Unathi comes full circle

2009-08-22 08:17

Unathi Nkayi is expansive about her career over lunch with LESLEY

MOFOKENG, but is keeping mum about her nuptials.

UNATHI Nkayi has two of the hottest tickets going in her life right now. One

you can buy, at Computicket in fact, and the other you have to earn. Everybody

is talking about just who got the ticket or invite to her much anticipated

wedding to ex Metro FM DJ Thomas Msengana (formerly known as Bad Boy T) - the

two have been the golden couple of local showbiz for a while.

Over lunch at the SABC Radiopark, I beg her to let me in on the details of

her wedding day scheduled for next month (since I didn’t score that ticket), but

she is unrelenting in keeping it a secret.

“Our wedding is truly a personal thing. We’re a private couple that’s why you

will not see a TV crew or a magazine camera. We’ve rejected every offer. We

don’t see our day as a PR campaign, there are real emotions, we have a real

child, real family members that we’d like to protect,” she says.

‘Aren’t Thomas and I lucky to have found each other in this shallow Joburg.

We’re excited and looking forward to our small feast which will definitely be

outside of Gauteng. We respect our homes, we’re religious and traditionalists so

we’ll be honouring those aspects.”

Without a stitch of make up on her face she is a far cry from a blushing

bride an hour before she jumps into the Metro FM studio for her afternoon

drivetime show that she co-hosts with Glen Lewis and Melanie Bala. She nibbles

at what looks like chicken mayo on a bed of lettuce.

While she won’t reveal much about her wedding, Nkayi is more than willing to

reveal details of her public appearances, more so her debut at this week’s

Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival in Joburg. “Growing up in Grahamstown, we

have the national arts festival and I heard that there was a cousin or sister

festival in Joburg of music only. So being a part of it now in its 10th year I

feel like it’s a full- circle moment for me,” she says.

“I studied the arts and I am a creative so it’s an honour. I feel happy,

blessed and overjoyed, but also wary since I am not necessarily a jazz musician.

But as a live performer I have adapted my songs to be more musical. I have a

musical director that I’ve been using and that helps a lot.”

For years Nkayi was reluctant to explore her talents and those in the know

now look at her with wonder. “It’s about growth and understanding who you are. I

was manipulated by many people, and I mean this in the nicest of ways. Zola made

me record Sana Lwami with him, Glen Lewis featured me on his compilation, then

came Mahoota and Lance Stehr included me in the Tsotsi soundtrack and I thought

all of my efforts went down very well. When I recorded the first album I did not

have an ‘a-ha’ moment. I was meant to sign with Oscar Mdlongwa’s Kalawa Jazmee,

but I felt I wasn’t ready so I felt uncomfortable. I went with Ghetto Ruff

instead. But now I am with Kalawa and the ‘a-ha’ moment has arrived.”

Nkayi says she’s still learning the art of performing on stage. “I’ve had

some bad moments on stage. I would fiddle and rub my ear when I’m nervous, or a

backing vocalist would out-sing me on a song, but in time I’ve learnt to embrace

the stage and make the most of my every performance and appearance.

“Mahoota warned me in 2006 saying ‘you gotta stop playing around, we wouldn’t

sign you if we didn’t believe in you’.

“Bra Sipho Hotstix Mabuse met me at the Metro FM awards in 2007 and told me

that I was a lazy singer. He said he was going to call Oscar and that he would

make me sing.” The result was the runaway radio hit We Thembisile.

“Working with the Kalawa Jazmee crew was a beautiful experience. Mandla

Spikiri cooked for me, Bruce Sebitlo bought me inspirational books, especially

The Power of Now, Mahoota was a disciplinarian. He made sure that I was in

studio on time and that I went to gym. Oscar just wanted to see me doing


All the pushing and shoving have not gone to waste. Right now the album In

Honour, has already sold more than 20 000 copies, earning her a coveted gold

disc. She attributes the slow but steady increase in sales to South Africans

being uncomfortable with breaking the norm. “I am on radio (as a DJ) and it took

people a while to adjust to the fact that I could also sing. I had to allow

people to get used to that idea.”

The industry has been kind to you, I suggest to her. “Yes and no. It has

given me an opportunity to try, but it has also been quick to judge. People are

more judgmental when you move from TV to radio and music.”

Touching on her future plans Nkayi says: “I want to do radio for the next 10

to 15 years because we lack mature Drivetime female voices. I want to sing until

I am 85, you know, be like Cesaria Evora, Letta Mbulu or Miriam Makeba.

“And then I want to retire to a farm and make ceramic pots, I told Thomas to

get me a farm.

“I’d love to make business out of the things that I love. That’s why I admire

Sis Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Her lesson is do things that you’re good at to do things

that you love.

“I believe in mentorship. I talk to Mrs MS (Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu) a lot

and she knows my insecurities about dreaming. I don’t think I am old enough to

be a mentor myself, but I do communicate with university students.”

We conclude as she runs into the studio.

  • Unathi Nkayi performs at The Market Theatre on Friday at 8.15pm. See complete

    Joy of Jazz line-up overleaf.

 Pictures: Leon Sadiki.
Styling: Sylvester Falata.
Hair and make-up: Merlene.
Wardrobe: David Tlale and

Falata Couture. 
Location: Crown Plaza

Johannesburg – The Rosebank 0114483600, www.therosebank.co.za

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