Khanyi Mbau on her music career: 'My music is my story, my book, my life I am sharing'

Khanyi Mbau. (Photo: Lubabalo Lesolle)
Khanyi Mbau. (Photo: Lubabalo Lesolle)

Cape Town - Sexy, rich, controversial – these are just some of the words used to describe her. Khanyi Mbau is also without a doubt one of Mzansi’s most successful stars – she’s a celebrated actress, TV and radio host, a published author and a savvy businesswoman with her own brand of gin.

Yet the one thing that’s alluded her is success in the music industry. Now she’s trying to get her music career back on track with the release of a new love song called Ubsuku bonke (loosely translated to "All night long") – and she’s hoping it will put fans in the mood.

"We’ve never had a beautiful African ballad that speaks about sex and the art of lovemaking," Khanyi says.

"We’ve had Marvin Gaye with Let’s Get It On, even Cardi B and Bruno Mars tried it. I’m saying let’s make love in isiZulu. Why not?"

It’s not her first attempt at music – she’s released singles in the past, but they didn’t take off the way she would’ve liked.

"I went into music because I was popular. I was doing it for the sake of being Khanyi and because I could," she tells DRUM.

"The second time I really had hopes, but management had more of my artistic control. Now I’m at a space where I’m over 30, I’m relaxed, comfortable – dirty 30s as they call it. I’m content with who I am so I’m doing it for the love and respect of the craft," she says.

Khanyi hopes her track will be successful enough for her to drop a full album.

"My music is my story, my book, my life I am sharing" she says. "What I’m trying to communicate with my music is contentment. As an artist, once you know who you are, it’s easier to sell your story."

At 33, Khanyi is as comfortable in her skin as she’s ever been.

"You don’t care if you’ve got stretch marks or cellulite. It’s a point where you don’t care that you’ve coloured your skin and people have a problem with it because you’ve gone through trying to fit in. Now it’s about making everything else fit around you."

It’s taken her a long time to get to this point of being content. Her divorce from former millionaire Mandla Mthembu in 2009 made waves in Mzansi. But these days she’s a self-made woman.

"My child taught me responsibility and is my reason for waking up every day," she says.

Part of being responsible meant becoming independent and making her own money. In addition to her TV work, the savvy businesswoman has her own brand of gin and a production company.

Everything she’s been through has shaped her into the woman she is today, she says. From the controversy over her skin-lightening treatments to her nude pictures that were leaked on the internet in 2011.

"That was a moment of rebirth. I thought if I could be naked again, I’d make a better opportunity for myself."

And that’s exactly what she did when she took ownership of her body and shared a nude snap of herself on social media last year.

She’s not at all shy to experiment and it’s these defining moments that have helped her to stay relevant. "It is art and I have chosen to make myself a canvas," Khanyi says. "Artists draw on a piece of paper, wall or a canvas. I have chosen to make myself the art."

And if she weren’t an artist? "I would be a psychologist. I enjoy studying people. I think there’s so much in the mind, and to people’s behaviour and patterns, that hasn’t been tapped into."

She’s still fulfilling her calling to help people, she adds. "We’re psychologists in our own way, it’s just that we physically use our bodies instead of using words and certain studies to help people. We give people hope and it gives them an escape of some sort."

Khanyi’s boyfriend, Tebogo Lerole (40), is her biggest fan and she says he can’t get enough of her new track.

"He loves it, we bump and grind to it," she says with a laugh.

Khanyi and Tebogo have known each other for 10 years. "We were both signed to EMI, he used to live down the road from me and we used to see each other. I’d be in a Lamborghini and he would be in a BMW, I think, and he’d always tell me how much he loved my car.

"We once attended a show at EMI and he said to me, ‘I’m going to marry you one day’. Six, seven years later we started dating and today we’re still together.”

The loved-up couple have had their fair share of ups and downs, though. They broke up early last year, but it wasn’t long before they reunited. She doesn’t want to delve into the past too much but Khanyi has learnt love is more than the fairytale seen in movies.

"Love is accepting the next person with all their flaws. It’s not when you’re happy with them all the time, but when you hate them and have to accept that they’re human," she says.

Tebogo is more subtle, Khanyi confides, while she loves grand gestures. "I threw him his 40th birthday party without him knowing and had his whole family there. He, on the other hand, is not a romantic. He’ll help me take my plaits out, but I’m happy with the way he loves me.""

Fans may get a peek into their love life in Khanyi’s new reality show. There’s been talk that her life will be filmed for TV, but the finer details still need to be agreed on.

"We’re still in negotiations," Khanyi says. "For them to be in my house every day I want money. She’s not cheap and she’s not cheap too [referring to her makeup artist and her stylist]. My personal photographer is not cheap either."

Why a reality show?

"When people hear Khanyi Mbau’s name, there’s always a certain emotion attached to it. It’s either you like her, or you don’t like her."

Khanyi also plans to do more behind-the-scenes work.

"I want to direct – sit in the chair and direct a film. I want to design clothes. I want to die an icon."