Evolution of a Diva

2009-09-18 13:35

SHE first came onto the music scene as the laidback, almost shy, female vocalist of the kwaito outfit Mafikizolo and was popular for her over-sized shades, capri pants and converse sneakers – ­typical kwaito attire.

From Nhlanhla Mafu to Nhlanhla Nciza – the change has not only been in her surname. We have all witnessed the remarkable transformation that she has undergone over the years. On meeting her one can’t help but admire her effortless sense of style.
She makes even a pair of blue jeans and a white tank top look like must-have fashion items and she truly deserves to be ranked among the most stylish women in the country.

Nhlanhla, who was born in ­Schweizer-Reneke, a verkrampte ­(very conservative) rural town in the North West, but grew up in ­Kagiso in Mogale City, has ­matured a lot since the early days of Mafikizolo, both musically and personally. It is difficult for any artist to break out from a group and go on their own, but Nhlanhla took that brave step and has just ­released her second album, Iingcinga Zam (My Thoughts) a ­follow-up to her 2007 debut, ­Inguquko (Change).

She also points out that her outlook on the music industry has changed since those humble beginnings: “When I started out I obviously had high expectations of the glitz and the glamour of the industry and I’d often bump into Lebo Mathosa at the Kalawa studios in her s’lahla (convertible). I was ­determined that I would one day have my own and you won’t believe that I’ve had four. I’m crazy about cars.”

Life has turned out to be good for Nhlanhla. However, despite a flourishing solo career, a successful clothing line and her marriage to the co-founder of TS records, ­Thembinkosi “TK” Nciza, the thing she really looks forward to is spending Sunday afternoons with her daughter, Zinathi, or hanging out with her friends and watching their children playing together.
“I’m just a simple person. I am very grounded. It is something I’ve learned from my mother.”

She is indeed down to earth, her aura is real and she’s not as intimidating as I had anticipated.

WE begin to talk about the release of her new album, which many believe was released way too soon. ­Especially considering the fact that people are still getting accustomed to her as a solo artist and are still trying to get used to her sound. I ask whether she felt pressured because her band mate, Theo Kgosinkwe, also released an album.

“Not at all” she laughs, “Our sounds are ­completely different, Theo is more vibey and I’m more soulful and I think that this is what makes Mafikizolo so successful as a band?– the fusion of these two sounds.”

Nhlanhla is quick to dispel any impression that people might have about her being threatened by Theo’s success: “ I think we have both proved ourselves as solo artists and I feel proud the we are both doing okay, I wouldn’t be happy if one of us wasn’t doing well.”

There is no reason to doubt that this new album has the potential to be a top seller – Nhlanhla pulled out all the stops for it.
“This is my best work I have done in years” she says enthusiastically.

Nhlanhla travelled to countries such as Cuba, Spain, Congo and Miami in the US to get inspiration for this album and she wrote almost all of the tracks on it. The sound is a combination of music from all the countries she travelled to and is dominated by a Spanish guitar fused with Caribbean folk music – impressively ­resembling the music of legendary folk singer Cesaria Evora.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Caiphus Semenya to feature on the first album, she eventually managed the second time around to get him to work on two of her tracks, including the next big sing-a-long tune Suk’emvakwam.

As if that wasn’t enough, Thapelo Kgomo from the world-renowned Stimela came on board for the production. One can only imagine what a learning experience it must have been for Nhlanhla to have worked with such legends: “I was really nervous at first to be working with Caiphus Semenya, but his humility made it so much easier. He is so humble.”

Nhlanhla has also learned something she wishes many artists would adopt: “The work ethic that artists like ntate Caiphus have is amazing. He is such a perfectionist, whereas these days one can record multiple tracks in a day and fix them up later.
“We spent three days recording one song. He insisted on getting it properly done even if it meant we didn’t finish the album by the release date. He was like ‘we need to make sure that by the time the music reaches the people it is perfect because you need to respect your buyers and give them quality music’.”

According to the songstress the new album is very different from the first, especially the subject matter. “The first one was all soppy and all about love, but this one is more about inspiring people because we are living in a time where people have lost hope and they need to be inspired. The track Impilo is quite inspirational. It is one of my favourites.”

What makes this album even more real is the fact that it is about real life issues?– the ups and downs and just a little bit about love. The song Try Again speaks about something that she has personally experienced throughout her career – people’s lack of faith in her and doubting her abilities as a solo artist, and constantly finding herself in the shadow of other female Afro-pop artists.

“I have grown a lot on this album and I believe it can compete on the world market. I really feel good about it and, after all, everyone is entitled to their own opinions”.

Nhlanhla has made it a point to separate herself from Mafikizolo – she is signed to TS?Records while the band is still with Kalawa Jazmee. This, according to her, is all in an ­attempt to ensure that her sound is on a level of its own and is not at all influenced by the Mafikizolo sound; hence the use of a different producer as well.

Nhlanhla is clearly confident about her new album but I’m sure Mafikizolo fans need to be put at ease with regard to whether or not the group will ever get back together. Her face lights up as she begins to talk about the band’s comeback.

“Yes, Theo and I actually speak often about Mafikizolo’s comeback album. We are both ­currently very busy with our solo projects, but we spoke this morning about the Mafikizolo album. It’s coming,” she smiles.

So, the question that many people must be asking themselves is whether the first lady of TS Records gets special treatment because she is the boss’s wife? She bursts out into a roar of laughter. “Not at all, we respect each other at TS. I let them do their work they let me do mine. I try not to be pushy.”

Still that doesn’t answer my question. “No not at all. I’m just another artist,” she laughs. Sure she is ...

Fans can catch Nhlanhla performing in ­Nelspruit on September 26 (venue still to be announced) and in Polokwane at Cosmo ­Leisure on October 3

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