AMPLIFY Feature: ZEMBU/Sarah

Issue No. 2: Intersections + Zenbu- September 2021 -------


GOING DEEPER WITH ZEMBU: IDENTITIES, COMMUNITIES AND REPRESENTATION AS ART

Indie-pop electronic producer and artist ZEMBU is based in Colorado and was raised in Seattle. After spending some time in Durango and Fort Collins, she’s now in Denver. A rising musical artist with over 1 million streams across Spotify Editorial playlists, ZEMBU’s been featured in Nylon Magazine, and named one of the “19 Denver Musicians to Watch in 2021” by 303 Magazine, who also featured her single MIXED in February 2021’s New Colorado Music You Should Know. She was featured in “The Local 303” June roster of artists for Indie 102.3, (who’s played her singles, including MIXED [link to article],on rotation).


Since live music has resumed, ZEMBU’s appeared at Silverton Music Fest, Underground Music Showcase, Denver hot spots like Number 38 and Lost Lake and more, at a brisk pace. Equally brisk was her creative output during the pandemic, which has tripled since the onset of 2020.

ZEMBU, also known as Sarah Pumpian, states, “I identify as a Queer Mixed Japanese Jewish American cis woman.”

Her recognizable sound combines ethereal, warm production with layers of soulful vocals. As her website explains, “ZEMBU is for the likes of Sylvan Esso, Kelsey Lu, and Maggie Rogers.” She also sites Lu and Shel of Our Daughter as artists who she admires. ZEMBU’s songwriting features a reflective lyricism that centers on the intersection of her identities, mental health, and social issues.


Growing up in Seattle, she was raised to be proud to be Japanese.

“My mom emigrated to the US when she was in her early twenties and she was really proud of being Japanese and raised us that way too,” she said.

“But my mom died when I was fifteen. With her death, I also lost my connection to my Japanese heritage and ancestry.” At that point, Sarah now realizes that she was connected to her racial and cultural identity in “a surface kind of way.” She was like, “‘I’m Japanese—I’m half-Japanese,’ and not really embracing and understanding all that that means.”


The pandemic lockdown allowed Sarah to reconnect to her heritage in a deeper way and to integrate her racial and cultural identities, along with her values, into her music. She began prioritizing artistic work in “communities and experiences that feel aligned” with her self-identification and intersectionality.


“For the first time, I am collaborating with Japanese artists, Queer artists, and other artists who share different pieces of my identities. I’ve realized the art I want to create is actually within these communities and parts of myself,” she explained (to Indie 102.3).


“I really want to see myself and other underrepresented individuals in music production. And I’m doing a lot of work to produce my own music in its entirety,” she continued.


Part of this mission includes educating and mentoring girls and gender-expansive youth in music production and technology through a program called Beats By Girlz.


“It’s really important to me and I’m putting a lot of intention behind representation in music production, because there is such a gap in gender and race,” she concluded.

Article written by Margaret Ozaki-Graves with quotes from an interview with Courtney Ozaki.


VISIT: MCADENVER.ORG/PODCAST to learn more about ZEMBU/Sarah!