"I find the people, really more, open-minded up here.” - Sinini talks reggae, music and busking

Sheffield musician Sinini Ngewana (The Reggae Busker) Picture Scott MerryleesSheffield musician Sinini Ngewana (The Reggae Busker) Picture Scott Merrylees
Sheffield musician Sinini Ngewana (The Reggae Busker) Picture Scott Merrylees
“I don’t do reggae to be honest, I just do reggae here in the UK”, Sinini says with a smile. “I didn’t sing it until last August, it seemed easier and people could understand it. I didn’t think it was fair to sing in my own language and style.”

Sinini Nygwena originally hails from Zimbabwe but he’s been living in Sheffield for the last year, busking on the streets almost everyday, in and around the city. If you take a walk through the city centre and you hear a crisp, clear and soulful rendition of a Bob Marley song, it’s likely you’ll hear Sinini’s voice long before you lay eyes upon him. It’s an exceptionally smooth and endearing tone, with timbres and a depth that has clearly been honed over many years.

“If people are coming to see me sing, it’s ok. But if they’re just passing, I just want them to feel my vibe, and honestly, I get more attention when I’m doing Bob Marley,” he adds.

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There’s a warming welcoming aura about him, whether that’s in his renditions of songs about embracing joy, happiness and positivity - via the medium of Bob Marley - or when you hear him speak with a pearlescent smile as he says how happy he is to be performing, it’s clear that he’s enjoying every moment.

Sinini has previously lived in England but he did not have the best experience, originally. So he upped sticks, and he left, moving to the town of Witzenhausen in Germany.

While there he garnered quite the following. He speaks fondly of that time and I can’t help but notice from how he talks that it seems to have rejuvenated him, given him a better perspective. He feels much more at ease and relaxed in life.

Last August, following Brexit, his wife got a job at the university in Sheffield, so they returned to the UK. He earned his living as a musician, while also delivering various workshops. But the pandemic changed the livelihoods for many of us, Sinini decided to chance busking.

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I ask him how he’s taken to it, what have his experiences been like, particularly in a city coming out of lockdown? “Man, it’s really lovely. I can’t believe how nice it is. I used to live down south in Kent before and I didn’t know so much about the north. I find the people, really more, open-minded up here.”

“When I was younger we didn’t have a TV at home, so it was always we’d sit around the fire and it’s either you chat or we sing, and singing is what came easier.”

Sinini grew up in a Christian household and his fondness for singing saw him joining a choir.

“I’ve been singing for as long as I could remember, since around the third grade,” he says. “And I remember my teacher saying to the rest of the class, ‘I want you to sing louder, like him’ and she pointed at me. I was shocked,” we both laugh.

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He pauses as an elderly gentleman comes past, a regular. He asks if Sinini will be singing soon and gives him some money anyway. You get the feeling that already he has become synonymous with his new home.

Everyone smiles as they pass by, some stop and listen to his songs. He even took onboard some performance tips from the man who runs the jacket potato stand, laughing once more as he recalled the story, “Less is more, so I lowered the volume of my instrument and now it sounds clear”, he’s right.

At this moment in time, busking works for him. It gives him the freedom to do as he wishes his own terms, he loads up his cart with his gear, straps it to his bike and he can go wherever he wants, whenever he’d like to. “I just think that if I work hard, I remain professional about what I do, good things will happen.”

“So, why reggae?” I ask Sinini, “Perhaps I sing reggae because of the soul, I give everything I have into what I do. I feel like there’s so much sadness in the world.”

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Sinini will be performing at the Migration Matters Festival on July 9 and 10, where you’ll be able to hear him sing his own songs and if you do go you’re in for a treat.

You can follow Sinini Ngwenya on Instagram: @Sinini_Ngwenya; Spotify: Tanga Pasi; and YouTube: youtube.com/user/Tanga_Pasi