S1MBA’s breakthrough single Rover ft. DTG is currently dominating TikTok and climbing up charts around the world, bolstered by this fun dance (see below) which thousands of TikToker’s have taken to learning while living in quarantine.
Virality hits hard and fast, so we’d forgive if you’d never heard of S1MBA, but it’s a name we’re all about to become very familiar with. Get ahead of the curve and get to know him now!
- He left for a holiday in Zimbabwe late last year, then came home to find out he’d gone viral
When S1MBA flew out to Zimbabwe in December to spend Christmas with family, he wasn’t prepared for what would be in store when he got back to the UK. He hadn’t been paying much attention to his phone during his trip. But when he opened his inbox, he found it flooded with emails from major label A&Rs. Rover, the track he’d uploaded before he went away, was the source of the attention, having organically racked up 700,000 views and had been placed on Spotify’s Who We Be, Afrobashment, Certi and Motive playlists.
- S1mba has spent his life around music – From joining a marimba band in Zimbabwe as a kid, to playing the piano at church, to bashing the drums in his school music room at lunch, to dropping his first rap over DJ Mustard’s Freak Of The Week
It might sound like an overnight success story, but Leonard Simbarashe Rwodzi has spent his whole life around music. Born in Zimbabwe, where he played djembe drums and joined a marimba band, S1MBA moved to the UK aged nine when his horticulturist father got a job as head gardener at Oxfordshire’s Pusey Estate. While finishing primary school there he learned to play piano, and soon joined the church band.
“In church you don’t learn to read music, you learn as you go. Being in church helped me to be better as a musician,” he recalls.
S1MBA would spend lunchtimes in the school music room practising piano and drums, while Year 10’s would be allowed to use a studio and learn music technology. His curiosity lead him to question what they were doing and he discovered the role of a music producer. As soon as he was old enough he opted to study Music Technology for himself.
His passion for music technology was apparent to his teachers, who gave him software CDs so that he could continue developing his skills at home. While his friends were playing Xbox or doing their homework, S1MBA would remain glued to his computer screen, making beats and researching his favourite producers. He’d attempt to remake some of his favourite instrumentals, including Krept & Konan’s DJ Mustard-produced Freak Of The Week. That became the first beat he’d rap on, when friends urged him to get in the booth for the first time.
- His first taste of success was with a track called The Plan, which was teased out via SnapChat and became a local hit.
Following school he’d attend college in Swindon, where he initially studied engineering, while working for his dad in order to save up for a Mac. For his second year he switched to Music Technology, learned how to record himself properly, and began to make his own songs from scratch. While he hadn’t really thought about releasing any of the music, one song The Plan got a reaction locally when his friends teased it on SnapChat during a studio session.
When he received messages asking him to release it, he uploaded the song to a new YouTube account, unexpectedly doing 10,000 views in a week.
“When I was going around Swindon people were stopping in cars, shouting my name,” he remembers.
Fans of the song soon began asking about a video – which seemed like the logical next step. So S1mba obliged, getting some friends to help him out. One of the scenes would need to be shot in a restaurant, so they reached out to Gavin Green the owner of a Jamaican spot that had become their local hangout. Gavin was happy for them to use the restaurant, and – having formerly worked as Chip’s creative director – offered to help them make some connections in the industry.
During the video shoot he called SB.TV who ended up hosting the video on their channel, doing 70,000 streams independently and becoming a local hit. The experience was enough for S1MBA to start taking his music even more seriously, and he released four more independent singles – all with videos – across the past two years.
- His musical influences range from Afro-swing to Twenty One Pilots
S1MBA’s music embraces his heritage and musical upbringing: you can tell that he’s of African descent, but also that he grew up immersed in UK music culture.
Raised on Zimbabwean music like Thomas Mapfumo and Afro-jazz legend Oliver Mtukudzi as well as gospel and mainstream American R&B artists like Chris Brown, S1MBA has always been an open-minded listener. Moving to the UK exposed him to more sounds than ever before: as well as the grime and UK rap that most of his peers were into, he’d go through phases in EDM and indie rock, citing Twenty One Pilots and Two Door Cinema Club as particular inspirations.
“I took my gospel influence, but I also listen to trap, I listen to hip-hop, I listen to grime. So I infuse it together,” he explains.
His infectious vocals twist fluidly between melody and rhythm, bending to whatever best suits the song. He felt particularly empowered by the Afro-Swing movement – a feel good fusion unifying the sounds he grew up on with contemporary UK rap – which he credits for kickstarting his career. Many of the songs he’s released so far fall into that category, but with his new music he plans to add more club references into the mix.
- He wrote Rover in twenty minutes
Never allowing his own ego to get in the way of a good song, S1MBA began to expand his sound by collaborating with co-producers last year, beginning with his biggest track to date Rover. He recalls walking to the studio space of producer RELYT and hearing the in-progress instrumental booming from outside. “I hope that’s the producer we’re meeting,” he recalls telling his manager. Once inside the studio, he worked quickly, capturing the moment and writing the song within twenty minutes. “It’s more natural that way,” he explains. “I don’t like thinking about it too much. I don’t like not having fun with it.”
Well, that wraps up your five facts. So what’s next for S1MBA?
He’s since been in the studio with producers RymesBPM, ILL Blu, Show N Prove and JoJoF working on his debut EP, which will be packed with Summer anthems that will introduce him to a broader audience. With such a rich musical DNA, his ambitions are set on a long-standing career that transcends his current role as a recording artist.
“I want to be known as that guy, where music was his thing,” he says. “I don’t want to just stop myself at being an artist. I want to go into songwriting. I want to learn how to play new instruments. I just want to be respected musically.”