After taking time out following throat surgery and going public about her lifelong battle with depression, soul star Simphiwe Dana said she didn’t imagine she’d be celebrating her 39th birthday the way she did on Wednesday.
At a small function at Universal Music in Rosebank, Dana blew out the candles on a large, African-themed birthday cake and signed a deal for at least two albums the record company will push through its international wings.
“I didn’t think the deal would happen at one stage; we’ve been negotiating since June,” she told City Press on Thursday.
It’s been five years since Firebrand – the longest recording break for Dana – but now fans can expect both albums out this year.
And she’s not the only artist to benefit. The fiercely political singer-songwriter said she has a business deal with Universal to identify new talent who she will mentor and record with through the label.
“There will be new names, yes,” said Dana, “but I also want to look at artists who fell through the cracks, who had potential, even if it means re-recording their best songs. We don’t invest in long-term artists – but what the market needs is artists with longevity.”
She wouldn’t be drawn on the names of the artists she’s looking at.
About her own albums, she said: “There’ll be a greatest hits first, I’m at that stage. It’s my 15th year in the industry.”
But the surprise is that she will be performing her classics without musical backing, they’ll be a cappella.
“The second album will be new work,” she said.
This year Dana will undergo voice training for the first time since leaving the church choirs where she sang as a youngster. Born in Gcuwa in the Eastern Cape, Dana’s father was a preacher. She performs some of her repertoire in isiXhosa.
The voice work is because of the fright she got when wear and tear began to affect her most important instrument, her voice.
“You wake up and realise your voice is sliding off key and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she said. “Thank God, I did something early … Your vocal chords tear and scars form. You have surgery in which they laser off the scars so I did that last year.”
Dana wants to spread her wings internationally. She assumed, because of her hugely successful tours, that Germany would be a primary target to promote the upcoming albums.
“But when I sat down with Universal, the figures showed I had the biggest uptake in the US; Germany is only number four,” she said. “My agent of many years was waiting for this deal to be signed so she can look at my international projects.”