Identify: Rowlene is back, for good this time
"I'm back and I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm back and I'm not going anywhere."
It still comes as a shock to Rowlene when she realises just how long she has been making music in the South African scene. Long before her debut in 2015 with the “Imposter”, Rowlene has always shared a special connection with music. From lending her vocals to the school and church choir during her childhood, Rowlene’s once minimally explored attachment to music soon developed into a burning passion, revealing new rhythmic dimensions with every step of her journey. Now, with many years spent learning and studying the game, Rowlene has nurtured herself into the all-rounder she is today: “That’s ten years of tripping, falling and getting up,” she shares with the NATIVE.
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Following the artist’s debut in 2015, a comprehensive introduction to Rowlene’s talent is her debut EP ‘The Evolution of a Robot,’ a release that firmly planted her on the map and had audiences and music-makers alike, keen to explore whichever soundscapes Rowlene traverses next. She followed this up with a number promising singles including “Swang,“ “Won’t Get Better” and “Boy Bye.” However, it wasn’t until her stellar collaboration with Nasty C that the artist started garnering significant attention in South Africa and beyond. While she tapped into his multi-layered flow on “143”, their breakout track was “S.M.A (Send Me Away)” off Nasty C’s emotionally driven sophomore album, ‘Strings and Blings’. The duo delivers a poignant performance, solidifying the track as one of the most soul-stirring numbers on the project. Reminiscent of Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love The Way You Lie”, the pair on “S.M.A (Send Me Away)” tell a tale of a love story damaged beyond repair. Rowlene shares that she and Nasty C have maintained a long lasting relationship, “With Nasty C, we’re actually like family now.”
For Rowlene, making music is a spiritual excursion into her mind and her soul. As such, Rowlene is incredibly selective of the artists and producer she invites into her world. She shares candidly, “Music is such a spiritual thing to me and I don’t just work with people if I don’t feel like we could potentially hit it off. I want to be able to believe in them, believe in their process and believe in what they stand for.” While taking qualities such as their masterful production, sonic abilities and skilled penmanship into consideration, Rowlene majorly prioritises the artist’s creative morals and the methods used during their sonic process.
For that reason, a number of Rowlene’s collaborations have been strictly natural pairings with people she met through a mutual connection or friends she’s known for a while, of which Nasty C falls into the former category. When I ask which of her longtime friends she’s made music with, Rowlene shares that it’s only recently that she had the pleasure of working with close friends on her new project. “Oxlade and I have been friends for so long. He introduced me to everyone else that’s on the project. It happened within 2 to 3 days,” she shares.
Rowlene has always brought this level of meticulousness to her craft and she continues to toe this line on her new project. After two years without releasing any new projects, with the exception of a couple of singles, Rowlene is back utilising her mellifluous vocals and raw penmanship to bare her honest emotions as always. She enlists weighty names in soul, R&B and Rap from Nigeria such as WurlD, Oxlade, Blaqbonez, who bring their sweet-sounding voices to her sonic world without obscuring her singular vision. Rowlene shares about the project, “Frequency has so many definitions, from science to math it is a significant observation that always hints to ‘more’. This project follows exactly that notion. Each song represents a twist or turn in the journey we call finding love and sometimes ourselves. One’s cycle can never be compared to another’s yet – when you’ve matched the energies, when you’ve synchronised with someone – magic happens.”
‘Frequency’ is a true reflection of the lessons learnt and the growth experienced by the artist both in her personal life and career over the years. Standout tracks such as WurlD-assisted promotional single “Only,” which are evident of Rowlene matured lyricism, perfectly validate the artists ability to produce timeless numbers.
Early tracks such as “S.M.A (Send Me Away)” echo the pitter-patter of new tracks such as “Pretentious” and “Neverland” with Oxlade, but feel looser in its delivery of stark vulnerability. Elsewhere on the Blaqbonez-assisted “Pretentious,” Rowlene accepts her involvement in a toxic situation that turned out to be bad for her, sharing that “if this was five years ago, I’d still be in this situation.”
On “Frequency,” the extended play’s intro track, Rowlene crafts a relatable story about love, honesty and reconciliation within friendship. For the rest of the project, Rowlene continues to offer up a string of feel-good flexes and affirmations over bright keyboard sounds and glossy synths. Given how much growth Rowlene has undergone since her debut on the scene, it’s only fitting that she has approached this new project with a unique mixture of vulnerability and levity. After working through feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome, she’s now fashioning herself into her own kind of superstar. Now, more affirmed in herself than ever, Rowlene shares, “I can confidently walk into or out of a room without feeling guilty or feeling like I shouldn’t be there. I have defined my space.”
Reminiscing on when she created ‘Frequency’, Rowlene shares that the project nearly suffered from delays. She had no intentions of releasing music until 2023, which would make it two years since she released a full body of work. However, after recording what would become ‘Frequency’ in London during March of this year, Rowlene would share the newly minted tracks with her closest friends via a Soundcloud link. It was their encouragement which eventually led her to release ‘Frequency,’ as she shares “It was just having people say the right things at the right time. I just thought [to myself], this is what I want, and this is how I want to do it. But [my friends] were actually making so much sense, so I figured, what am I waiting for? I’m only going to make more music and I’m always going to feel like the next song is better than the last.”
‘Frequency’ which is now out in the world, marks a full circle moment for the artist who has spent the better part of the decade, carving her vision as a rising artist with polished production and emotion-baring writing. Now, with a renewed sense of confidence and refined vision in her abilities, Rowlene is approaching this phase in her career without the rose-tinted glasses of her earlier days. The entire project exerts the feeling of one who is certain about their next steps, without any sway from outside forces. Rowlene herself echoes this sentiment, sharing “I’m back and I’m not going anywhere.”
Ultimately, ‘Frequency’ is a representation of a new beginning from Rowlene as she continues to explore the depths of her emotions and cast ideas about where she’s about to go sonically and professionally. This drive to keep pushing the boundaries and keep extending herself is borne out of her desire to provide for her core support system, and those who’ve been influential to her career along the way. ” I didn’t really come from anything, so that’s the one thing I really want to change. I’m the first one in my entire family to even travel overseas or get on a plane. I really want to make my family proud. Until then, I can’t really throw the ladder down.”
Listen to ‘Frequency’ here.
Featured image credits/NATIVE