When she was a girl living in Zimbabwe, Eugene musician Claire Ratidzo Dangarembwa, who performs as RatieD, would sing out loud in front of an arts theater near her high school. “I generally would sing out loud, all the time, everywhere,” RatieD tells me over the phone, on the occasion of her debut EP, Ink & Melodies, out now on music streaming services.
No one from the arts theater heard RatieD, but she kept singing, inspired at the time by pop musicians like Avril Lavigne and hip hop from Common as much as the traditional music of Zimbabwe. “I believed in myself,” she recalls of her life as a young musician in Africa. “There was something about my voice that would make someone want to hear me.”
RatieD’s short five-song debut highlights this versatility, from the traditional gourd shakers of Zimbabwe called hoshos on the rhythmically driving album-opener “Woman of Africa,” to the rock ‘n’ roll brawniness of “Walk on By.” There’s also some hip-hop influence on “Self Knowledge,” a collaboration between RatieD and the local hip-hop group Not Applikable.
Two Ink & Melodies tracks, “Golide” and “Kudhara,” feature native languages of Zimbabwe, Ndebele and Chivanhu, in which RatieD is fluent.
No matter what style she’s playing, RatieD is drawn to music by the beat and the groove. “The beat, the bassline, the groove,” she says. “I’m just taken by music of any kind.”
Although Ink & Melodies is Dangarembwa’s first release as RatieD, she’s no stranger to the recording studio. Among other projects, she’s known for singing in Bongo Love with John Mambira, an experience responsible in part for RatieD’s ending up in Oregon, where Mambira also lives. The two musicians are part of a cluster of Zimbabwean musicians who call Eugene home, with legendary Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo at its center.
Without the financial support of Mambira, who plays percussion on the record, guitarist Gilbert Zvamaida, known for playing with Mapfumo, and saxophonist and University of Oregon music professor Idit Shner, Ink & Melodies may not have ever become a reality, RatieD says.
“I help Ratie because we are one people,” Mambira says in an email. RatieD bloomed when she started writing her own music, he continues. “I knew right away she had something special to offer the world,” he says.
“I was blessed to have someone who was willing to sponsor the project financially,” RatieD says. “Financially it was a challenge to get into studios,” she adds, but she finally felt ready to do it.
Although all songs on the release are RatieD compositions, additional collaborations on the project include Garrett Baxter on bass, Parker Koehn on percussion, Torrey Newhart on keyboard and Paul Kruger on trumpet.
With some songs dating back to her days living in Africa — she’s been in America for about six years — RatieD had a pretty clear idea of what she wanted from the music by the time got into the studio. She says collaborations make her music even richer.
“I definitely am open to my musician friends adding their spice to it,” she says, “because I think that’s what music is about: it’s about teamwork.”
RatieD goes on to say that having these songs finally recorded feels like a relief. It’s like a weight has been lifted off her shoulders, she says, and she’s able to let go of these jams, some that she’s been holding on to for years.
“This is music from the heart,” she says. “It’s from my heart and for the people.”
Ink & Melodies is out now on all major music streaming services. For more information go to RatieD.com.