I suspect my journey in the music industry began in 1996 when I was 16. At the time, I was at Queenstown girls High School and two major bands had burst onto the music scene, Boom Shaka and Bongo Maffin.
These 2 bands had a huge impact on my life because, 1stly I will never forget the 1st time I saw Boom Shaka on tv. Along with most of South Africa, my eyes were glued to the screen and my jaw DROPPED.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. What Lebo, Thembi, Junior and
Theo did to South Africa will forever be imprinted in the history of South Africa.
2ndly, my older sister Thandiswa was in Bongo Maffin.
I spent my holidays at my sister’s flat during this time and would often be blown away as all these celebrities would just pop by.
This, for a 16 year old is some kind of a big deal!
I would run upstairs and steal my sisters phone to call a friend in Queenstown on some ….’ yo man! You won’t believe who is here???’ The list would go from Mashamplani, Boom Shaka, Thebe, Oskido, Trompies.
From a young age, I had to learn to contain the excitement.
In my 20’s at university, I became the Bongo Maffin mascot which was somewhat enforced upon them. I just knew that I loved music festivals and demmet I just wanted to see Lebo Mathosa on stage. I was a very well behaved groupie. Well, I guess having big sister there also keeps one in their own lane.
Since my 1st day at school at 6yrs old, I have been called ‘mtnanakaboThandiswa’ or ‘uThandiswa omncane.’ This is what pretty much happened in the industry too.
I was this kid, hanging around the musicians……addicted to the musicians.
In my early 20’s I discovered my gift for beadwork. I pretty much walked into the beadwork without much thought. It was a way to kill time, but it resulted in the creation of my beadwork label House of Mobu in 2002. My beadwork did REALLY well. It was in most fashion spreads, the face of my label was my older sister which helped my work to be exposed to a larger audience.
I really loved my beadwork…..but deep down inside…..mainly…….I was a closet poet.
I have loved writing poems since I was in high school.
I was an outcast in high school so I spent most of my breaks in the library reading poetry. I used Poems to escape from girl’s school ‘ugliness.’
In the early 2000s open mic sessions were a trend and I would go sell my beadwork there. I loved the whole vibe of musicians, poets and rappers. I used to go to every session in town selling my beads. I used to frequent Monday Blues the most.
I don’t mean to be rude but, I didn’t think the host was doing a good job so I asked him if I could co-host with him. Lol! I am aware that I have an infectious spirit that makes people feel good and I know when it’s time to use it.
I took over hosting Monday Blues while my poems remained in the closet. However, towards the end of 2003, my poems starting saying, “NTSIKI!”
One day I went to a different session, Jungle Connection, and one of the starring poets of the time, Righteous The Common Man, pushed me to go read my poem on stage. I had just shown him one while we were watching the show. I summed up all the courage I could, I stopped judging myself and I went on stage.
I did my poem Qhawekazi. I got a standing ovation and encore.
Qhawekazi is the poem I went on to perform at Thabo Mbeki’s inauguration in 2004, that tv appearance introduced South Africa to Ntsiki Mazwai the poet.
After my 1st performance, I went on to rock MANY sessions. I became a highlight to the sessions, along with other strong voices of that time Lebo Mashile, Tumi, Mak Manaka, Flo, Afurakan, Kojo, Kabomo.
At the time, there were sessions called Black Sunday which were pioneers in the live entertainment industry in townships. Black Sundays was a hip hop movement which was the thread between hip hop crews in Johannesburg. It nurtured and gave rise to acts such as Prokid, 985, Pitch Black Afro, Roots2000 (MXO and SliqAngel) and many other underground hip hop big names. It also led the way for more hip hop sessions in Soweto, such as Slaghuis, 1808, The greaveyard, Streetpop and many other sessions in different neighbourhoods.
This movement had a strong feminine element and I grew up alongside Queen Mojaji (Masello Motana), Nomkhubulwane, Qba, Heds On The Rise, Nosisi, Domenique Soma, Bianca and other strong female voices.
In 2004 I met Myesha Jenkins and Napo Masheane in a male dominated writer’s conference in Port Elizabeth. We decided to have a woman’s only show. We then put out a call to all women poets. On the day of the meeting, Lebo Mashile arrived and that is how FEELA SISTAH was formed.
FEELA SISTAH was meant to be 1 show at the Bassline, but it catapulted into a movement. Never before, has South Africa seen 4 beautiful, vocal African women take to the stage.
Feela Sistah blazed into a fire which we ourselves did not see coming. Feela Sistah turned us into instant celebrities and we were booked EVERYWHERE. Feela Sista commercialised the dying art of poetry and brought it back into the mainstream.
It was an amazing experience. It was full of glory moments. It was a powerful experience.
However, if you cannot have 2 bulls in a kraal…..what about 4?
Feela Sistah had a full journey for about 18months but we went our separate ways after discovering our dreams were different.
At the time I was performing my poetry with a female Beatboxer, Nikki and I knew that I wanted to take a more musical route. Those poetry ONLY sessions can really bore the hell out of me, so I didn’t really want to go that route. I wanted music to my rhymes.
When Feela Sistah split, I turned my focused to my music and my debut album MaMiya. I was an independent artist so I had to beg people for studio time, charm musicians….anything to get my poems on musical records. We managed to pull together a band, Nikki and I. We had a guitarist, saxophonist and at times Nikki would play the Jembes. We did gigs and recorded the album by hustling. We had this funky jam called uRongo on the album and I happened to have the vocals of it on cd.
In university, my best friend was a dj. He is now on Metrofm. Around 2005 I was hanging aroung him a lot again. Dj Sphectacular had a crew of djs that he hung out with….Eu4nik, Mzee, Naves.
One day Dj Sphectacular suggested I give Eu4nik my vocals. It was such an easy process. Eu4nik got the vocal and within the week he brought back the house version of uRongo.
I must be honest, I didn’t really see the big deal…..but it was when the song became the biggest song in 2005 that I realised that maybe it was a big deal.
Urongo came into the music scene like a gandaganda. It trampled all over everybody’s efforts hahahahahahahhaha! uRongo TOOK its moment.
At the time, I was 25 and going through a personal tragedy so I didn’t really have time to engage with it. Another thing is that a year before, I had released my 1st song with Glen Lewis on an album which included Lebo Mathosa, Rebecca Malope, Brenda Fassie so there had been no hype around my 1st song ‘Light Up my Life.’
So when uRongo happened….I just simply wasn’t ready for it. I was an outsider watching the success of my own song. I could have exploited uRongo more, but didn’t however it did seal my presence in the music industry. It gave me a solid enough foundation to carry my career.
I soon sold my record to Gallo Records but 3 months later got my clearance. The industry is a political space and my spirit struggles sometimes with some of these dynamics.
I thought a major label would add more value to me…it didn’t.
My experience with a major label was a bit traumatic and I had to make the transition back to being Indie in 2008.
I then decided to do a play at the Market Theatre to distract myself. The play was called ‘Ntsiki Speaks.’ It happened to fall at the same time as the rape campaign I did. Stripping naked at 27 was a wild move but it was worth the cause. I feel strongly about violence against women, so it didn’t matter to me….the back lash. However what it also did, was it liberated me. I stripped naked…there was nothing left to hide.
The play did well. It balanced a little bit of the negative publicity I was getting. The media had positioned the rape campaign so badly, the play helped me focus my energy and continue positioning myself as a brand that creates work that has quality and depth.
The tabloids would try to make me look bad but then people would look to my corner and find me doing a play. Hehehehehe
After the play, my producer juices were flowing and I decided to contact Maxhoba about an idea I wanted to explore. I wanted to turn Don Mattera’s poerty into songs and a show.
In 2009, Maxhoba and I had a successful run of Azanian Love Song.
We remade don Mattera’s work and gave the young people a great night out with our LIVE band.
In a twist of fate, at one of the Azanian Love Song performances, Don Mattera’s publisher, Rose Francis came to watch the show. Maxhoba and I also did our solo acts on these evenings and she heard my work. She asked if I want to publish my poems.
A year later, my 1st anthology of poetry WENA was launched at Museum Afrika.
Wena also did well. We launched it nationally and also managed to launcedh in Tanzania. The publishing industry is not an easy one I learnt as I watched my publisher trying to break into a system that doesn’t cater for SA literature. SA literature is in the corner of our bookstores…..it’s not in the forefront.
African Perspectives Publishing managed to get WENA into some of the schools in Soweto.
My favourite part of the Wena journey was when I went to a school and the students did a dramatic interpretation of my work. It gave me a glimpse into the future.
I pushed WENA for about 2 years but by 2012 was getting restless again. I decided to start working on my sophomore album Ndingubani.
I should have known it would not be any easy journey….by that album title alone.
WHO AM I?
What a deeply profound question? That journey stripped me of my dignity. It got really UGLY. I had to face myself. It’s not easy to face oneself.
Again it was an independent process of more begging, hustling and charming. It took up a lot of energy. To produce an album and to ask myself this deep question.
By the time I released that album digitally, I was EXHAUSTED.
I don’t know if this is normal, but my sophomore album gave me post natal depression. I was so heavily involved in creating it….that by the time it was born I hated it and everything it put me through.
I love the music. It’s one of my best musical projects to date. But the journey was just so damn difficult. It drained me. It made me cry. But what it did the most….is that it made me strong.
The journey didn’t go the way I expected, but it gave me bigger spiritual gifts.
I then took a back seat a little bit….to breathe.
It is now 2014 and I am excited about my new single NDIYAKUFUNA SAN……a Mandla Spikiri sample by Mmino eCleve.
Since my release every year i have dropped a single around this time….Wena, Andizuqhelwa, Ex’s Cherry, Is It Ok and You have ensured that my name remains in the industry.
I don’t know where the journey is taking me…..but till now….it’s been written.