Jazz is one form of music that transcends most other genres and has done so throughout the ages. Its complexity, off beat rhythms, sophistication and constant desire to improvise and evolve itself courses through its precious origins. Those traditions run deep within the soul of award-winning vocalist Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim and there is no greater gift than seeing her sing her story in full flight.
A vibrant mix of cultural heritages that underpin her every move, Tawanda was raised in the deep south of New Mexico on the border with Texas. She is proudly a first generation American with a mother from Germany and a father from Mozambique. That fusion of intoxicating backgrounds gave her access to music that many do not experience and which will forever stay in her heart. Family gatherings would feature music from Cuba, the South Pacific Islands, the Middle East and France with groups like the Gypsy Kings and Te Vaka providing a constant undercurrent to her early life.
From Sam Mangwana, Angelique Kidjo, Brenda Fassie and Hugh Masekela to the classic composers of Vivaldi and Bach, intertwined with Carole King, James Taylor and beyond; Everything has one essential element in common. Each and every one of them is a true artist in every sense of the word and represents Tawanda’s musical aspiration which is now gathering speed with audiences everywhere.
Gaining a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, it was there that she fell in love with the show tunes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein under the watchful gaze of Jazz mentors Mirabai Daniels and Horace Alexander Young. Emerging from that experience as a strong powerful black woman, it is no surprise that she honors the memories of Jazz greats such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Anita O’Day.
Always looking forward, Tawanda delves deep into the worldwide jazz scene and explores the multi-genre fusion that can be found in its paradise of riches. That desire to respect not only her peers but the origins of her name which translates as ‘we are more’ in a Bantu dialect called Shona, has embedded a deep-rooted desire within her to give back to those around her.
Yearning to bring people together in times of increasing polarization, she wants to always deliver a message of collective healing. As a black woman living in a country that still has so much to do to heal the wounds of its oppressive history, she sings for her people. For the women that kept the villages going and supported their families; she embraces their emotions, their deep ancestral indigenous wisdom and it is a narrative through which she lives her life now.
Supporting fundamental human rights such as universal education, access to clean water, sustainable economic growth and positive social change have all become constant companions on her emerging journey. When wrapped in her powerful and simply breathtaking vocal abilities, the music industry is beginning to understand how brilliantly influential she is.
There is no better affirmation of that talent than winning the prestigious 2020 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Jazz competition. An accolade previously conferred on artists such as Cyrille Aimée, Jazzmeia Horn, and Samara Joy McClendon, there is no better demonstration that all her hard work is paying off.
Now based in Los Angeles and with a whole host of performances that have enthralled audiences everywhere, Tawanda Suessbrich-Joaquim is set to soar on the wings of success.
Tawanda WBGO interview with Gary Walker.
Read or watch the full interview at www.wbgo.org
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