Unathi sings sweet sounds of success

2011-09-30 08:21

It’s the first of my two-day hook up with media powerhouse Unathi Msengana. Walking into the chocolate haven that’s the Lindt store at the Design Quarter in Fourways, Joburg, I am taken by her charm and modesty.

This particular Saturday afternoon, the 32-year-old singer, radio DJ, Idols judge and mother of two has invited 15 of her close friends and the media to learn how to make chocolate and indulge in wine during a listening session of her upcoming album, With Love.

She welcomes everyone: “I want you all to enjoy this experience with me, of listening to my year’s labour of love that is my album. It’s about death, love and being a woman in this world, and I want to share my experience with everyone.”

As the day progresses, I witness her roaring laugh – which almost bring her to tears – her charismatic smile and I see why she is one of the “it” girls.

This year started on a high note for the mother of six-year-old Sinako and Imboyothando, who is just three months old. She was announced as the new Idols judge, replacing veteran singer Mara Louw, and joined panellists Randall Abrahams and Gareth Cliff.

She proved to be a bankable star when jewellery maker Jenna Clifford unveiled her as the ambassador for the Renaissance Range, which she will represent for a year.

Then tea label Five Roses and Lindt chocolates got on the bandwagon.

Proving once again how Idols can resuscitate the singing career of a judge, the star from Grahamstown will release an album this week.

Her last release was three years ago, so this one is a way of “showing” the youngsters she has judged on the show “how it’s done”.

This third studio album comprises nine soul tunes. She has worked with pop singer Tamara Dey and poet Lebo Mashile on a song called Woman.

On the track titled To Those We Love, an original by Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, Msengana pays tribute to Lebo Mathosa, Busi Mhlongo and Brenda Fassie.

Her personal favourite, Only For You, is a dedication to her husband of two years, Thomas.

“This album is completely soul and, unlike my past albums, I haven’t fallen back on dance songs like I always have. I’m very nervous about how people will truly respond to it,” she says.

One wonders how she manages to find time me time between performances and MCing, but she does.

“Thomas and I have date nights, mostly on weekends when we go out till late. But we also love to sleep in. If he has to go to one of my events, I go to his golf challenges or we take Sinako to the park to feed the ducks while he plays with his bike, we do it all,” she says.

I see Msengana again over breakfast at SABC Radio Park canteen, without a stitch of make-up, this is her first meal since waking up at 5am to be in time for the MetroFM breakfast show which she co-hosts with Glen Lewis, Melanie Bala and Sizwe Mabena every weekday.

“I wake up at different times, some days it’s at 4am and others 5am, because of my baby. Other times I have that hour to express milk and when I don’t have an extra hour of sleep,” she says.

By 5.30am her day begins at the station where she and the team discuss the show before tackling the three hour long slot, which to many listeners seems like a lot of fun as they are always laughing.

“After work it’s baby time, we feed, clean and do whatever is necessary before we both take a nap and before you know it it’s time to fetch Sinako from school,” she says.

But that is not her everyday routine because since being on Idols she has voice-over recordings every Tuesdays and Thursdays, attends business meetings and since she’s releasing an album she also has band rehearsals.

Weekdays after 5pm is homework time, cooking, getting children ready for bed and time for some little television viewing before hitting the sack at 9.30.

As she sips her coffee and munches her eggs, bacon and cheese breakfast; it’s no surprise that she gets interrupted by her phone which rings constantly and a fan who happens to be a board member of the SABC.

But she isn’t fazed by the interruptions as she excuses herself, answers her calls and shares a whole conversation with the fan.

Msengana admits that having white people as fans is a new terrain for him, she still can’t believe how much Idols has made her get noticed.

“I went to a multi-racial school and was exposed to white people a lot there, I moved to Joburg and got known by black people a lot. Now with Idols I am back to my high school days and at first I was shocked but thanks to Thomas (her radio DJ husband) experience at 5FM I’m getting used to it,” she laughs.

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