Interview: Samm Henshaw on “Jumoké,” Genre-Bending Musicianship, and Going With the Flow

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw returns with “Jumoké,” discussing creative vulnerability and personal symbolism in his latest song.
Stream: “Jumoké” – Samm Henshaw

Coming off his debut album Untidy Soul back in 2022, Samm Henshaw returned with “Jumoké” before last year rounded up.

The Afrobeats track marked a new sound from the artist’s usual projects, but as he shares, it is an intentional labor of love. Birthed from the sudden passing of a dear friend, “Jumoké” pays homage to his late friend, but also to Henshaw’s Nigerian heritage. Putting the master under the names of his four children left behind, this is a song about pure, everlasting love — the kind that expands beyond the romantic and familial.

Jumoké - Samm Henshaw
Jumoké – Samm Henshaw

Opening with Henshaw’s distinctive vocals, soul and feeling reverberate through every instrument and melody. Grounded perfectly in the theme of pure love, Henshaw has also given the master to his late friend’s four children, a beautiful gesture that resonates with the meaning of the project.

“Jumoké” is accompanied by several visual projects: the live performance video explodes with contagious energy, and a music video reminiscent of a home-movie hones a retro feel. Directed and conceptualized by Henshaw himself, the latter is an intimate project that uses footage from real-life traditional Nigerian weddings (Henshaw shared more about how the video came to be in our interview below).



It’s clear that Samm Henshaw sits deeply in his art and that it’s a part of him; the singer spoke to Atwood Magazine on a Monday afternoon in gloomy London, but his warmth and easy presence shone through immediately.

He shared with an openness about his relationship with music, how that’s changed through the years, and his ideas and wishes for upcoming projects. Henshaw details more below on his reflections making music, why “Jumoké” is his favorite song he’s ever written, and the liberation of expansion.

Marking a new stage in his musical career, “Jumoké” is the perfect culmination of what music is really about, and we can’t be more excited for what’s next.

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:: stream/purchase Jumoké here ::
:: connect with Samm Henshaw here ::
Stream: “Jumoké” – Samm Henshaw


Jumoké - Samm Henshaw

Atwood Magazine: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at Atwood Magazine, we love “Jumoké”! How has the response been on the track so far?

Samm Henshaw: It’s been good. It’s been really good. When it all started, I had created an expectation in my head of what I wanted and thought it should be. And it was funny because I ended up feeling kind of disappointed, actually. But I think you have to look at it from a contextual perspective. I remember having a chat with my friend and he said, it’s the first song you’ve put out this year, and you’ve never put out an Afrobeats song. And, you know, as far as we know, my audience isn’t predominantly African. So they’re not used to hearing me make anything in that world. He made a good point that it was the first time I ever did it, which means it’s the only thing I can compare any of this to. In that sense it had actually done really great because I’ve never put anything like this out before. And there has been a great response to it. And people do love it. And people have shared it. And it’s gone better than I could have imagined if I’m being really honest, because I’m comparing it to my past achievements that are all quite similar whereas this is not the same thing. And so, yeah, it’s changed my perspective. And I’m actually really grateful for where we’re at with it now.

That's really nice to hear, so are you quite hard on yourself in that sense? Do you feel like there's a pressure with every new release based on the last thing you put out?

Samm Henshaw: Yeah. And I think it’s a product of being in the music industry maybe a bit too long and experiencing that idea of numbers and all this. Just trying to hit a quota. You forget there’s actually so many other things you’ve not paid attention to, for example, releasing your first version of a genre you’ve never done before, you know, not many people can ever say they’ve gotten to a place where they’re brave enough to actually try and do that. I’ve kind of picked up a few negative traits from being in the industry a bit too long. And that’s probably one of them, where I’m focusing more on the numbers than the people that are actually listening to it.

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw “Jumoké” © 2024

I mean that's your career so in many ways; how can you not pay attention to the numbers!? With music being such an intimate piece of you – that makes it a complex relationship, for sure.

Samm Henshaw: Yes exactly! To a certain degree you have to still be aware of it, but you shouldn’t think you’ve succeeded or failed just because of the numbers.

Yeah, especially in the streaming era of music. I understand the song has a really special meaning behind it as well. Can you walk us through the story that inspired the track?

Samm Henshaw: “Jumoké” is actually a song I wrote years ago, sort of in the pandemic when you could group up with a certain amount of people for a certain amount of time. I hadn’t seen my friends in a while, and we would always do this thing where we would celebrate each other’s achievements, or birthdays, and we would normally meet up in a restaurant or somewhere. We decided to do it in a studio this time since we couldn’t eat out at places. We were like, vibing, and suddenly, I ended up making the song. My cousin who worked in the Afrobeats world had always said to me, “You have to make Afrobeats,” like, “you just have to come over to the African side, honor your heritage.” And I was always like, “yeah yeah yeah, at some point!” And then we made this song, but unfortunately last year, he passed away. Like randomly he just passed. And at that point, I’ve had this song this whole time, and I didn’t really know what I was ever going to do with it. I don’t think he ever got to hear it actually, which is still kind of a bummer. And I like for there to be some kind of narrative behind why I choose to put out music, especially if it’s going to be a different genre. And so his passing was obviously enough of a reason for me to honor his memory. We decided we were going to give the masters to his kids. So yeah, they technically own the song.

That's really beautiful, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss - that's never easy to go through. I really love the message, especially combined with the influence of your roots, that's so powerful. Can you tell us more about the music video? I saw that you had promised to perform at people's weddings in exchange for filming it!

Samm Henshaw: Haha, I’ve not talked about this story enough! It was fun. I’ve become very obsessed with visuals, I never used to be really. And over the past few years I’ve started collecting cameras. I own like two Super 8 cameras and loads of film ones. I’ve just bought an old VHS digital camera. I just love visuals and I love experimenting with that type of stuff. When we were coming up with the idea and concept for this song I really wanted this song to be specifically for weddings. It’s influenced by African weddings and because that’s what I grew up on. Nigerian weddings and the vibe and the colors, and the dancing and the food and all of that stuff. I really wanted to make something that was culturally heavy.

But I’m afraid of directing – I will do it fully one day. But there’s a fear from my end for some reason, because I’ve never done it before. I didn’t want this video to feel scripted. I didn’t want it to feel like we had created a fake set and got people dressed up doing all this stuff for it. It just didn’t work in my head. That’s why I thought we should actually go and shoot real weddings. I got my manager to help me put out a message basically asking if there was anyone in the UK who’s having a wedding to message me. I think we confused people because we never specified we were making a video. So I think everyone just thought I was gonna come and sing at their weddings. So hundreds of people DMed me, so my manager started getting really stressed. He was like, we can’t keep track of this. It was weird. It was such an impulse – but I’m very impulsive – and it was like such an impulsive thing to do, we didn’t really have a full plan. I just wanted someone to let me shoot their wedding. I was basically like, we’ll pick three out of these 100 weddings – and if they allow us to shoot the wedding, I will also sing at the wedding.

The majority of the shots in the video are actually from one of my closest friends. It was a beautiful wedding, I was there for the whole thing so I was able to capture as much as I could. Funnily enough, my dad used to be a film director and an actor in Nigeria back in the day. So my cousin was doing a wedding in Nigeria, and I was like, “Dad, I need you to go and shoot some of this wedding.” So I just gave him a camera. He flies to Nigeria, shoots some of that wedding. That’s in a video as well. Timmy – who basically helped put this whole thing together – goes with me to some of these weddings. And he’s helping me shoot here and there. And so we just ended up capturing as much footage as we could. That’s how we ended up with the video.

It's a gorgeous video. That's really special. You mentioned earlier that directing is scary for you. Can I ask why?

Samm Henshaw: I think anything that I’ve never tried before that I’m really excited about puts a little bit of fear in me. And I think I’m at a place in my life where I’m not going to allow the fear to stop me. I know I’m gonna definitely direct things at some point. But yeah, you just get a bit nervous.

Well you did direct this video, to be fair!

Samm Henshaw: Technically, yeah! And I mean, I’ve always been so close to that stuff. Like the music videos I made for my album. It was very much a collaboration between myself and Jim Pilling who, who actually directed it, but like, I knew what my ideas were, I knew what I wanted it to look like. I knew what I wanted it to be and so most of what I already understood of being a director is just having a vision, which I always have.

I mean, that's the hardest part – and you have that bit down!

Samm Henshaw: Exactly! So what I’m really afraid of is bringing everyone together and telling everyone what to do and being certain on what my vision is. So, yeah.

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw “Jumoké” © 2024

That's so fair. We had been talking about how it's been important for you to implement more of your culture into the song and your craft. Has that maybe affected your own relationship with your culture by putting this song out?

Samm Henshaw: Yeah, I think the main thing for me is I’ve always been quite connected to my culture. From a very personal standpoint, Samm Henshaw is a bit of a character and a very public persona. That’s not necessarily like, my everyday life. I remember one time my friend said to me, “I’m chatting to Ini today, I don’t want to talk to Samm” And it was wow. Now that kind of thing constantly reminds me that to a degree, it’s a character, there’s still a lot of me in it. But I think what this is now is, there was always a kind of fear of letting the Ini side in to showcase a bit more of him. This has now been an opportunity to do it and be like, “Oh! it’s okay.” It’s not an issue. I think it’s kind of helped me lighten up a bit in that regard. And not allow it to just be like solely this one thing that’s just a character’s life, it can be quite multi-faceted. And yeah, it gives people a little bit more insight into my life.

I suppose that makes it more like a vulnerable release for you then in that sense.

Samm Henshaw: Yeah! I mean we chose this one because I think before I ever release something that is quite exposing I’m always a bit apprehensive. I was that way with my album. I was that way with probably anything I’ve written before. You know, there’s always just a moment. Do I want to be this real? Do I want to be this naked? Every time there’s always a new layer to like, shed off and you realize, okay, it’s not actually as bad as you think. And so, yeah, this one was tricky, obviously, dealing with quite a heavy topic like death. And the song’s quite celebratory, it’s a celebration of love. But it’s coming out because someone that I love, and that’s really close to me, passed away. So it’s just yeah, there was so much about it.

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw “Jumoké” © 2024

I think a lot of artists want their music and their character to be them fully, so it's interesting you've mediated and almost negotiated the character and how much of you makes an appearance. That actually leads to my next point; I admire you've covered such a diverse range of genres. How has your relationship with music evolved through pursuing music in this kind of capacity?

Samm Henshaw: The honest truth is, every time I tried to be a one-type of artist, something happens that makes me put something out. Untidy Soul was meant to be a very specific type of album. And I was kind of coming away from this idea of “Samm just makes anything and everything!” There’s two sides to it – because I think there’s a side of me that loves all types of music so I’ll make all types of music. But making actual music doesn’t mean everyone needs to see all types of music you make, because it can sometimes just come across as messy and un-brandable. You know, I guess we live in a world where everyone needs labels – it becomes hard. That type of thing can be annoying for a lot of people. And so for me, I just want to make an album like Untidy Soul where it’s strictly R&B Soul music. And then I was gonna continue with that. And then Steve passed, and then it was like, “Right I got to put Afrobeats out now.”

And I’m not mad at it, I think it’s the way it feels like it’s what’s meant to happen. And it feels like it’s the way it’s supposed to happen and it wasn’t a part of my plan. And so I’m kind of going with the flow of whatever was meant to happen. But yeah, I think there’s been points where I just kind of want to be one thing, but recognise that every person that I meet has a different song that has done something for them. That’s cool. Like, I just think that’s cool to think that, like you’ve made something that can help someone that might not even be into anything else that you’ve made. That to me is quite a beautiful thing. And I’m here for it. I’ll keep doing as much random stuff as I can. I also get bored really easily. So I think that’s the other reason why I make different types. So there ends up being very different types of music.

I mean, surely whatever comes most naturally is probably the way to go!

Samm Henshaw: Exactly! Exactly! It’s very much become less about trying, and it’s been more about like, okay, this is how I feel so I’m gonna make this and put it out. It’s made it really hard for people to brand me. There’s been conversations about that. I think that’s so stupid, but at the same time, I can understand why. The example I always use is, if you go into a library and you want to find a book about, I don’t know, different countries – it’s going to be under the category of geography. Do you know what I mean? So I understand why labels exist, because without it, it’s kind of chaotic, and there’s not really much order to things. But at the same time, you’re like, ahh I just want to do what I wanna do so. Yeah, sometimes that’s the downside to just doing what I want.

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw “Jumoké” © 2024

So do you feel you've reconciled that then - the music marketing side of it and your own craft, making what you want to make?

Samm Henshaw: Yeah, I think I am. I’m very much at peace with the idea that I just like making stuff. I just like making music. I like making things, I like doing things that are creative. So if I’m not going to be limited to one form of creativity, why would I be limited to one genre? And the thing is, people don’t hate it.

Does the creative process differ when you're working in these different genres and forms?

Samm Henshaw: I think I’ve never written in just one way. For Untidy Soul we very much had a particular way of writing, and I think we specifically wanted to create certain sounds. So we would kind of do it all at once. We were making the beat simultaneously with melodies and also trying to write it all at once. That’s how we made 90% of the songs for the album. With the project I’m working on next, it’s been a mixture of just sitting down and just writing. And to see what comes out of that.

How do you feel like this project has helped you grow as an artist, musician, songwriter, all of that?

Samm Henshaw: I think this is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. Because it challenged me to write in two different languages, I had never done that before. It’s probably the best song I’ve ever written just because to be able to do that is a really big deal to me. It may not be everyone else’s favorite song, but for me as a songwriter that was a really cool aspect of it. Sometimes I listen back to a song and I’m like I can’t believe I wrote this, I don’t remember doing this. But with this yeah I’ve had moments where I think I’m done with all of this and you doubt yourself and your ability so much and then you create something and it’s like, oh wait no I’m actually fairly good at this and I’m just beating myself up. Which is not helpful in any instances. All of it adds to this bigger picture of me being able to say I’m just grateful for all of this. That I’m able to still do this, I’m grateful for the position I’m in, and to God for the ability I have to be able to do it.

You mentioned that you’re working on another project right now, can you tell us anything about what’s to come with that? Album, tour?

Samm Henshaw: Yes! You know what, there’s so much stuff that we’re in the process of piecing together, I really, really wanted to announce the title to everyone the other day. It’s pretty much done, it’s getting mixed. I’m really excited for what it’s gonna be if I get it right, but we’re piecing it together now.

Will there be a tour as well?

Samm Henshaw: We’re discussing that. I can’t really discuss what that’s gonna look like. I’m always gonna ensure we do a tour. I’m not good on social media so I always wanna make sure that if I am gonna do anything it’s a tour. It’s definitely in the works. I’m really excited about it. I really like creating a world for myself that I get to invite other people into. Yeah, all these other little bits I’m working on like the merch and everything. It’s slowly coming together. It’ll be next year.

Samm Henshaw "Jumoké" © 2024
Samm Henshaw “Jumoké” © 2024

So there is a vision, and it’s happening! Do you think about what the songs will look like live when you’re creating them as well?

Samm Henshaw: 10,000%. I don’t think too much about it when I’m working on the song but a load of things assist other things, like if the song is a good song it should be able to translate in whatever format you deliver it, in my opinion. But I think the two things I think about once I’ve finished a song are the visuals, and the live aspect. But the live aspect is super important, I grew up listening to live albums, and playing that music in the church. It was always live arrangements so that’s always been a big part of me and what I wanna contribute.

Okay and to wrap up, what do you hope your audience will gain from this track and from your music more broadly?

Samm Henshaw: I just wanna be able to bring people some level of joy and hope. Even if it’s not from the music and just from me and the things that I’ve been able to do and achieve. I think there’s artists that I don’t even listen to that I just appreciate as an artist and what they’ve done. Yeah I just want to be a blessing to someone in some type of way and if I can then, great. And if I can’t I hope there is someone who can do that for them.

— —

:: stream/purchase Jumoké here ::
:: connect with Samm Henshaw here ::
Stream: “Jumoké” – Samm Henshaw

— — — —

Jumoké - Samm Henshaw

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