Samantha Mumba: ‘I am scared to have any expectations’
The former pop princess talks fleeting stardom, that Spider-Man dress and her modest hopes as she attempts a comeback without a label
Samantha Mumba in the Long Hall, South Great George’s Street, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Mumba at the Spider-Man 2 premiere in London in 2004: ‘I just didn’t know that that was how the dress was going to be. I was dying a death. People think you’re just this idiot with your tits and ass out.’ Photograph: Steve Finn/Getty Images
Samantha Mumba is sipping a half pint in The Long Hall, her favourite pub to visit when she comes home to Dublin from LA. She’s one of those instantly recognisable Irish faces, and yet it is 15 years since Louis Walsh “discovered” her and 13 years since her first single was released. Her presence probably doesn’t turn as many heads as it used to, but nor is it yet a case of “Samantha who?”
Mumba is on the comeback trail, with a new single out this month and an album in the pipeline, except this time around, she’s doing it without the help of a either a big record label or an influential pop mogul.
Born in Dublin in 1983 to an Irish mother and Zambian father, her natural beauty means she stands out from the lunchtime pub crowd. She is casual in a check shirt, a slick of red lipstick the only concession to pop glamour. Her words are mangled slightly by a touch of a Californian drawl, but Mumba is still as Dub as they come.
The former Billie Barry kid became Ireland’s pop princess in 2000 with hits such as Gotta Tell You, Body II Body, Lately and Always Come Back to Your Love. Her debut single reached No 4 in the US charts.
The casual check shirt is not a total surprise. When it came to her image, even in the early days of her music career, she says, she always tried to be as “anti-puppet as possible”. When she was 16, one music executive told her that she was too clean-cut and that it would be better if she looked like she had “just been f***ed”. She ignored the advice.
There were times, however, when she couldn’t back out of an outfit decision, most notably the dress dripping with diamonds and worth more than £5 million that she wore to the Spider-Man 2 premiere in 2004.
“It was one of those things that I had to go with, and looking back, I’m just like, ‘Why did you put yourself in that predicament?’ ” she says, visibly mortified.
“I just didn’t know that that was how the dress was going to be, and the press were saying, ‘Look at this one looking for attention’. I was dying a death, calling my mum and saying, ‘Don’t buy the papers’. It’s that kind of stuff that people don’t know about, and think that you’re just this idiot with your tits out and ass out.”
Samantha Mumba was a unique package when she came on to the Irish music scene. She sang R&B songs, was female, young, black and Irish. She was our highest-profile female pop star, and for a while she appeared to herald a new dawn for the genre in this country. Then the music, and her music career, came to a sudden stop.