From Zambia to Byron Bay: Life before & after Popstars- MISS Renee Simone

From Zambia to Byron Bay

Life before & after Popstars

MISS Renee Simone

By Ian Browne

I grew up in England and my parents are both Jamaican. Why they would move to such a cold and unfriendly place is beyond me. When I was 19, I visited Zambia for three months. This was a life changing experience for me, one that would see me training in Occupational Therapy back in England and yearning to travel further. I visited a hospital in Zambia and discovered the people with disabilities were held in a section of the hospital where they were left to squander time, being branded as having no relevant contribution to society. I was shocked by this and decided then and there that I could change this public perception of the non-worth of those with disabilities. So I began interviewing people with a variety of physical disabilities, documenting and graphing their demographic and physiological data. I designed and printed a guide book that provided information supporting those with special needs.

The name of this guide book is ‘Chibuye Tapi’, which translates in Zambian to… “You don’t get anything if you just sit idle”. With consultation with community members, I began to empower Zambians to form committees to support these forgotten people. This included teaching community members to apply for funding and grants to improve the lifestyles of these people, thus providing them with a worthwhile role in life. This also allowed those with varying disabilities to work as a team, where each individual had a skill to commit to a practical task, such as land maintenance and agricultural chores.

This experience inspired me to return to England and train in Occupational Therapy within rural community health centres. I only stayed in England for two years, as I decided to visit friends in New Zealand. I landed up staying there for two and a half years. I worked with children with Autism, getting to know them, their behaviours and thought processes, while supporting them to adjust to a move into the school and classroom environment. This also allowed their parents some free time to enjoy other aspects of their own life.

New Zealand is so free and creative. It is the most soulful country I have been to. This is where I found myself in music. I explored the righteous grooves of reggae, soul and hip hop. To the SE of Auckland in the Bay of Plenty, I joined a community radio show in Mount Maunganui. We played break-beats and hip hop under the title ‘GHETTO’. There were four of us and we also toured Ghetto around the country as a freestyle outfit, allowing the community to join us on stage, showcasing their various musical esteems. It was with Ghetto that I landed on these shores. We spent some time in Sydney, and apparently the title Ghetto just wasn’t slick enough for the Sydney market, so we changed out name to ‘Skyrider’! Yuck, I couldn’t stand the new title. It was during this Sydney period that I became a finalist on ‘Popstar’. I didn’t enjoy the experience so I visited Byron Bay to recover.

In 2004 Skyrider had moved to Byron Bay. In comparison to London, Byron is: conscientious; sinfully-barefoot; safe; easy and warm. Byron and London are both vibrant environments though. Back in England, family members have struggled to make their way in the music industry, where they have actually had to pay establishments in some circumstances the right to play in the venue! Being a musician in London is like ‘walking up a hill in a head wind’- one of my family members has suggested.

Though Ghetto/Skyrider is no more, our percussionist travels the world. Our MC, and our DJ, who works as a breakbeat DJ on the Gold Coast, have teamed up with the Tijuana Cartel to record and perform live as ‘SwitchKraft’. I too will join SwitchKraft as a guest singer. I also create parties. I not only DJ in Byron, but I am also lucky to be flown to parties around the country, to sing or spin tunes. I was a VIP at the Melbourne Grand Pre last year. My business is ‘Byron Bay Experience.com.au’ where I plan events and ‘hook up’ clients with professional staff for these ceremonies. The genres my singing is most closely influenced by is soul, jazz and funk. The most commonly asked question in relation to my music is ... “When is your next CD out?” People try to plan my journey. I am in control of my own work-n-life balance. That’s what living here is all about. I’m really happy where I am creatively; happy with my parenting experience, and I don’t compromise my mothering for anyone or anything.

My CD ‘Roar’ is all about being a woman, a mother, and not compromising this. It is so beautiful being able to live by this belief, and it is easier being strict about not compromising my time with my son as compared to being more flexible with my own life.

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