Healing Smiles Through Song: Q&A with James Numbere

James Numbere, centre, surrounded by members of the London Community Gospel Choir. Photo courtesy of James Numbere.

Captivated by the power of music early in life, James Numbere continues to touch the lives of people with his talent and passion for singing.  

Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, James remembers discovering his love of music while singing alongside his siblings in church and listening as his mother preached to the community.

“I’ve been singing ever since I was a kid. My mum was the one who saw the talent and nurtured it by buying us albums to listen to,” James said. “For me, music has always been number one. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

But as James grew up and started college, he detoured away from music and began studying human physiology, eventually landing himself a job with a pharmaceutical firm.

“But I realised I had no passion for it,” James said. “The music kept calling to me.”

Soon thereafter, James enrolled into music school and devoted himself to the musical dream he always envisioned.

Having first crossed paths with Operation Smile throughout his time at the firm, James connected with the organisation once again during his final year of music school, quickly becoming motivated by the work that it was accomplishing around the world.

Ready and eager to do more for Operation Smile, James, with the support of the London Community Gospel Choir, recorded and re-released a song he hopes will inspire people and show them that small acts of kindness can make a big impact in the lives of others.

We recently sat down with James to hear more about his musical journey and his inspiration behind his official song and video for “Smile.” 

Q: What is it about music and, more specifically, songwriting that captivates you? 

A: The power of music, the way it captures our mind and our emotions. There is absolutely nothing like it. I love the process of songwriting. Creating those building blocks that then combine to make something so powerful. The beauty is that a song can be interpreted in different ways by both songwriter and audience. One could write a song from a dark place but, at the end of the day, see the audience finding refuge and comfort from it. Amazing isn’t it? I always look forward to moments when I present my songs to new audiences to see how they react and interpret it.

Q: What’s it like being a part of the London Community Gospel Choir? Tell us more about the group and its work. 

A: Honestly, it’s nothing short of incredible. I joined in 2015, and I have learned and grown a lot as a musician. This is a prestigious choir that has been around for more than 35 years with our leader and founder Reverend Bazil Meade still going strong. The choir is the pioneer of the sound of British Gospel, performing for the Queen of England and the Royal Household multiple times as well as on platforms like the Football Association Challenge Cup and Glastonbury Festival.

The mission of the choir is to spread the message of peace and unity in diversity through music and faith and has performed with stars like Madonna, Gregory Porter, Justin Timberlake, Pink and Sam Smith. It still feels like a dream that the choir got on board to record this track and support Operation Smile.

Q: What was it about Operation Smile that moved you the most? 

A: The passion and drive to change lives one at a time. Sometimes we feel like we need to make a grand gesture to change the world, but that isn’t always the case. It’s the little drops that make an ocean, and I see this every time I read about a child’s life that’s been changed for the better through the work of Operation Smile.

Q: What inspired you to actively pursue fundraising for Operation Smile? Tell us more about those efforts. 

A: When I reached out to Operation Smile in the United Kingdom in my final year of music school and read all of the incredible things being done, I knew I just had to be involved. It hit a little closer to home as I was now directly involved with people who were part of this mission and not just hearsay from my former company. I practically made one of my final year projects to be a fundraising concert and awareness campaign for Operation Smile.

I had a lot of help from my friends with recording “Smile” and going on BBC Radio London to raise awareness. This year, the London Community Gospel Choir came on board and we re-released this single.

Photo courtesy of James Numbere.

Q: Could you tell us about the development of the song “Smile?”

A: The song is a product of great teamwork. I originally co-wrote the song in 2013 with two of my siblings, but it wasn’t until 2018 when I was inspired to do more that I decided to rewrite it. After performing that version with the London Community Gospel Choir at the charity concert, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. So, this year, the choir got on board and we recorded it. I have to say a big thanks to all who were involved as they gave their time and creativity to make this happen. Our musical director especially, Rebecca Thomas, was the mastermind behind the choir arrangements.

Q: The music video is full of beautiful moments and really draws the viewer in with eye contact and genuine displays of emotion. Could you tell us more about the direction of the video and how that relates to Operation Smile?

A: My videographer Half Crescent and I wanted to showcase smiles on people from every walk of life, so we reached out to friends to see if they would love to be part of it. While brainstorming ideas, however, we realised that including everyday people going about their business would better drive home the message of the song, so we headed to Brixton market, a popular market in South London. If you watch the video, some of the smiles you see are literally from strangers we met at the market who graciously agreed to be part of the video.

It was an interesting experience walking up to strangers to ask them to be part of the video. The Nigerian in me found it quite easy, as we can strike up conversations in public places. Half Crescent, who is quite British, was a little bit shy in asking strangers to be part of the video. We still have a real laugh reliving this experience.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: My hope is that this video inspires and puts smiles on the faces of all who watch it, much like what Operation Smile does for children with cleft lip and cleft palate. I believe that a lot more people are also unable to smile, not because of physical impediments, but due to the emotional and psychological trauma from past experiences. With something as little as a smile, we can all help make the world a bit brighter.

Photo courtesy of James Numbere.