A woman in full bloom

2011-09-02 14:35

The early sprouts of flower buds and leaves have become discernible on the streets of Joburg as the city shakes off the drab winter colours for the reds, yellows and purples of spring.

And it looks like someone got the memo.

Judith Sephuma’s image in a once-off Franz Grabe designer gown made out of real red rose petals is a spectacular entrée to a season of new beginnings.

I met her at the Sony Music offices in Parktown a few days after she released her fourth album, titled I Am A Testimony, which one can call a “thanksgiving” release celebrating her 10 years in show business.

A decade later, the sultry sweet-voiced nightingale that serenaded the nation with her multiplatinum debut album in 2001 A Cry, A Smile, A Dance, that included radio hits such as the title track, Le Tshepile Mang, and You Had Your
Hand On Me, has a lot to be thankful for.

“It’s been nice,” she giggles.“I am still curious about where I will be in 10 years’ time. From A Cry, A Smile, A Dance that whole journey has been fulfilling.

I am thankful for the trials that came with it. The important thing is that I am still standing and going strong. I am grateful, and I recognise the love and appreciation my fans and supporters give me.”

Her personal life – from her romance with her collaborator, producer and father of her three children, Selaelo Selota, to her much-publicised engagement and wedding to star photographer Siphiwe Mhlambi – has became tabloid fodder. Lately, she has had to deal with all the rumours about her marriage being in the doldrums.

Although her wedding band is missing from her finger, Sephuma is unfazed.

She insists that she has resorted to not wearing the ring because of all the unnecessary attention and speculation it brings.

“Why are people so attached to rings? I am not wearing mine today,” she says as she brushes the subject aside.

She’s much more comfortable talking about her colourful career, which has been decorated with a few SA Music Awards trophies, Kora All Africa Music Awards prize, MetroFM Music Awards statuettes, sellout tours and sharing the stage with international superstars such as Al Jarreau, George Benson, Kenny G and Chaka Khan.

She has toured and performed extensively in Europe and, as far back as 2002, she was on the main stage of the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

“From the beginning of my career, I have always been professional about what I do – not just getting up on stage, singing and not causing issues, but it starts with how my office at Lalomba Music presents me.

I’ve had to realise that my career is a business and I’ve had to treat it as such. I pay attention to how I deal with my clients and fans.

I have to be mature and respectful all the time. I make sure that I look good, that I’m always on time and that I honour my commitments.

Not once have I missed a gig. But it all boils down to good, quality music. Everything has to come together
as a package.”

Sephuma bemoans the stagnant state of the South African sound. “Sometimes I feel that we’re the same.

No one wants to take a chance. We don’t have that growth. We want to do the same thing that worked for another artist.”

Armed with a keen sense of how the industry works, Sephuma has wisdom to share.

“I am my own threat to my career. When I am not okay mentally and emotionally, I can’t focus on important things in my life and I can’t function properly. My career will suffer. I have the power to turn it around. I don’t believe in living a lie and I am a crazy person. I laugh a lot and I enjoy being me.”

Looking back over the years, Sephuma picks her performance at the Grahamstown Arts Festival as the most memorable.

“It was a full-house, two-nights affair and I got a standing ovation for every third song. It was special.”

About her most recent collaboration with US star Michael Bolton at Carnival City, where they performed Over The Rainbow and a new composition titled Make You Feel My Love, she says: “I’ve been a Michael Bolton fan since I was a baby. I was standing backstage singing along to everything and dancing.”

When asked what she knows now that she didn’t know 10 years ago, Sephuma doesn’t hesitate: “I come first. It’s taken me too long to know that I come first.

“I have to be happy first to make others happy.”

When you sing songs about love and relationships, the lines tend to get blurry as fans confuse your role.

Sephuma has examples of the times she has had to be more than just a singer.

“Some people see me as a marriage counsellor. “I get so overwhelmed with the stories they share with me. The kind of details they share with me and intensely personal information they trust me with, it’s a huge responsibility that sometimes becomes too heavy for me to bear.

“Someone can listen to my music and say ‘I don’t have to commit suicide’ or ‘I don’t have to leave my wife’. I wish as musicians we could realise how important our role is and the influence we have.”

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