“Man was made to hold his head erect in majesty and see the sky, to raise his eyes to the bright stars above,” the Roman poet Ovid wrote in 8AD, in his Latin literary epic Metamorphoses. You don’t need to tell this to Rina Mushonga. The London-based, Dutch-Zimbabwean pop innovator, whose new album In A Galaxy was part inspired by Metamorphoses, is full of reflections on the cosmos and our place in it. “The title refers to how relative space and time are in how we perceive and judge each other,” she explains of her follow-up to 2014 debut The Wild, The Wilderness. “Earth viewed as part of a galaxy binds us in our humanity.” The universe is infinite in its expanse, as Ovid observed. Mushonga’s In A Galaxy weaves into an glittering constellation of warped synths, Afropop rhythms and addictive, soul-lifting vocal harmonies the suggestion that we’re all specks of dust floating through that expanse, whose differences seem insignificant up against that truth.

Describing the album as sounding like “Paul Simon in a sweaty, African dancehall club,” Mushonga explains that the record is a result of four years spent “trying to filter out the noise more, to go with my gut more, trust my instinct and my taste, even if people think it's weird or too much.” Working both in her adopted hometown of Peckham with producer Brett Shaw and with “my musical besty and synth whisperer” Frans Verburg in his Rotterdam basement studio, In A Galaxy buzzes with an eclecticism that might be traced back to heritage and history of moving around: at various points of her life, Mushonga has lived in India, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands before moving to London. “My life always felt very cross-pollinated,” says Mushonga. “My Dad always proudly called us global citizens – we belonged everywhere. I loved that, I identified with that. My music doesn't have to choose to express anything but myself – a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And it's that genre-hopping that best represents me, how I see things and experience the world.”

As well as intense Roman poetry, fans have a football injury to thank for the album. “It was my first summer living in London and I'd snapped my achilles tendon,” she recalls. “Which sucked ‘cos it made me pretty immobile. But it also made me focus and just write.” Taking over the living room of the Peckham house she was crashing in, Mushonga “sat there for a good month or more with the window wide open, my leg propped up in a cast, with my laptop, a mic, a guitar, a MIDI keyboard and that was it.” She allowed the sounds that drifted through the window to steer her sonic experiments. “Peckham summertime was unfolding outside my window,” Rina remembers. “Traffic, kids coming home from school, bits of conversation, music. It unlocked something new in me, watching the kids play outside the hair salons with west African women yelling at me to come in and have my hair sorted out. The songs pretty much poured out of me.”

Peckham’s influence is most evident on single ‘4qrtrs’, named after one of her favourite local haunts, an arcade bar in the culturally-diverse neighbourhood’s heartland. Elsewhere on In A Galaxy, Mushonga’s attention wanders further afield. The time-twisting piano ballad ‘Glory’ was written in a fit of anger at news footage of the violent 2017 clashes in Charlottesville. “Seeing images of white dudes with swastika flags and burning torches and white KKK hoods just pierced right through me,” she says. “I was just in tears, weeping.” ‘Narcisc0’ meanwhile, raises a middle finger to #NotAllMen idiots whose ignorant remarks online miss the point of recent feminist debates in western culture. “With the #MeToo movement, guys were starting to say shit like ‘now we can't even flirt anymore!' and referring to the movement as a 'witch hunt'. I guess the track is a straight-up 'it's not about you!' to white male fragility.” From the album’s fizzing opener ‘Pipe Dreamz’ to its dynamic synth climax ‘Jungles’ (a track five years in the making), In A Galaxy whisks through ideas and imaginative sounds at warp speed, thrilling every step of the way.

Mushonga grew up in a church-going family who exposed her early on to the likes of Nina Simone, Oliver Mtukudzi, Tori Amos, Fleetwood Mac, Joan Armatrading and U2. On In A Galaxy, her influences evolved: Santigold, Blood Orange, Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer and Solange were reference points, as well as Afrobeat marvels discovered in dusty second-hand record shops, such as Francis Bebey, Bhundu Boys and Hallelujah Chicken Run Band. “I even checked out some Phil Collins again,” laughs Rina. With kaleidoscopic artwork courtesy of Dominique van Rhee, who designed it “with me breathing down his neck like a freakin' micromanaging control freak, bless him,” In A Galaxy is a record that’s “colourful, luxurious, bold and both intricate and intimate at times,” says its creator. “I guess the cover is kind of this imagined utopia – this luscious, elusive planet in a galaxy far far away.” That place doesn’t need to be a fantasy, the album implores. If it can’t fix our broken world, Mushonga hopes it at least helps heal some individual listeners. “I hope people find it refreshing and maybe even hear something new and are moved, maybe to dance, maybe to cry.” Mankind was made to raise its eyes to bright stars, as Ovid pointed out. They don’t come much brighter than Rina Mushonga.