Samantha Mumba: If I lived in Ireland now, I wouldn’t be having guns in my house

With a new TV show, new music and a busy life in LA, things are looking good for an Irish pop pioneer. She speaks to Jen Stevens about talent shows, and being a laid-back mum
Samantha Mumba: If I lived in Ireland now, I wouldn’t be having guns in my house

Samantha Mumba

Samantha Mumba is about to return to our screens as part of the judging panel of new RTÉ singing gameshow Last Singer Standing. Not being a fan of TV talent shows, Samantha wasn’t really expecting to have a job like this but the new format, where the winner walks away with €25k instead of a contract, appealed to the Los Angeles-based Irish popstar.

“It’s been a terrible year to be in the entertainment industry in Ireland, so when I heard that this was different to the usual singing competition shows where the prize is a terrible record deal that you’re promised at the end of it, I jumped at it. These are singers who have had a really shitty few years, as we all have, and I think it gives them great exposure, and there’s a big cash prize at the end of it and that’s it. I like that. It’s my first time to work on a show like this. I wouldn’t be a huge fan of the standard singing competition shows anyway, and wouldn’t be something I watch, but this genuinely just piqued my interest because I thought it was different.”

Samantha is joined on the show by pop royalty. Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud and Joey Fatone from NSYNC who complete the judging line-up, while Westlife’s Nicky Byrne is the host. Working with a team like that and being able to be home in Dublin while the show was filmed were big draws for the Drumcondra native.

“Well, I have toured with Joey, so I know him anyway, but I hadn’t met Nadine before. You never know how it’s going to go, how people are, but we just had so much fun. We were giddy, it was just genuinely fun to go to work every day.

“Being offered the chance to come home for work is always a big draw for me. I haven’t been able to be home very much in the past few years, so yes, it’s been great. Things are looking must better now that the US borders are opening again. I told my mum to get the flights booked because everybody’s going to be coming. It’s been the hardest thing of the last year and a half really. I would be used to getting home more often, but I’d also be used to having my family here. It’s just been very, very strange, not just the lack of freedom but the fact that it hasn’t even been optional.

“I’m definitely dying to have family, friends, anybody who’s willing to come at this point. I’ll just be happy to see people over here.”

Samantha Mumba: splits time between Ireland and LA where possible
Samantha Mumba: splits time between Ireland and LA where possible

Samantha lives with her husband and daughter Sage in LA. She’s been based there for 15 years now, so it’s very much home, albeit with the bonus of being able to travel back to Ireland a number of times a year for work. But living in America over the last number of years hasn’t always been an easy experience. Between the tensions politically and the events that followed on from the murder of George Floyd, not to mention the pandemic and all that that brought, Samantha could feel a difference.

“With everything going on and with it being Covid, we were pretty much staying at home anyway, but even just going to the supermarket or something, there was definitely a tension in the air. It was the weirdest thing. It was very, very strange. Now, I certainly wasn’t in downtown LA at the marches, I was at home taking care of my child and that was it, but it was even inescapable at home, we were watching it on the news, she was aware and was seeing it. When I was able to find a kid-friendly march in a park that was done really well, I thought that was just enough to make her feel involved and a little bit more aware of what’s going on, but not too much.”

A number of years ago Samantha spoke in an interview about having a gun at home when her husband was out at work. At that time he was a serving officer with Los Angeles Police Department but now has his own private security firm. “Look, I feel very safe in my home. My husband has our house very, very secure. It’s a weird difference, but you have to do what you have to do and that’s the thing. Obviously, if I lived in Ireland now, I wouldn’t be having guns in my house. I don’t even know where to get one, but it’s just different here. It’s just very, very different and unfortunately, 90% of people who would be breaking into your house would have their own gun, so it’s just a very different place.”

Coming home more often is high on the singer’s priorities and her night-time treat to herself is scrolling through and Daft to see what dream home she might buy herself in the future.

“It’s just my thing, at home in bed scrolling. I do it for houses here as well, but look, ideally, I would love to be able to do 50/50 LA and Ireland. I was getting home three, four times a year, so it never felt like I was having to pick one or the other because it was the best of both worlds, but I would definitely love to have a little base of my own just to have when I’m back.”

Samantha Mumba: "I didn’t want my only music to be something that I did when I was a kid"
Samantha Mumba: "I didn’t want my only music to be something that I did when I was a kid"

Now that Samantha is home in the US (she won’t even hint at the winner of Last Singer Standing though she will say that the right person definitely won) she’s back in the recording studio. Music will always be her first love but she’s relishing this time without any huge record company pressure, and making the kind of music that she loves. After more than 20 years in the industry she knows exactly what she wants.

“The drive for me is very, very different and it’s nothing about being famous. Any of that makes me cringe and it’s like, the older I get, the more of what’s important to me changes. I feel like I have more to give vocally and from a writing standpoint, and I didn’t want my only music to be something that I did when I was a kid, when I was 15 years old. It’s not that it needs this huge visibility. I’m not trying to relive anything that I already did. It’s really just a personal thing for me and putting out music that I’m proud of, and with a schedule that I’m comfortable with, that works for me.

“I have always been very vocal about saying that my daughter is number one and that just doesn’t change, will not change. Everything pretty much has to work around that. I’m enjoying being just an Indy artist, and the best part for me is being in the studio and having fun writing and creating. Sharing it with the world is always the not-so-fun part. I’ve so much music that I’ll never release and that’s my favourite music because it makes me happy and it’s a personal thing. I’m totally just winging it to be completely honest, figuring it out as I go along, probably making a million mistakes and that’s okay.”

It’s clear that Samantha is absolutely devoted to Sage and having a mum who’s a singer must be pretty cool. I ask her what her reaction would be if she wanted to follow in her mum’s footsteps.

“It’s so funny. When she was younger, she couldn’t quite get her head around it, but now she’s six and a half and she watches TV, she gets a huge kick out of mommy being a judge on a show. We watch America’s Got Talent. She was like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re a judge.’

“It’s lovely now that she’s in the phase where she can understand the fun things, and she comes to the studio with me some days if I’m recording. I’m a very laid-back parent, whatever she wants to do will be supported. It’s funny, my mum even said to me recently, because I have quite a lot of tattoos, ‘What would you do if Sage wants a tattoo?’ I’m like, ‘I would just want to make sure she goes to a good tattoo artist. I don’t care.’ That’s just more where I come from. I just want to make sure she has the best of whatever and to do what interests her.”

  • Last Singer Standing starts on RTÉ One next Saturday

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