Songstress Jen Msumba Overcomes Adversity with Full-Length Album

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY SEP 18, 2020

The history of modern music is littered with artists whose personal challenges helped precipitate the quality and broad appeal of their work. Sadly, some, like Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix, succumbed to their demons in the prime of their creative lives while others, like Johnny Cash or Anthony Kiedis, overcame and became models of perseverance. But for all of these artists, their struggles imbued their music with identifiable and therapeutic energy that speaks to the universality of the mortal coil. And if obstacles overcome make art richer, then Jen Msumba’s music is a treasure chest.

“I have autism and OCD,” Msumba says, “and that made it really hard for me growing up.” Bullies and in some cases, teachers, were signals that the world could be an unforgiving place for the neurodivergent. Her struggles led to low self-esteem and the erroneous belief that she lacked something the neurotypical had. “I wanted to be anyone but me,” she says, until she got her hands on a piano and discovered she had something of a latent superpower waiting to be revealed.

Music quickly became her most potent medicine, giving her purpose and confidence. She taught herself to play by ear and in 2013 made her first YouTube video, a piano cover of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” (her channel now has nearly 27k subscribers). As her prowess on the piano progressed, so too did her confidence. She went on to join her church’s band on the keys, taught herself to play the guitar and continued to enlarge her repertoire at home and at the Music Compound, where she has been a student since its inception. And tonight, she headlines the Compound’s monthly concert with a performance and the release of her first full-length album, “Music Saved Me.”

Written during quarantine, the album explores her struggles as a young woman before discovering music and herself. One song, “Finally Home,” reads like a letter to her younger self. “I really wish I could’ve known then that everything was going to be ok,” she says, “but without those struggles, I wouldn’t be who I am.” Other songs are more lighthearted, like “I May be Country,” which satirizes how out of place she feels in her long-term care facility in rural Highlands County, the same facility where she practiced her craft in front of the discerning and captive audience at her community’s general store. “My friends out here are painfully honest,” she says, “so I figured it was good practice.”

For Msumba, tonight represents another milestone on her long road to self-love, and she hopes listeners find something in her music that speaks to and empowers them. “One day when I was a little girl, I was at the grocery store with my mother and I kept jumping out of everyone’s way and saying ‘sorry.’ My mother said something that really stuck with me. She said, ‘Jennifer, you belong in this world as much as anybody else.’”

Live attendance at tonight’s concert is limited to student families, but the performance will be streamed from Music Compound’s Facebook page at 6pm.

Music Compound, 1751 Cattlemen Road, 941-379-9100. Photo courtesy of Jen Msumba.

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