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Artist interview: Romarna Campbell

7.5.21

We caught up with drummer, producer and composer Romarna Campbell, and talked about her creative process, collaborations and influences.

What do you identify most with in terms of your musical output? Are you a drummer first, a composer, a producer, or are all three equally important to you?

At this moment, all three are of equal importance to me because most of the work that I’m doing exercises at least two of these titles. But for my projects, it’s all three in equal measure because all three are equally important to me and the music.

What is your creative process? Do you initially always work with rhythm at the start of the process, or do melodic and harmonic ideas come to you first?

Interestingly, the initial thought for my creative process is usually something that I’m mulling over or a chord I can’t get out of my head. So the majority of the time, the harmony is what comes first and usually most easily because out of all of the elements of the music, to me, it’s the component that is most genre-less so it allows for the music to organically take its shape. Whereas if I were to go into it with the thought process of ’this is rock’ or ’this is jazz’, I’m instantly at a disadvantage because I’ve limited the music. The last part is usually the melody! It’s the thing I struggle with the most, so that’s what takes the most time for me.

Do you feel like you always have a strong intention behind your compositions and their message, or is the process more organic?

Always a strong intention! I believe that every note we play must be played with intention, because of the power of what we’re dealing with. It’s a disservice to the music to not play with intention in my eyes and a disservice to who I’m communicating with and what I’m intending to communicate. Working on the assumption that my role as drummer, composer and producer is an extension of me, therefore so is the music.

We’d love to know your experiences of being a female drummer and percussionist in a very male-dominated space. Have you found that you are able to bring a different perspective as an instrumentalist?

I always find this question difficult… Especially once I started college at 18. Before going to college, nothing about my identity or intersectionality appeared to be so politicised and then I got to college and it became the forefront of every conversation. I think the main difference in the perspective I was able to bring as an instrumentalist is why isn’t music in academia a representation of the diversity and adversity it came from? Or representative of the cosmopolitan cities that these academic institutes tend to be in? Where is the roadblock for people like me? And why are we excluded from spaces?

You have collaborated with a wide range of talented musicians. Who would you love to collab with if you got the chance?

I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by so many incredible musicians and to have collaborated with them too! I think if I got the chance to collaborate with anyone, it would mostly be drummers because it’s so rare. So probably Roy Haynes, Marcus Gilmore, Chiminyo, to name a few! I would also love to collaborate with Pharrell Williams, from a production point of view!

Who are some of your biggest influences, and who is an influence that people wouldn’t expect from you?

My influences vary quite a lot. I grew up heavily influenced by Hip Hop, Neo-Soul and RnB. So my go-to influences, are Questlove and the Roots, Max Roach and Clifford Brown, Missy Elliot, Pharrell Williams, Roy Haynes and so many more. I think most surprisingly would be my absolute love for Big Band, especially Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra Live at the Sands, and Debussy. Although, I would counteract that with: why should that be unexpected?

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