From Birmingham to Boston, MA, Romarna Campbell is a 21 year-old drummer heading to the Berklee College of Music in the Autumn 2017.
When, how and why did you get involved in music?
I got into music mostly through the massive CD and music collection that was in our house when I was growing up. There was always music around, although I am the only musician in the family. When I was about 8, my Mum bought my Dad a drum kit for Christmas. I remember this massive brown box and being beyond excited about unpacking it and setting up this red drum kit, much to my Dad’s inconvenience. It wasn’t even my gift, but my parents couldn’t tear me away from it. From there my Mum actively sought out workshops for me to take part in. I joined a local music school that was every Saturday and took it from there. In fact, the music workshops that I first attended became particularly poignant. I actually busked in the sign-in area to the raise the money for my first drum kit, which was an Arbiter Flat Pack! Absolutely immense! As I got a little older and started to receive more regular tuition, I was introduced to The Notebenders by Andy Hamilton, CBE. It was there that I really discovered my love for jazz and big band music, amongst a really legendary group of people.
How important is it for you to see more people of colour in the industry?
Until recently, I hadn’t realised how important it really was. I think it’s bigger than seeing more people of colour in the industry, I think it’s more about connecting and interacting with them. Something that’s made so much easier with modern technology and social media. That connection reminds you that there are other people in the industry that you have similarities with, whether that be culturally, musically, etc. By the sheer nature of what a musician does, you’re always open to meeting to new people and what they have to express with their instrument through music. I also think that it’s particularly of importance for younger musicians. When you’ve been sat in a practice room for hours on end, it can be easy to feel isolated. So it’s great to be able to refer to or contact musicians that are of influence to you. Sometimes just to remember there are other musicians out there like you, that have probably gone through some of the same stuff that you’re going through. I have had the fortune of attending a conservatoire in the UK for two years, but one of the things I really struggled with when I first started was the lack of diversity, therefore the lack of understanding that can come with that occasionally.
How are you affected as a black person in music? Any advantages/disadvantages?
There are definitely a number of advantages and disadvantages to being a black person in music, which I assume to be the case for anyone of any ethnicity and identity. I am for lucky enough to grown up in a culture that heavily revolves around music and having a broad taste in music. Going up, I was exposed to a lot of really awesome music. Anything from super underground hiphop, to old big band records, to Soca music. There was never any differentiation, as long as it was good music then we would listen and enjoy it. Consequently, my listening ranges from Prince to Lenny Kravitz to Count Basie and everything in-between.
I try not to think about being disadvantaged in any way or even using the word, it puts you in a negative space and mindset. I would much rather think about it as hurdles; these issues are there but can be overcome with hard work, effort and drive. I put a lot of time, effort, work and care into what I do because I love it. So, to have all of that undermined by racist and sexist comments is always really difficult. I fail to understand what my race, ethnic background or gender has to do with me being a musician; the two are not mutually exclusive. I draw influence from those things because they make me the person that I am, but I don’t understand what that has to do with my musical and technical ability and why anyone thinks it’s acceptable to use it against my in any way. Instead these should be things that they also want to learn about and draw influence from in the same way that I do. Everyone has their own trials and tribulations, again, there’s no need for the negativity.
Any exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment and any upcoming performances?
There’s a lot going on at the moment that I’m super excited about!
Firstly, I have been accepting into Berklee College of Music in Boston for Fall 2017! So I’ll be moving to Boston in about 2 months, to finish my undergraduate studies! I can’t wait, it’s literally been a dream of mine since I was 17! In keeping with my imminent move, I am still fundraising to cover the rest of my tuition fees. I have a number of fundraising events coming up over the next couple of months and have set up a GoFundMe page for anyone that its kind enough to make a donation! Details for my fundraiser in June and my GoFundMe page are below:
SAT, 24 JUNE
258 Broad Street
I am also super psyched about my new band, B L A N (C) A N V A S. We debuted our first project ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ in March to a sold out show in Birmingham. ‘Limitations of Our Imaginations’ features original compositions and arrangements by me. It’s an exploration of how music can push and break down barriers, what it’s like to navigate modern life as a young musician and an insight into me as a bandleader, composer and arranger.
Our latest performance was playing support for Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic project, which is now up on my YouTube channel! It’s my first time being a combination of band leader, composer, arranger and drummer all in equal measures. I also whole-heartedly believe in my bandmates’ skill and power as musicians, both individually and collectively. We’re working on a few more performances and hopefully record and releasing music before I move to the States.
To find out further information about Romarna, you can follow her social media and visit her website as listed below.