and your safety has been brutally arrested, fear arises. I've been in those situations before. I've been locked in physical places several times, which is terrifying. I have three daughters, and I pray every day that they never find themselves in those situations. When you're in situations with people who are supposed to be parental figures, you feel like you can't trust anyone because those people were supposed to protect or help you and can stick you for the rest of your life. Being surrounded and fulfilled by love and love will remove all fear. You will be able to take whatever actions you desire. They do not have to be large. This conversation has the potential to change the environment. If we look at each other, we don't have to end a war.
Ela Crain 38:41
Are your daughters like you?
Selma Uamusee 38:46
They're very inspiring, and I'm a very proud mother of them. My mother left me a lot of things. She's a one-of-a-kind lady. She's a great communicator and a great speaker, and she's involved with modern art and non-performative arts. I believe our children will be a part of who we are, but I'm not sure what they will choose. They understand that once they turn 18, they will no longer be able to live at home. I'm like, did you know your mother went out when she was 14? So, when you reach the age of 18, I don't want you to stay at home. I let them be very free in everything, including spirituality and choices, what they like to eat and listen to. If you go this way, you will suffer the consequences, but if you go the other way, you will also suffer the consequences, so choose wisely. Choose based on what you see as being good for you, but be aware that you may fall and that you may need to fall.
Ela Crain 40:12
It's difficult to know that they may suffer and that they chose that path as a mother, but that's their journey.
Selma Uamusee 40:22
That's where they're going. They're quite responsible, but I'm always like, I used to be so responsible, and then there was this crazy period in my life between my 20s and 30s. It was extremely exciting. Perhaps they should be insane right now. I'm confident they'll be fine.
Ela Crain 40:49
Because you're a part of the “Women of Courage” programmed, you're involved with children other than your own. Could you please tell us a little bit about that programmed?
Selma Uamusee 40:59
It's not a programmed; rather, it's an initiative that I created with Sousa, Portugal's president. He decided to organize meetings and encounters with special women to raise awareness among teenagers. The idea is to provide some empowerment and to bring our testimony in some way so that kids can dream that they can be whatever they want to be. As a singer and musician, someone who chose music over-engineering, someone who uses music to change the world. I told the kids that I have 12,000 or 11,000 followers on social media, which isn't much for a musician. There are musicians with millions of followers, but what do you do with those who follow you? What are you going to do with that instrument? Do you want to be liked by them? Do you want them to read what you've written? Do you want them to pay attention to what you're saying? What are you going to do with your connections? For example, "Mon Datums" was the name of an event I put on for Mozambique. I wanted to put on a concert to raise awareness about what was going on in Mozambique. So, I just grabbed my phone and went from A to Z, starting with very important and influential musicians who have hundreds of thousands of followers. As a result, not because of my followers, but because of their followers, my bond with them has grown stronger. It was feasible to hold a large event. I could do an event where I sang and it was all about me. Because I am Mozambican, I will invite you and all the associations. Someone will be concerned about it. Perhaps it would not be a message that would reach such a large number of people. What are you going to do with your tools? It is extremely important. That's what I do with the tools I've got. I'm aware that I'm not always the primary tool, but I'm useful. The attitude of a servant is most of the time. I need to draw people in and elevate them to a higher level than myself, and I need to be present.
Ela Crain 44:37
Give leverage and help them.
Selma Uamusee 44:41
That is a privilege for me, and it is my responsibility. That is where I find happiness and fulfilment.
Ela Crain 44:54
That's a very different perspective on how we perceive singers as stage stars, but what you're offering is a very modest and different perspective.
Selma Uamusee 45:04
It's an exercise because I enjoy performing; I'm an artist who enjoys dancing, singing, and being on stage. It's easy to be self-centered about that. I also believe that my mission is to perform on stage and sing, and I am not a bad singer. So, I believe it is the fact that I propose to myself to do something that makes me happy. It's incredible to be able to do that with something I enjoy. I can be a missionary, but it has to be something I enjoy and am good at. I don't want to be arrogant about it. The goal isn't to become a millennium and a pop star; it's to be able to pay my bills and do something I enjoy. The main goal is to achieve the goal of raising social and political awareness. I'm not raising any political flags, but I believe that everything we do and stand for is political, and everything you don't stand for is political as well. My ambition is to be a better mother, wife, sister, and member of my community. It is the primary goal.
Ela Crain 47:00
How do you feel about being from Mozambique and having lived in Portugal since you were six years old? What are your thoughts on representing both?
Selma Uamusee 47:21
It's the subject of a song I wrote. "Song of Africa" is the title. Since I was six years old, I've lived in Portugal. I've studied here, and some of my closest friends are also here. I grew up in the heart of the city. As a result, I did not grow up in an African environment. I grew up in a completely Portuguese urban environment. So, my blood follows all Portuguese influences because I've not only lived here for 33 years, but also because my academic background, influences, foods, and music are all very Portuguese.
Something inside of me is vibrating in support of Mozambique. My parents returned to Mozambique, but I have no blood relatives in Portugal. So, I kept going on vacation to Mozambique. And as time passed, everything I did in gospel, rock and roll, and jazz became tinged with Mozambique. So, when I decided to work on a solo project, I decided no, because if my mission was to work for Mozambique to become a more developed and organized country, talking about urban planning, my mission could also be to bring awareness of Mozambique as a great country, a great culture, because Mozambique was always known as a country of hunger, floods, and terrorism wars. I wanted to show the other side of Mozambique, the colours, the couple liners, and the fabric that I always bring on stage whenever I sing and whenever something important happens. And to introduce this Mozambique, which most people are unaware of, was also important for me because it is also about recognizing an unknown culture but celebrating that culture, not for the bad things but the good. So, I'm a very Portuguese-Mozambican girl because I'm a diaspora daughter. And in that diaspora, I felt more Portuguese than Mozambique at times. And when I was in Mozambique, I thought to myself, "Perhaps I'm very Portuguese because my accent is so Portuguese." "You're speaking in such a Portuguese way," people say. But when I'm here, people ask, "Where are you from?" And I can't claim to be Portuguese. No, I don't think so. As a result, it's a struggle. During the struggle, I realized that I didn't have to struggle any longer. Because it's fantastic, my heart and DNA could stretch from Mozambique to Portugal, Brazil, and India.
So that identity thing came with my life experience because I was embarrassed to say my last name for many years. After all, no one could say "Vamos." It was a huge struggle. And nowadays, everyone gets it because it's so easy to feel at ease in your own culture. It is significant because it is not about you. It has nothing to do with your culture. It's about embracing other people's cultures, bringing unity through mutual respect, and that's also about love. You're not in my country, so you shouldn't speak my language. So, I shouldn't have to say your name correctly; you can do it. If your mission is to spread respect and joy, you must correctly pronounce other people's names if you want others to feel embraced by this love.
Ela Crain 52:51
I can feel the love and light you emit. I'm sure our audience feels the same way. I'd like to thank you for being here with us today. Thank you for your time, openness, and laughter. Thank you so much for coming to see us.
Selma Uamusee 53:09
Kenny Mambu. Thank you so much.