An interview with Sunni Faba, SA’s TV and Film trailblazer

If you have had any encounter with Sunni Faba, you’ll agree that her energy is so warm and friendly, one might feel like they’ve been friends with her forever. She’s poised and has a killer smile that is so infectious that you’ll stop and smile yourself. Sunni has been rising through the ranks (at warp speed) in the Film and TV industry and at just 28 years old, already has the accolades and experience that many would kill for. Her breakthrough moment was being a part of the writing team of Ayeye, a hit show following the lives of three young creatives in Jozi (one of my all-time favourites!) and now she is about to take on her biggest role yet – Head Writer for a new drama series.

This trailblazer has gone on to be a part of South Africa’s favourite productions such as Isibaya – where she was nominated for a SAFTA as part of the writing team for Best Achievement in Scriptwriting and Broken Vows which has been nominated this year for three SAFTA’s as a producer and a writer. She was even a scriptwriter for the 22nd South African Music Awards (SAMA’s). She’s unstoppable and has some exciting news to share with Mbewu Movement about her upcoming projects. I sat down with this cool lady over a coffee at her favourite caffeine spot in a Linden, Johannesburg to find out more.

LM: Tell us about yourself and your journey to success.

SF: My name is Sanelisiwe Faba, but they call me Sunni because I went to a model C school *Laughs*. It’s too late to change it now. I grew up in East London and then later moved to Johannesburg with my family, which was quite a culture shock, so I found it difficult to make the transition. I eventually settled in of course and it’s where I currently live.

For my tertiary education I initially studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to become a corporate lawyer. I became clinically depressed whilst there, which was attributed to many things, one of them being away from home and not following a purposeful path of my own. So, I moved back home to Johannesburg to regroup and try to find myself and what my purpose is (I know it sounds cliché). Whilst home, it was my mother who said to me, “You’ve always liked this film and drama stuff, so what can you do with that?”.  From that I decided to enrol at Wits School of Arts and basically had to start from scratch.

“I always say that if the arts are your pull, you can never shut that up. It’s what you’re supposed to be and do and it will catch up with you if you oppress it.” – Sunni Faba

I studied Theatre at Wits, but knew I had to start working in TV and not just be a theatre purist because I thought to myself that the narrative of the ‘poor and struggling artist’ was old and done, so I got a job as an intern director for Lokshin Bioskop. That was a difficult two years because I was studying and working at the same time. I remember being interviewed and told, “You don’t have TV experience, why should we hire you?”. To which I would reply, “I know how to tell stories, I know how to direct and I know how to write. I can pick up the technical work as we go along. Give me the job, let me prove it to you.”

From there I took on more opportunities at eKasi Stories and Lokshin Bioskop as a freelancer and then I got the chance to be a part of the development team for Ayeye. That is the point where I felt my career had started, and that’s when accolades such as being one of Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans came about. This was validation that I was on the right path, for everyone – me and my family. All of this led to more opportunities such as writing and storylining for Isibaya and thereafter Broken Vows working as an Assistant Creative Producer and Writer.

LM: Tell us about the things that remain largest influences of your work.

SF: Black people. Black people’s stories told by black people are so underrepresented in everything! What’s great about television is that it really one of the key mediums for education in South Africa, so it has great responsibility and I feel privileged to be a part of that. I need to be one of those black people telling our story!

I also just want to make dope work. Work  that I’m super proud of and that people love. I was getting a wax this one day and the lady was telling me about a film she had watched that I happened to have directed. I wanted to tell her but I didn’t, thinking she wouldn’t believe me anyway. So it lives beyond me, it’s bigger than me!

And my parents influence me a lot – they are super proud of me.

image3
Image courtesy of Sunni Faba

LM: What are the experiences of being a black woman in your industry?

SF: The industry is still very white and very male. As a black woman, like in many other industries you always have to prove yourself and people are always waiting for you to under-deliver. Generally black women are there to provide great stories but we don’t ‘own’ anything, we don’t run the shows and we’re not the executive producers on the shows. So we’re harvested for the goods, but just for a salary.

If you look at the credits after a South African show or film, in the key roles you’ll find:

First place is white male.

Second place is white women.

Black people later… for the grunt work and providing the ‘black

experience’

Also, many writing rooms are still so white. They say we don’t have enough good black experienced writers, but television has only been made by white people for decades – so where is this experience supposed to come from? We need to correct the practise that stories are taken from black people, but white people write them and get the accolades. How am I supposed to be a ‘good, experienced writer’ when you’ve taken my stories and not given me the chance to write and produce them myself? Currently, the way shows are created in this country is through affiliation with a big typically white owned production company. So the whole model needs to change. We need to start to take chances on the little guys – stop having me around to just be the black voice in the room. My value extends past that. There is a lot happening, but very slowly. It’s frustrating because what we as young black creatives are doing is amazing and important.

LM: Why do you like storytelling?

SF: When I write I get to understand my own thoughts clearer. I get to tell stories and live all these amazing different lives. I get to understand other people and it kind of makes you an expert on many things. If I wasn’t able to write, I would go crazy!

I love going home to the Eastern Cape because my life in Joburg is different to a young woman my age who lives there. So her story needs to be told as well.

Stories are universal.

image1
Image courtesy of Sunni Faba

LM: Who is your role model?

SF: My Mom *smiles*. I genuinely believe that if she was born in this time, she would be doing what I’m doing now – even better. She always told us ‘iintsomi’ growing up. She has a knack for it. She is a teacher, my teacher. She’s an amazing storyteller and where I get my story brain from.

LM: What’s next for Sunni Faba and how do we keep up with you?

SF: I’m excited to share with you that I will be Head Writer for a 13-part medical drama for SABC this year! I have put together a kickass team consisting mainly of young, smart and talented black female writers. I believe in the team so much and can’t wait to share our work with the world. Stay tuned *smiles*.

Other than that I appreciate the support even just by retweeting something or watching something – I need the ratings!  I just want to create, produce and own. From the ‘land’ to the TV, we need to own this stuff.

I also just want to make work that I see myself in, that I see my friends in. No one has ever done it the way we are doing it now. We are so interesting. We should never forget that.

All social media is @sunnifaba

 

Lilitha Mahlati Smile

 

Interview conducted by Lilitha Mahlati, an investment banker and founding member of Mbewu Movement. She describes herself as a gender and transformation activist who enjoys learning new languages and travelling the globe.

An interview with Sunni Faba, SA’s TV and Film trailblazer

If you have had any encounter with Sunni Faba, you’ll agree that her energy is so warm and friendly, one might feel like they’ve been friends with her forever. She’s poised and has a killer smile that is so infectious that you’ll stop and smile yourself. Sunni has been rising through the ranks (at warp speed) in the Film and TV industry and at just 28 years old, already has the accolades and experience that many would kill for. Her breakthrough moment was being a part of the writing team of Ayeye, a hit show following the lives of three young creatives in Jozi (one of my all-time favourites!) and now she is about to take on her biggest role yet – Head Writer for a new drama series.
This trailblazer has gone on to be a part of South Africa’s favourite productions such as Isibaya – where she was nominated for a SAFTA as part of the writing team for Best Achievement in Scriptwriting and Broken Vows which has been nominated this year for three SAFTA’s as a producer and a writer. She was even a scriptwriter for the 22nd South African Music Awards (SAMA’s). She’s unstoppable and has some exciting news to share with Mbewu Movement about her upcoming projects. I sat down with this cool lady over a coffee at her favourite caffeine spot in a Linden, Johannesburg to find out more.
LM: Tell us about yourself and your journey to success.
SF: My name is Sanelisiwe Faba, but they call me Sunni because I went to a model C school *Laughs*. It’s too late to change it now. I grew up in East London and then later moved to Johannesburg with my family, which was quite a culture shock, so I found it difficult to make the transition. I eventually settled in of course and it’s where I currently live.
For my tertiary education I initially studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to become a corporate lawyer. I became clinically depressed whilst there, which was attributed to many things, one of them being away from home and not following a purposeful path of my own. So, I moved back home to Johannesburg to regroup and try to find myself and what my purpose is (I know it sounds cliché). Whilst home, it was my mother who said to me, “You’ve always liked this film and drama stuff, so what can you do with that?”.  From that I decided to enrol at Wits School of Arts and basically had to start from scratch.

“I always say that if the arts are your pull, you can never shut that up. It’s what you’re supposed to be and do and it will catch up with you if you oppress it.” – Sunni Faba

I studied Theatre at Wits, but knew I had to start working in TV and not just be a theatre purist because I thought to myself that the narrative of the ‘poor and struggling artist’ was old and done, so I got a job as an intern director for Lokshin Bioskop. That was a difficult two years because I was studying and working at the same time. I remember being interviewed and told, “You don’t have TV experience, why should we hire you?”. To which I would reply, “I know how to tell stories, I know how to direct and I know how to write. I can pick up the technical work as we go along. Give me the job, let me prove it to you.”
From there I took on more opportunities at eKasi Stories and Lokshin Bioskop as a freelancer and then I got the chance to be a part of the development team for Ayeye. That is the point where I felt my career had started, and that’s when accolades such as being one of Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans came about. This was validation that I was on the right path, for everyone – me and my family. All of this led to more opportunities such as writing and storylining for Isibaya and thereafter Broken Vows working as an Assistant Creative Producer and Writer.
LM: Tell us about the things that remain largest influences of your work.
SF: Black people. Black people’s stories told by black people are so underrepresented in everything! What’s great about television is that it really one of the key mediums for education in South Africa, so it has great responsibility and I feel privileged to be a part of that. I need to be one of those black people telling our story!
I also just want to make dope work. Work  that I’m super proud of and that people love. I was getting a wax this one day and the lady was telling me about a film she had watched that I happened to have directed. I wanted to tell her but I didn’t, thinking she wouldn’t believe me anyway. So it lives beyond me, it’s bigger than me!
And my parents influence me a lot – they are super proud of me.

image3
Image courtesy of Sunni Faba

LM: What are the experiences of being a black woman in your industry?
SF: The industry is still very white and very male. As a black woman, like in many other industries you always have to prove yourself and people are always waiting for you to under-deliver. Generally black women are there to provide great stories but we don’t ‘own’ anything, we don’t run the shows and we’re not the executive producers on the shows. So we’re harvested for the goods, but just for a salary.
If you look at the credits after a South African show or film, in the key roles you’ll find:

First place is white male.

Second place is white women.

Black people later… for the grunt work and providing the ‘black

experience’

Also, many writing rooms are still so white. They say we don’t have enough good black experienced writers, but television has only been made by white people for decades – so where is this experience supposed to come from? We need to correct the practise that stories are taken from black people, but white people write them and get the accolades. How am I supposed to be a ‘good, experienced writer’ when you’ve taken my stories and not given me the chance to write and produce them myself? Currently, the way shows are created in this country is through affiliation with a big typically white owned production company. So the whole model needs to change. We need to start to take chances on the little guys – stop having me around to just be the black voice in the room. My value extends past that. There is a lot happening, but very slowly. It’s frustrating because what we as young black creatives are doing is amazing and important.
LM: Why do you like storytelling?
SF: When I write I get to understand my own thoughts clearer. I get to tell stories and live all these amazing different lives. I get to understand other people and it kind of makes you an expert on many things. If I wasn’t able to write, I would go crazy!
I love going home to the Eastern Cape because my life in Joburg is different to a young woman my age who lives there. So her story needs to be told as well.
Stories are universal.

image1
Image courtesy of Sunni Faba

LM: Who is your role model?
SF: My Mom *smiles*. I genuinely believe that if she was born in this time, she would be doing what I’m doing now – even better. She always told us ‘iintsomi’ growing up. She has a knack for it. She is a teacher, my teacher. She’s an amazing storyteller and where I get my story brain from.
LM: What’s next for Sunni Faba and how do we keep up with you?
SF: I’m excited to share with you that I will be Head Writer for a 13-part medical drama for SABC this year! I have put together a kickass team consisting mainly of young, smart and talented black female writers. I believe in the team so much and can’t wait to share our work with the world. Stay tuned *smiles*.
Other than that I appreciate the support even just by retweeting something or watching something – I need the ratings!  I just want to create, produce and own. From the ‘land’ to the TV, we need to own this stuff.
I also just want to make work that I see myself in, that I see my friends in. No one has ever done it the way we are doing it now. We are so interesting. We should never forget that.
All social media is @sunnifaba

Lilitha Mahlati Smile

Interview conducted by Lilitha Mahlati, an investment banker and founding member of Mbewu Movement. She describes herself as a gender and transformation activist who enjoys learning new languages and travelling the globe.

An interview with Thami Zikalala: On Pop Art & Her Design Thinking

For many art aficionados the heydays of the pop art movement between 1960s and 1970s were a fascinating time. Andy Warhol was at the forefront of disrupting the high art world, not only because of how it brought pop culture and consumerism in to elite gallery spaces, but also because of how he went from a career as a print ad illustrator to becoming one of the most dynamic artists in art history.

Half a century later, in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg South Africa, Thami Zikalala is spending her nights building a solid portfolio of her own art work and networking with young pop culture influencers from around the world. Thami does this because she is acutely aware that we’re living in a world where customisation is the key to consumers, and, youth are playing a large role in shaping pop culture and driving consumerism across the globe. With this in mind, coupled with her artistic talents, she started a business called Misstpink Illustrations, creating customised every day products such as cell-phone covers, mugs, diaries and other functional items. With a mere stroke of a brush, Thami merges illustration, design thinking, customization and pop culture lifestyle. And similarly, while Andy Warhol used images of iconic celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in his work, Thami has illustrated South African stars like Minnie Dlamini, Somizi and DJ Black Coffee, as well as international bloggers. But what makes me personally connect with Zikalala’s work is how her products and illustrations aren’t just an accessible celebration of pop art and culture, they also aim to inspire.

Photo 1

MR: I’ve been following your work on social media and I love how you customize items that you would use every day, like mugs, diaries, cell phone covers etc. In fact it reminded me of the “Share a Coke” campaign (click here for campaign story), where Coke replaced the position of their brand name on the centre of Coke bottles around the world with the names of ordinary people, and it became a huge hit for their brand. What inspired you to go down this creative path?

TZ: I’ve actually never made that connection before with Coke, but I first noticed the growing trend and demand for customization Illustration when I joined Instagram. It was very inspiring to see designers using their skills on other platforms, art was no longer only on a canvas in a gallery or home, it could be on something as functional as your cell phone cover- and this blew me away. But then I thought to myself- Where can this be done locally? Who does this locally? And because no-one came to mind, I decided I would do this myself. I’m also a Graphic Designer and have an art background, so I knew that I could teach myself how to illustrate on Illustrator, and so the only other thing I needed to do was to source suppliers. It took well over a year for me to develop my technique and there’s still so much more to learn. As part of my initial learning process, I’d practice my art work and visit a Facebook group called South African Graphic Designers. The group encourages designers to share and critique art in the spirit of helping one another become better at their craft. When I shared my work I’d get very detailed feedback, and getting feedback from others who were my peers was incredibly helpful, because they would tell me exactly what I needed to work on to get better at illustrating. I’d also watch tutorials on YouTube specifically on topics I was working on improving and I saw myself starting to improve. I’m also a perfectionist so I take learning very seriously.

MR: Where do you find your creative inspiration?

TZ:  I actually use Instagram a lot to get inspiration. I have an Instagram page that’s dedicated to my business. I use that page to follow other fashion illustrators, graphic designers and fine artists, they inspire me and share a common interest in illustration and design.

[Writer’s note: after the interview, I looked at the pages that the Misstpink Instagram page follows and spent hours marveling at the exceptionally talented artists who were suddenly at my fingertips. Check it out!]

Photo 2

MR: I’ve also picked up some recurring themes in your work like romance, female empowerment, fashion, spirituality…

TZ: … And Pop! Pop is the most prominent theme in my illustrations. And this is also where I try to balance out the work I do on building my generic designs versus my customized design, because I cater for a diverse set of customers. If my customers can’t afford the more expensive customized product, I offer them a range of generic illustrations which are cool but more accessible. But I must admit, designing generics is actually quite challenging, because you have to think outside the box about what will appeal to a mass audience as opposed to an individual. Over the years, I’ve noticed which of my designs are most popular and really resonate with my customers and followers. As you mentioned, the “Work like a Boss” and “Stay Focused and Fabulous” illustrations, the most popular designs are the ones that have empowering messages for women. My female customers love the everyday motivation and encouragement to be confident, be in charge and go places. I also deliberately use words like smart, beautiful, focused and boss in my designs because women identify with all these positive qualities.

MR: I also think the beauty about being in the early stages of your business is that you can stay highly in tune with your customers, and it seems like you have access to your customers through various channels, predominantly social media. Geographically, where are you seeing most of your demand?

TZ: I actually have a lot of demand from the US to illustrate, especially with hair bloggers who have a big following. What I’ve learnt about my clients is that they want to embrace their ethnicity and feel empowered, which I capture in my art. Also, when they share the work that I’ve done for them on social media, I get more likes and even more demand for my work follows. So, whenever I see the likes on my social media pages suddenly spike, I know I’m on to something hot. And, if a customized illustration becomes really popular, then I look at ways to reuse the concept and / or make a generic version of it.

But what’s also been great about illustrating local celebrities like Black Coffee, Tumi Voster, Amanda du Pont, Nandi Mngoma and Minnie Dlamini, is that they show support and appreciate by sharing my work with their audience on social media. This has also helped raise my profile and also connected me to their fans who may approach me to make them a product with their favorite celeb’s image on it.

Photo 3

MR: With all your incredible talent, I’m curious about what your bigger dream is for you and your business?

TZ: I see my business growing into retail and having stores similar to the Australian company, Typo. But, at this stage I’m still focused on building my portfolio, creating more demand and I’m close to finishing off my post-graduate degree in Graphic Design. Interestingly, my dissertation is also focused on researching how to create generic designs that appeal specifically to youth. So I’ll be using my dissertation and my business experience to build the intellectual property of my business, expand my client base and pursue a retail deal. Alternatively, because I’ve got a lot of international demand, I may also see where that takes me and pursue work opportunities abroad.

I recently watched an interview with the high-powered CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. Interestingly, a major theme she raised was the importance of design thinking in any organization. She defined design as “something you embed in a product that romances the consumer and draws them to that product”. Nooyi then spoke about how her challenge, when she became CEO, was that PepsiCo had an old school view of design largely because it was a heritage brand. And so, what she did to learn how to change this was spend time shadowing Steve Jobs, to learn more about his design philosophy and how he entrenched his thinking at Apple. Popular global brands have the constant challenge of thinking outside the box to develop designs that will capture a massive consumer base, while appealing to our growing soft spot for customization. Thami is rising up to this challenge too, while her consumer base continues to expand. Looking at Thami’s international growth and prospects, I can’t help but think this is a sign of something significant. Thami is not only stretching herself to become a more dynamic artist, she’s showing how South African art and culture can influence global trends and empower.

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Merchandise by Thami Zikalala, Illustrator & Owner of Misstpink Illustrations

Article by: Magcino Radebe | Mbewu Movement Founding Member

Magcino Radebe holds a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (University of Cape Town). She is an Executive Assistant in Financial Services

An Interview With Thandi Ntuli: On Success, Afro-Jazz & Soothing Lonely Hearts

The glitz and the glamour of the music industry often fools the public into thinking that everything comes easy for young and talented artists. We hardly ever see the diligence, tenacity, resilience and sheer hustle that all comes with the territory when perfecting the studio recordings, expressing both power and vulnerability on stage, and creatively visualizing songs into music videos. In fact, artistic recognition does not come easy. As a friend and fan of jazz musician Thandi Ntuli, I have had the joy of watching her evolve musically- from performing during lunchtime recitals at the UCT’s Music College, to sharing the stage with Thandiswa Mazwai and, most recently, being recognized for her debut album “The Offering” with a number of coveted awards and nominations under her belt. But although I know her well, I wanted to interview Thandi because I believe she offers interesting philosophies on crafting, achieving and managing a successful career that young professionals across any industry or background could learn from.

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE BETTER THAN YOU

MM: We’re friends and we’ve known each other personally for almost a decade. I would personally describe you as extrovert and outspoken yet humble, intuitive and curious. How do you continue to exude your authentic qualities in an industry which is perceived to be, on the one hand, all about the glitz and glam, and on the other, notoriously cut throat and scandalous?

TN: Firstly, I never buy into my own hype because it’s so easy to lose your perspective on what’s real and get caught up in some of the distractions in the music industry. Secondly, I’m fortunate that the jazz industry isn’t necessarily linked with as much glamour / controversy as some other music genres like house, hip hop and pop. But being recognized in the industry does come with a public life and I think you just have to remind yourself that at the end of the day you’ll go home to your family and still get sent to wash the dishes [laughs], regardless of who you are to the public.

MM: And what about having reached this level of success, fame and recognition at such a young age with your debut album “The Offering”? I think there’s something to be said about how young professionals cope with success and continue to accelerate their careers across various industries. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage the pressure of having built a strong name for yourself in the industry and still have the drive to achieve more?

TN: The main challenge for me is that I always think about what’s next, and that’s the kind of pressure that I put myself under. Doing well is an amazing feeling but you can also get comfortable and forget about the importance of having longevity- Michael Jackson didn’t record one album and then chill out. Also, a lot of my peers challenge themselves and have achieved a lot more than me, and this keeps me in check because I realise there are other things that I still need to strive for, like taking my music overseas and exposing my music to new markets, which broadens my perspective on what I could still do next. That’s why they say that when you want to get better at something you have to surround yourself with people who are better than you at it.

Inspiration

FIND AND ACKNOWLEDGE POSITIVE INFLUENCES THAT SHAPE YOUR CAREER

MM: So I was really impressed with your debut album “The Offering” and if I were to describe it in one word, I’d say it is elegant. One of the interesting things I noticed was that you have some songs on the album dedicated to your family, particularly your parents and your grandmother. Did you deliberately do this because “The Offering” was your first album, a special milestone in your career, and this was a way to honour the role your family played in helping you get to this point? Or do you foresee your family as being a constant source of inspiration in your music?

TN: I believe my family groomed me to be who I am before anyone else in the world did, so it was important for me to acknowledge them upon reaching this milestone. I may not have intentionally thought to dedicate the songs to my family while I was writing the songs but because of the creative space I was in while I was writing those songs, it made sense to dedicate my work to my family. More recently, I’ve actually been asking myself what my voice is on social issues because I’d like to incorporate this into my music going forward. So my sources of inspiration are growing and dedicating my music solely to my family might not be something I carry on forever. But, I think there will always be an element of wanting to dedicate some aspects of my creativity to my family.

MM: I know you recently traveled to Ethiopia on holiday and you’ve traveled to various parts of the continent both professionally and for leisure. During your travels do you pick up any musical influences or styles that inspired your music or are your travels purely pleasure?

TN: I don’t think it’s ever purely pleasure when you’re an artist, because every [travelling] experience affects you somehow, even when you’re not intentionally seeking inspiration. In terms of African influences in particular, I have a very strong connection to Malian music although I’ve actually never been to Mali. On my album I have a song titled “Sangare” which is dedicated to Oumou Sangare because when I heard her music for the first time I was like “Hallelujah!” [Laughs]

I also think we have yet to really fully explore how much African music could influence us as South African jazz artists; it’s still very much untapped. Similarly, there isn’t much of an exchange of South African jazz music influencing the rest of the continents artists, so it’s like we’re passing each other. The most I’ve personally seen is a significant following and respect for Jimmy Dludlu in Nigeria. I think our unfortunate difficulty is that we don’t have a common medium of distributing our music to other countries and this means we become disconnected with what’s happening in the jazz scene in the rest of the continent. I believe this fundamentally needs to change.

 COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO ENRICH YOUR OWN WORK AND THEIRS

MM: Are there any collaborations in the pipeline for you, or perhaps on your wish list?

TN: Locally, I’d love to work with Keke from The Muffinz in the near future- he has a beautiful voice. And more generally, I’m quite open to enriching my sound, so working with international artists is definitely on my wish list too.

MM: And what about collaborations outside of the jazz world? I was fortunate enough to see you and DJ Kenzhero perform at The Orbit together, which was a really funky blend of jazz and hip hop. Can we expect to see you branching out of the jazz genre more?

TN: I don’t have anything planned as yet, although I am looking at continuing the project that DJ Kenzhero and I partnered on again this year. I would actually like to write songs for some of the great new voices we have in South Africa, like Ayanda Jiya, I’d love to write for her. I’ve also been working with a house producer called Sit LSG, co-producing his house album, which has been hard work and great learning curve.

 Kick ass

SELF-CONFIDENCE UNLOCKS YOUR ABILITY TO LEAD YOUR INDUSTRY AND INFLUENCE THE WORLD

MM: You were also selected to play in Thandiswa Mazwai’s all-woman band and I’m curious about what this experience taught you about the music industry?

TN: I’ve never believed that women are less talented than men, but unfortunately there is this still a popular perception in the industry and so many women musicians carry that self-doubt in the back of our minds without even knowing it. So it was really empowering for me to play in an all women band, because it wasn’t just about us all being girls and looking great on stage, I was also playing with really high caliber musicians and we kicked ass. But I think there’s still more to be done to shift the negative perception about female talent because there are young up-and-coming female instrumentalists who need to be encouraged to pursue their dreams and make their mark in the industry.

MM: In your Kaya FM Jazzuary interview you pointed out that South African jazz music in particular has been very successful at putting South African music on the map internationally. Is it in your plans to develop an international presence?

TN: I don’t think I’ll ever feel I’ve succeeded until I’ve exported my music internationally. I also think what the likes of Mariam Makeba and Hugh Masekela did with sharing South African culture, music, society and politics with the world, was really special. That was during the golden time of South African music, and there was no shortage of huge international South African names. But what we need to do now is be more aggressive with distributing our own music. In Ethiopia, there wasn’t a single radio station that played anything other than Ethiopian music, which is commendable. Because, I think if there’s a dominant culture present in a society, it will always water down the weaker culture. And in our case our heritage is the weaker heritage so in the years to come our music will sound more and more like American music. Whereas in the golden years, we had our own sound and people recognized that we were special people with something special to offer the world. It’s no accident that Ladysmith Black Mambazo have had so much international success and that artists like Paul Simon were strongly influenced by South African sound and music.

Career

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR GIFT AND THE IMPACT YOU HAVE WHEN YOU SHARE YOUR GIFT WITH OTHERS

MM: What has been some of the best career advice you’ve received?

TN: Jimmy Dludlu’s advice to me was “keep practicing and believe in your talent no matter what”. I’ll always remember this advice because in this industry you don’t know when you’ll have your big break or whether your talent will ever be recognized. But nonetheless, you have stay focused on your work.

Another pearl of wisdom I received was last year when I played at a SAMRO event, and met Mam’ Dorothy Masuka and Mam’ Abigail Kubeka. They told us that “we are in a very special industry and this job is so beautiful because you give people joy and healing and there will be many blessings for sharing your gift with people. You may never really know what impact you have on people’s lives by just doing what you do… Always keep a clean heart and have the right intentions with what you do.”

MM: That’s a very interesting perspective- that music gives joy and healing. When you think about it as general consumer of music, after a stressful week at work you might play your favourite album to calm you down or lift your spirit, you may have a special album you like to meditate to or an album that perfectly sets the mood for a dinner party. Have you ever experienced the impact that your music has had on someone’s life?

TN: A friend of mine sent me a long message which read that she had gone through depression, and through that difficult and dark time Lonely Heart was HER song and she would just listen to it all the time. She thanked me for the song and told me to keep doing what I do. I don’t expect that kind of reaction but when I get it, it’s incredibly rewarding and special.

Serendipitously, as I started my car to drive home from this interview a song titled “In-Between Spaces” from Thandi’s album immediately came on the radio. And as I drove home I reflected on the inspiring afternoon I spent with a trail blazing young South African. Her approach to achieving and managing career success as a young professional is clearly grounded on self-mastery and a deep passion for her craft. In fact, this interview with Thandi reminded me of Oprah Winfrey’s career-life philosophy “align your personality with your purpose, and nobody can touch you”.

Article by: Magcino Radebe | Mbewu Movement Founding Member

Magcino Radebe holds a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (University of Cape Town). She is an Executive Assistant in Financial Services.