SARASOTA, FL: At 44 years of age, Jennifer Msumba has faced her share of challenges. Msumba, who is autistic, was bullied as a child in school, has been living in residential schools and state hospitals since the age of 15, and has overcome self-harm and hindering anti-social behaviors. But music helped her to find her voice and her place in the world, and she is now living a happy and fulfilling life.
On Friday, September 18 at 6 p.m., Msumba – who has been a student at Music Compound since the music school was founded nearly five years ago, working with instructor Denise Verheul – will celebrate the recent release of her first full-length album, “Music Saved Me.” She will perform a few songs from the album during Music Compound’s monthly concert at its Cattlemen location (1751 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota).
When Msumba was a child, she says her parents would play records over and over for her. She would bang out songs on her toy xylophone, then started picking out songs by ear on the piano. She liked classical music and loved George Winston. Her parents were very supportive of her love of music.
In third grade, Msumba reports school was very hard “because of bullies and the noise.” She was happy when her teacher would bring her to a sunny classroom where she could play her violin.
“Whenever I played music, it would make everything else go away,” she says. As her album title indicates, music provided a bright ray of light in her life. “People might call me stupid but they couldn’t deny I was good at music. It was one thing they couldn’t take away from me.”
Msumba says something her mother said to her as a child when they were at the grocery store has stuck with her through her entire life. The store was very busy and she kept jumping out of peoples’ way and apologizing. “My mother said, ‘You belong in this world as much as anyone else.’ It changed me in an instant. It all made sense.”
The talented artist has gone on to play guitar and ukulele, and then she focused anew on piano. In 2014, she started a channel on YouTube where she would post new songs she had learned. In 2017, she even learned and posted new songs every single day. That same year, she started a second channel where she talks about her life and musical journey. “Jen Msumba Music” now has 26,900 subscribers and her second channel, “Rebranding Autism,” boasts 30,500 subscribers.
Msumba has also enjoyed other exciting opportunities. In 2019, she was featured as part of the #AmtrakTakeMeThere social media campaign, where she traveled by train to Washington, D.C. and vlogged about it from the point of view of someone who was autistic. She was also featured on the A&E series “The Employables,” which follows adults with Tourette Syndrome and autism. The experience sparked an interest in filmmaking and, earlier this year, Msumba won “Best Film” in the 2020 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge for her documentary based on her song, “The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains.”
“Music Saved Me” was written during the COVID-19 quarantine, when Msumba’s facility was on lockdown. She played all of the instruments and recorded it herself. Songs like “Music Saved Me,” “Shiny Things” and “Finally Home” shine a light on the struggles of a child who feels alone and different – and who finds her place and happiness.
“It felt good, kind of like a diary, letting my secrets out,” she says. She hopes people will relate to her music. “I want them to feel a sense of peace and to feel encouraged about their own life. It doesn’t have to be something you see on TV. You can be yourself and be a full person just the way you are.”
Msumba, who is a member of American Mensa, is a member of Bayside Community Church’s worship team, volunteers with the Humane Society of Highlands County, and is looking forward to returning to her job with an event venue when the public health situation improves. Oh, and she’s already well on her way to completing her second album.
“Jen has been part of Music Compound since our beginnings – she is an amazing musician, singer/songwriter and person,” said Music Compound owner Jenny Townsend. “Her story and journey are incredible – I’m proud to know her. I encourage everyone to find her on YouTube and watch her videos for a daily dose of raw talent and pure joy.”
Music Compound presents monthly concerts – with pro gear and lighting – in order to provide students with the opportunity to enhance their confidence, stage presence and overall musicianship. It also promotes teamwork and the ability to think on one’s feet, as live performances are unpredictable.
Also performing on September 18 will be adult and high school students presenting original music. Artists include Alex Krumm, Alexandra Hunnell, Armando Manjarres, and Patrick McHenry’s Trio.
Live attendance will be limited to student families but the community is invited to tune in via Music Compound’s Facebook page. For more information, visit musiccompound.com or facebook.com/musiccompound.
PHOTO ID: Singer/songwriter Jennifer Msumba