Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Smile”?
Smile is inspired by the charity Operation Smile; which provides surgeries for children with cleft lip and cleft palate, and it features the London Community Gospel Choir (LCGC).
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
In 2013 while in Nigeria, during my time with a pharmaceutical organisation we helped raise awareness for Operation Smile. I was incredibly touched by the great work the organisation is doing, and wrote the song to help this cause.
When I moved to the UK to study music, I recorded a single version with my producer Aaron Thompson and thankfully the London Community Gospel Choir came on board to support the project.
How was the filming process and experience behind the video?
Oh wow! I’m a perfectionist so I can be a bit demanding of people whom I work with. My videographer Ben Mcconnachie ‘Half Crescent’ and I brainstormed ideas and decided to make an all-inclusive video showing smiles and expressions from people of different ages, races and backgrounds.
I then made a public post to fans and friends who wanted to be part of the video. We had lots of volunteers but unfortunately the shooting location was restricted to London. I’m really grateful to everyone who showed up despite their busy schedules. We shot in the summer so we expected warm weather but it was really cold on the day we shot with the choir and we kept shivering between takes.
After the first two days of shooting, we realised that including everyday people going about their business would better drive home the message of the song, so we headed to Brixton market. It was a very interesting experience. You see, I’m Nigerian and back home we’re very open minded and can generally strike up conversations with strangers in public places. In the U.K it’s quite different as people are a lot more reserved. On getting to the market, I found it very easy to walk up to people and ask them if they wanted to participate in my video (with their written permission of course). Ben (my very British videographer), on the other hand, found it very unusual to just walk up to total strangers and I kept laughing at him. Most of the people he asked kept declining and I had to tell him, “that’s because you’re asking them with a monotone voice, Ben.” He needed to (wait for it) “smile”! In all it was a fun experience and we really had a great time shooting the video.
How was the recording and writing process?
I had recorded the single version last year with my friend Michael Amadi arranging the strings and piano while another friend Nick Gauntlett played the guitar, so this past summer it was just the choir we recorded.
I’m really grateful to all who were involved: Ayo “Ayce” Oyerinde, who was the recording engineer, has such a big heart. He is very busy – He was even about to embark on the Spice Girls Reunion tour as their keyboardist but he made out time just for me to record the choir and then he flew out two days later.
The Choir Director, Rebecca ‘Becky’ Thomas whose arrangement of the harmonies took the song to a whole different level; and the other choir members who took out time from their busy schedules to be part of it. It was all crazy cause I could not believe the level of sacrifice they all made to be part of this recording. I love them so much.
And of course my producer Aaron Thompson who was basically the glue that held everything together by mixing and mastering the final product. Big love to him.
In terms of writing, the song has come a long way. Like I said earlier, the first draft was written in 2013. My sister, Tammy and my brother Toki also helped with lyrics and arrangement (I come from a family of musicians). In 2016, when I rewrote the song I had additional input from my friend and backing vocalist in my band Esther Morgan.
This song is a product of excellent teamwork.
Was the song always meant to be a theme song of sort for Operation Smile?
I definitely had them in mind when I was writing it because they inspired the song, however, I also believe that a lot more people are also unable to smile; not because of physical impediments but due to emotional and psychological trauma from past experiences, and in little ways – even as little as with a smile – we all can brighten each other’s lives and thus help make the world a better place.
In a sense it’s a song for every one of us, like it says, don’t let the dark days cloud the brightness in your eyes.
How much of the organisation’s mission did you use to write the lyrics on this record?
The first draft had a lot of it, focusing most of the lyrics on children with cleft palates. The rewrite was more inclusive of everyday people so we could all relate to it.
You see, I realised I didn’t want it to feel like a sad, woe-is-me song asking people to have pity and give donations to help these children. They are not victims but victors because they smile despite everything they have been through, so why can’t we all?
This version is more triumphant.
What role does London play in your music?
A lot. I studied Songwriting here for 3 years so it has shaped and broadened my perspective of music.
Does the new single mean we can expect a new material – how’s that coming along?
Oh yes!! This gets me excited cause lots of people keep asking and I can finally say that I have been recording my E.P and I’m almost done.
Any tentative release date or title in mind?
February or March. No title yet but I’m sure it will come sooner or later.
Any plans to hit the road?
Hahaha! Let’s see how next year goes. I totally love performing live. Check out my YouTube live videos to see what I mean. It’s the best part of being an artist for me cause I’m very spontaneous and love reading the vibe of the room. It took a while but my band is now used to me going off script. There’s no other feeling like seeing how an audience reacts to your songs live so yeah, catch me performing live near you soon.
What else is happening next in James Numbere’s world?
A lot actually that I cannot reveal right now. But it’s got me excited for the future. In due time I will announce them but yeah signing up to my email newsletter is the best way to keep up with James Numbere.