After years as back-up vocalists and guitarists for various bands and musicians, Bev Ditsie, thontsi and Tessa Lilly are pouring their passion and collective experience into a band of their own. Welcome Lishivha talks to the band about their past and future plans.
Activist and film maker Bev Ditsie, whose stage name is BevTheFirst, has joined forces with Thoko-Ntsiki Bucibo, who goes by thontsi, and Tessa Lilly to start an all-famale band called Askies Not Sorry.
The trio says the idea to form a band came when they went on a tour of southern Africa with musician Nomisupasta, real name Nomsa Mazwai.
Ditsie and thontsi were back-up vocalists for Nomisupasta, and Lilly had played the guitar for Thandiswa Mazwai’s all-female band.
The trio has been involved in the music scene for a minute. If you remember Ditsie’s film about her journey with South African LGBTIQ and apartheid liberation icon Simon Nkoli, called Simon and I (2002), you will also remember how at some point, she plays around with the guitar in between narrating the journey with Nkoli.
Askies Not Sorry lead vocalist thontsi tells me that she worked for Back To The City, which has organised annual Freedom Day festivals since 2007, after dropping out from studying musical theatre at Wits because it was more acting than music.
After a year with the festival organiser she enrolled and studied music at the Campus of Performing Arts. It was there that she decided to send Nomisupasta her demo asking to be her backup vocalist.
“Most backing vocalists are leads who were pushed to the side of the stage by life. When I started backing Nomisupasta I wanted to make being a backing vocalist a meaningful art form while also learning,” says thontsi, who tells me that she doesn’t take her role lightly and is excited to take the lead in this project.
Lilly, who plays the guitar, says she knew from as young as 13 years old that she wanted to play the guitar. She played for various all-women rock bands before joining Thandiswa.
“Joining Thandiswa’s all-woman band took me out of the white rock space into a different space for my ear, my life and my soul,” she says.
Ditsie found herself drawn to the guitar while touring with her mother, who was a singer.
“I grew up backstage in a way,” she says of her childhood.
“My mom’s band would always bring broken guitars and I was always trying to fix them up and learn to play.”
Outside Ditsie’s porch, where I am sitting with the one-month-old band, is an open guitar hanging on the wall with some plants and other decorative pieces inside, which I point to as she tells me about all the broken guitars she used to play with.
“Oh, that was another guitar that was broken and just lying around. I found some use for it.”
The band describes its sound as “shoegaze you can dance to”. Shoegaze is a subgenre of indie and alternative rock that emerged in the UK in the late 1980s.
Their sound will draw from folk rock and also have an element of Afro-soul, says Ditsie.
“It’s a melting pot of rock and jazz. It draws from the familiarity and influence of various genres which have influenced us to present a new yet familiar sound,” thontsi jumps in.
“We each bring our voices and influences together, and when it comes together it becomes its own thing,” adds Lilly.
Askies Not Sorry has plans to drop singles for the music they are currently writing. Their lips are sealed about dates, but they tell me that they will continue to try and do more live performances through the underground circuit to gain traction and to test out their music with live audiences.
I ask about the underground circuit.
“We are talking about places such as Sawubona Music Jam, His & Hers Jams, Dikatareng, Ko Mzimhlophe and many others. We must take you places, my dear,” Ditsie jabs at me.
Does gender still play a role in determining a woman’s success in the music industry, considering that all three have mostly played in all-woman bands?
“Women acts are considered a novelty, packaged only for Women’s Month,” bemoans thontsi.
“Whenever a woman gets behind an instrument everyone thinks it’s cute because to them she can’t be serious about making music. When a woman plays music it is almost always seen as a hobby, yet it is seen as a profession for men,” adds Ditsie.
Lilly leans into her chair and throws her hands in the air saying: “What about ‘she plays well for a woman’?”
Ditsie and thontsi shake their heads and hang them in disappointment, as if counting the number of times they’ve heard that comment.
“We don’t have enough queer women holding down the spot in alternative music. We want to be the ones who hold it down with our music,” says thontsi.
“There is a gap in the alternative and queer sound and at the moment, even though there’s a bit of a rise it is still predominantly man -- gay or straight. We don’t have enough queer women who are holding down the spot, and so we are here to hold down that spot with our music,” adds thontsi.
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