After making a name for herself in her native Sweden with pop songs like "Small World" and "Time,"Sabina Ddumba is now ready to take on another fast-rising genre — Afrobeat.
The singer, whose parents were born in Uganda, teamed up with Nigerian sensation Mr. Eazi for "Blow My Mind." Co-written with British pop star MNEK (who also has Nigerian roots), the song flutters with puppy love-fueled heartbeats that are laid atop a summery production. Mr. Eazi comes through towards the end of the track, adding a burst of authenticity and playfulness. The accompanying video, which is premiering on Billboard today (May 3), brings the song to life with its '90s (and early '00s) throwback elements.
"I am African — the musical influences from the continent, and more closely Uganda, is in my blood," Ddumba explains. "I’m not saying that I’m all about doing African-influenced music, but I love that 'Blow My Mind' turned out to be a perfect merge of soul, R&B and African rhythms.
"When [MNEK and I] were close to finishing the song, I was really feeling it and I asked TMS, the producers, to modify the bassline just to bring in some of that Ugandan vibe. And Mr. Eazi is the right artist for this. Even though he’s not from Uganda, I can hear that we have the same musical influences and talk the same musical language."
Below, Sabina Ddumba shares how her childhood — specifically MTV — drew her to the concept for "Blow My Mind."
Who were some of your inspirations growing up?
Alicia Keys, Ashanti, Destiny’s Child, Lauryn Hill, Backstreet Boys — whoever my siblings were listening to. I also grew up in the church, so gospel was a big inspiration too. [Ddumba joined Stockholm's prestigious Tensta Gospel Choir at age 14, whose alumni include Lykke Li and Seinabo Sey.] I was watching Sister Act 2 [when I was younger] and I remember having the same hairstyle as [Hill] did in the movie. We have the same complexion and dressed the same, so I saw a lot of myself in her.
That was very special for me, because I grew up in Sweden. It’s a very white country and I was always one of the few black people, but I didn’t know anything else. When we used to [pretend to be] Destiny’s Child as kids, [my friends] told me, “You can’t be Beyoncé because you’re too dark. You have to be Kelly.” That’s why [Hill] is one of the reasons why I do what I do now.
Can you tell me the story behind the “Blow My Mind” song?
I wrote it with MNEK in London, and I love working with him because we always have a blast. The song reminds me so much of Uganda — my parents were born and raised there — and that made me so happy. I initially did the track on my own but I wanted someone to be on it. So we added Mr. Eazi a few months after. He made the song feel even more like home. When his part comes on, I can’t do anything else but dance! And that has never happened with my own songs before. What he added to the song was so much more than I could ask for.
I like that the video has a throwback feel to it.
I remember the only thing I did after school was doing my homework and eating a sandwich while my siblings would watch MTV and this Swedish channel called ZTV, which had the best music videos. It was all old-school R&B and hip-hop, just all the things that I loved. I remember looking at the videos and being so blown away by what they did. The dances, the colors, the makeup, the look, the location!
So I wanted to be able to let every little girl know that they could do whatever they want to. Your dreams can come true. That’s what I went off of, and that’s why I have the girl [in the beginning of the video] watching me on TV and imitating my dance moves. And it has a little bit of a ‘90s vibe because that’s what I grew up watching
Does your culture help influence your music?
I would say yes, but I wasn’t aware of it because I grew up in a home where we spoke Ugandan, Swedish and English. Then in my class I had friends from all over the world: Eriterians, Ethiopians, Spanish — I got so much energy from so many cultures. And I’m a Pisces, so I soak them in — slurp! — just like that. [Laughs.] My old music compared to “Blow My Mind” [sounds like] a Black girl in Sweden doing music. But I love that because that’s who I am.
But after getting to travel to L.A., London, Nigeria and Uganda, I’ve gotten a different vibe. That shows in “Blow My Mind,” and also the new music that is coming. I have a lot waiting to be released, but I may do it as an EP.