Teen pop queens of late have been manufactured in a dispiritingly limited variety: blond and blonder, bland and blander.
Samantha Mumba, 17, is a refreshing change. Born in Dublin to a Zambian father and an Irish mother, she's already a star in Europe, and her first single, the winsome "Gotta Tell You," has entered the Top 10 in the U.S. Irish acts have long drawn on American R&B for inspiration. Now the Emerald Isle is sharing some of the soul it borrowed, and American pop could use it.
On Mumba's debut CD, "Gotta Tell You" (Interscope), she speaks the international language of pop, offering up playful lyrics, curvaceous grooves and production as smooth as newly printed bills. One of the best tracks, "Body II Body," wriggles and sweats like two teens making out in the backseat of a small car (it also features a smartly chosen sample from David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes"). Mumba's music is ear candy: It crunches, it bubbles, it melts in the mouth. Her vernal personality (she cowrote seven of the 12 songs) is what gives her CD lasting flavor. She's soulful but never oversings her material; she's youthful but never comes off as childish.
Growing up as a woman of African descent in Ireland, Mumba says, "I never felt different. There's been a little twang of racism recently, because all of a sudden a lot of [Third World] refugees have come to Dublin, and it has been very hard for Ireland to adjust. But people are getting used to it now." Mumba's own adjustment, from relative unknown to international pop star, should be no problem at all.