'There are still quotas': Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa opens up on breaking into the music industry

As the Noisettes first toured the United States in search of stardom over a decade ago, on first appearances they baffled the watching crowds.

On bass there was Shingai Shoniwa, the Zimbabwean-British frontwoman performing in bare foot. And on guitar there was Dan Smith, the floppy-haired gothic dressed in all black.

After one gig Shingai left the stage to have the conversations every young artist dreams of. Among the crowd were record executives, who had bought into the Noisettes’ sound and wanted to offer the band a record deal.

But on this condition; Shingai 'ditches Dan'. It was a harsh introduction to a brutal industry where image is everything, an industry she believes has not changed enough.

The Noisettes perform on the main stage, at BT London Live, in Hyde Park

“When we came onto the scene a lot of bands had the same kind of look. There wasn’t anything like us and I felt it was important to show people that a band wasn’t just what you expected from a stereotypical band,” she told ITV London.

“Dan being part of the journey was always so important. We haven’t always had the support, we haven’t always been given what we’ve put in.

“I was always offered deals and told ditch the guy. It’s not been a smooth sailing road. The fact that we’re still here is a testimony to our love of music and to our fans.”

The superficial nature of the music industry will surprise few. Record companies have spent decades carefully crafting the appearances of pop-stars from their very first meeting. As some careers expire with age, the battle to stay relevant is as tough as ever.

What does surprise Shingai, is the barriers she believes minorities still face breaking into the industry.

She added: “There’s still a dark side which I think we can address and do a lot better in terms of inclusion. As a female, person of colour, I’ve not experienced much change in that.

“I still feel that I have to work really, really hard, just to maintain, have a job, just to get the support from publishers and certain parts of the industry.

“It still feels like there a sort of quotas, and there’s only a certain amount of girls let in. I think the pie-chart still needs to change because at the end of the day people still want amazing music.

“I don’t want someone to filter and go ‘well I’m going to just sell you this person because of what their hair looks like or because of what colour they are.”

“I’m definitely enjoying it a lot more than 10 years ago, because of the pressures were absolutely immense and some of the people around didn’t have our best interests at heart.”

Its been exactly a decade since The Noisettes’ overcame those barriers, their breakthrough track ‘Don’t Upset the Rhythm’ hitting the shelves.

Since then the pair have released albums and toured the world, but in fact hones their sound on the streets of London busking.

Shingai spent her weekends as a teenager playing guitar around Greenwich, hoping to make enough money to fund her equipment as she studied.

“At 15 and 17 I was already independent. I had to look after myself, pay my bills while I was doing my A-levels and BTEC. I used to busk at the weekends,” she said.

“And that really helped top up the meagre money I used to make in retail. I used to busk and I’d have a little bench that was just mine and sometimes incorporate street performance.

“If I started at about 12pm and finished at about 3pm, and probably has a break in between, I could earn about £80. That was shopping and exercise books and my first computer.”

Shingai performs at Wembley Park Credit: Instagram/Shingai

The Noisettes have now joined the campaign to protect London’s busking scene and performed at a major busking event in Wembley Park.

Kensington and Chelsea Council recently proposed bringing in new restrictions on the number of buskers playing near the area’s famous museum district.

But Shingai believes the scene is a breeding for young musicians, who can find their sound just as she did.

“It’s such a big part of what makes London look and sound so creatively inclusive. What makes London so beautiful is the variety of people, smells. sights and sounds,” she maintains.

“Every neighbourhood has it’s favourite buskers and musicians. It’s so uniquely London. If you don’t give those things a chance to thrive and evolve, then London will really change and it won’t be as exciting.”