Hi! My name is Jennifer Msumba and I am an autistic musician, writer and filmmaker from Florida. I am excited to be a new writer for The Musical Autist blog. I will be bringing you content about songwriting, recording and how to get your music out to the world.
Sometimes, as autistic artists, we get overlooked or underestimated when it comes to our work. We are often labeled an “inspiration”- as if we have talent despite our autism, when really, our talent is part of who we are. I believe that my autism gives me a unique lens with which I view the world and helps me write in a way others might not think to.
One time, a friend of mine challenged me to write a song about a random item. I picked applesauce since it is one of my favorite snacks. I sat down and thought of all the ways I was like applesauce. It was a great exercise in songwriting, and I ended up writing one of my most popular songs appropriately titled… Applesauce! It goes like this:
I’m like applesauce
I’ve got grit but I’m sweet
You might not notice me
As I’m walking down your street
But I’ll take this mother lovin’ day
And make it something good
I’m like applesauce
I’m not fancy but I’m cool
I’m smoother than i look
When I’m breaking all the rules
And I’ll take this mother lovin’ hook
And have you singing all day long
Classic. Fruity. Delicious.
Never. Raising. Suspicions.
I’m like applesauce
I’m not hard but I’ve got bite
I’m unassuming but I’ve been in a few fights
But I’m gentle like a spoon
And I’m sharp as a knife
Soon after writing this song, I was told about a songwriting contest for people with disabilities. Perfect! So I entered Applesauce into the contest.
I didn’t win.
I didn’t even place in the top ten runners up.
I was a little down, but I was not out. Because I have learned in life that you never know where an opportunity is going to come from. And if you give up because you lost, you will never reach your goals.
Well, wouldn’t you know, a few weeks later I received an email from a company that curates music for brands to use in their commercials and other content. This company had been a sponsor of that contest. The owner had insisted on listening to all the entries, and that’s how she heard Applesauce. She told me she fell in love with that song and wanted to sign it into their collection. She wanted to pitch it to some very big brands!
The lesson I learned is that if I had not put myself out there and been willing to lose, I would have never gained this opportunity. And that goes for most things in life that you may want. If you never try, you will never know. Yes, losing can hurt, but it’s ok to lose. Because even when you do, you have won something; you have gained experience and knowledge and self-confidence that you can handle it.
I was institutionalized at the age of fifteen. I am now a grown woman. Those years of being in placements really took a toll on my self-esteem and confidence, which was already very low. I was made to believe that I could not function or take part in the world like other adults my age. But deep down inside, I knew I had a lot to give.
When I finally moved to a more independent situation, I flourished. It was hard at first. I had a lot to learn about life that I missed because I did not have those experiences of growing up. But with hard work by me and my support system, I found my talents and skills and worked on building them.
My goal now as a musician is to write songs for film and television. I would like to make my living that way. Also I want to write commercial jingles. Some of my friends call me “Jingle Jen” since I’m always writing new songs. Not every song is going to be a hit. But it’s important to keep writing, learning and growing. You never know when that gem of a song is going to come out of you.
If you are interested in writing your own music, I encourage you one hundred percent. Even if you are not the best musician, if you can learn to play basic chords, that is really all you need. If you don’t know how to play any instruments or that’s not something you are interested in but you want to write lyrics, you can also make a living doing that.
If you have something in your heart…write it. If you feel comfortable…share it with the world.
I am Jennifer Msumba. I came from complete institutionalization to now being a musician, writer and award-winning filmmaker. I have two albums out on all the platforms, and I am now excited to see what comes next. On The Musical Autist, I will take you along on my journey and teach you what I have learned along the way.
I want to leave you with something my mom once told me when I kept jumping out of people’s way and apologizing in a busy supermarket.