The new diva: Lindiwe Suttle

2012-05-18 10:23

A few years ago, a beautiful young woman with a singing voice would be signed to a label, given a song, and told to look sexy and sing the thing.

For her effort, she would be awarded her performance rights. We know that many of these artists died paupers, despite a pioneer like Miriam Makeba waging a battle to control her lyrics, compositions and publishing – not to mention determine her musical genre.

Brenda Fassie came along and jammed many of her own lyrics and melodies, but even then her rights were jealously guarded by her handlers.

In my last interview with Lebo Mathosa before her untimely death in a car crash, all she wanted to talk about was the journey towards creating her own label, taking control of her rights and moving from busty pop into sultry jazz, a move she was once told would be career suicide.

But by 2012, there’s a new breed of diva stepping up to the mike. She’s armed with business savvy, and a desire to break out of the box and blur the genres.

Lindiwe Suttle
Gaga who?” I ask Lindiwe Suttle. There’s a burst of laughter on my dictaphone. We’re speaking about Suttle’s slick, high fashion video for Man Made Moon – and about how any local singer who dresses up gets labelled an “African Gaga”.

You get whole lists on the internet – 10 African Gagas. Well, you did six months ago. Nowadays, nobody speaks about Gaga much. Pop eats itself, that we know.

“Gaga copied Grace (Jones) and Grace copied whoever,” says Suttle. “She is not the first to use costume. Look at Boy George, look at Liberace.”

It’s a typical reference by a woman who got her solo break when she was discovered by a German producer while performing in Cape Town bars, where she quickly developed a gay following.

We’re having a dodgy breakfast at a fancy hotel in Hyde Park. There’s a lot to like about Suttle, who launches her debut album in July. Despite being the daughter of 90s TV personality Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, Suttle is a
self-made woman.

She speaks with a twang – one the media jumped on to suggest she’s affected. But the 32-year-old was raised in the US and only moved to Cape Town a few years back. After studying business, she worked in fashion – and it shows.

Suttle has worked as a buyer for Foschini, a visual merchandiser for DKNY, a wardrobe mistress on international feature films and even as Beyoncé’s personal costumier – “the kindest celebrity on earth”.

“Of course it’s about the music first, but I can’t lie. I have fun on stage wearing different costumes. Why not dress up?”

Her life change came with the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. She was in her apartment, less than a block from there and she knew her New York days were over. So she went to study an MBA in entrepreneurship and got business-minded about a career.

But the real reason I’m talking to her is about the sounds she’s putting out. There’s some Grace Jones in there and a bit of Sade, but mostly there’s Suttle.

“I like to think my sound is intelligent and genre-less,” she says. “There are influences from 80s electro, acoustic instrumentation and rock, but all of it is injected with soul. I went to Berlin in pursuit of the darker music I also love listening to. I wanted to bring a fresh sound to the market here before taking it back to Europe.”

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