At just nine years old, Abigail Chamungwana, better known by her stage name Abby Chams, could already play three musical instruments – the piano, the violin and the guitar, all the while learning to sing from an even younger age – or as Abby puts it, as soon as she could speak. This talent and passion for music is something Abby believes she was born with, and comes from her family’s relationship with music – her late grandfather was a musician and a conductor in an orchestra. She names him as one of her biggest inspirations, and he was her first piano teacher when she turned five years old.
“I have been singing my whole life – for as long as I can remember. My parents told me I used to take my Barbie dolls and sing to them and I would just be singing around the house all the time. My grandfather played a bunch of musical instruments and he inspired me to start learning. For many years I took music lessons several times a week, and ever since then, I have been in love with music. It started off as a hobby and something that I did for fun,” says Abby.
Abby Chams recently turned 17 years old, and has been in the spotlight for a few years now. It’s thanks to social media that the world got to hear her angelic voice. Abby started an Instagram page around five years ago, which was initially aimed at sharing her music and her singing with close friends and family. However, fast forward to today, she now boasts a following of more than 123,000 followers, which include Tanzania’s most high-profile artistes, the likes of Diamond Platnumz, Nandy, Ravanny and Ben Pol.
Abby’s talent manifested itself at a local church, thus her main theme of music is gospel. She was brought up in a Christian household, and singing in church was part of her early interests.
Eager to excel in this genre, Abby wants to give gospel music a makeover – exploring messages about faith in Afropop in order to appeal to young people. “One of my most popular songs is called ‘Zero to 100’, it is about how God can elevate you when you are feeling low. I want my gospel music to appeal to the youth. I feel a lot of young people are afraid of giving their life to Jesus, they think you have to change everything, what you wear and the music you listen to, but music can still be fun and upbeat while delivering a powerful message,” she says.
Giving people inspiration and motivation when they are going through a difficult time is one of the aims of gospel music – and that is the main purpose of her songs: “there is something about music that is therapeutic. If I am upset or having a bad day, playing the piano gets rid of my stress. I want people to feel happy when they listen to my music,” Abby says.
‘Zero to 100’ is just one of the songs Abby has released over the last couple of years. As an independent artiste, she releases her own music, which so far includes seven songs – all written by her. As well as singing and playing instruments, Abby has also learnt musical theory through lessons at school, and can now compose music: “I love writing my own music, because it comes straight from me, so it is really personal. When creating a song, most of the time I compose a melody first, then find words to go with the melody. Other times I have a lyric in my head, and I think about the words and how I am feeling, and what melody would go with that. But I also like doing covers, some people write music that I couldn’t think of, says Abby.
While Abby is not currently signed to a label, she uses streaming platforms as well as social media to share her music, and this has gotten the attention of many current artistes, who now want to collaborate.
A few months ago, in March, Abby joined forces with Diamond Platnumz, and worked on a song with him for a campaign run by his label, Wasafi. She has also collaborated with Jokate Mwegelo, a District Commissioner, as well as doing some work for UNICEF, which engages her other passion of working with youth. But her most ‘star-struck’ moment was getting reposted by Beyoncé, after doing a cover of her song ‘Brown Skin Girl’: “my friends called me when I was sleeping, they were screaming and telling me I was on Beyoncé’s page. I just couldn’t believe it – it was wild!” she says.
Abby now wants to encourage other children to get involved in music, and has started her own school of music, where she currently has around 10 students, and is teaching them piano, guitar and violin. Abby feels this is something that is currently missing in the school curriculum. “Getting access to musical education is difficult in Tanzania. I want to encourage parents to let their children do music if they are passionate about it. It helps with their creativity and can help them express their feelings in a healthy way. It challenges your brain, there is mathematics involved too. I really believe every child should learn to play a musical instrument,” Abby says.
Now that Abby has created a platform for herself through music, she now wants to also use that to reach out to young people, and get them talking about the issues that affect them. Through her Instagram page, she has started ‘Teen Talks with Abby Chams’, which brings teenagers together to discuss what problems they are facing and how to overcome them, touching on issues like cyberbullying, self-esteem and body image. It is about learning, sharing experiences and knowing that you’re not alone.
This is echoed in one her favourite songs to perform titled ‘I Thought’. Abby says this song has helped her to get through difficult times: “the song talks about how sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to, and it can be hard to keep faith. But we need to trust in God’s timing and know that he has the best plan for us. I co-wrote that song with my dad,” she expresses.
Through it all, Abby’s goal is to inspire young people: “I want young people to know that age isn’t a barrier and it should never limit you – you can do whatever you want when you put your mind to it,” she says.