Bongeziwe Mabandla loves international recognition but 'it doesn’t match performing for my own people'

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Bongeziwe Mabandla is touring in Europe and will be back in the country to perform in Hogsback, Eastern Cape.
Bongeziwe Mabandla is touring in Europe and will be back in the country to perform in Hogsback, Eastern Cape.
GUILLEM SARTORIO

It's his first day in Germany, he just woke up and had breakfast and is gearing up for his Europe performance. He has travelled a lot in Europe, but it’s the first time he will be performing in Germany and Switzerland.

The Tsolo-born musician, Bongeziwe Mabandla is over the moon about this recognition and the chance to gain international fans.

But the fame isn’t surprising to him.

“People from the Eastern Cape have big aspirations. I grew up in a community like that where a lot of people wanted to achieve big things. Look at Zozi Tunzi, Simphiwe Dana, Anele Mdoda. It’s part of EC to live in a small place but to dream about the world. I never expected it but I always had big aspirations,” he tells Drum.

For him seeing people from where he comes from, that look like him, speak like him, and have similar backgrounds like him make it in life made him feel like its possible. He's also inspired by a whole lot of artists such as Jabu Khanyile, Tracy Chapman, and Busi Mhlongo, he says.

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Music was a big part of his upbringing. Although she isn’t a professional singer, his mom sings very well and growing up, they would sing in the church choir and at school and it became a passion of his.

The singer and songwriter moved to Johannesburg to study music and a few years later he released his debut album Umlilo in 2012.

He now has three albums out, and his recent album, iiMini, won him a South African Music Award for the best alternative album.

“This album did very well for me.” He also feels this is the album that introduced him to South Africa.

“I was touring a lot overseas before this album and feeling underappreciated in my country, but with this album, I have been performing all over SA; Makhanda, Pretoria, and many other places. The reception has been wonderful and I am happy to be appreciated at home, it’s something I have been looking for, for a long time,” he says.

Growing up in a small town, Bongeziwe was not someone who stuck out and never believed there was anything special about who he is, or where he comes from.

Now despite being an award-winning musician, he remains grounded and doesn’t consider himself famous.

But he also attributes his outlook on life to who he is. “Respectful and considerate, that’s the way I was brought up and the way I have always been. I spend a lot of time alone, I hardly go out and my circle is small, and ‘being famous’ has made me shy,” he shares. He is currently working on finalising the next studio album that he anticipates will be released this year.

“It’s been a very difficult album to work on, it was made in the heat of Covid-19, it’s very different. We recorded some parts of it remotely,” he shares. He had writer’s block, he shares. “I struggled to write being under lockdown, it was just a more challenging album but it’s almost here,” he adds.

"I love performing overseas and for a new audience but it doesn’t match performing for my own people"

The musician is inspired by the success that Grammy-award-winning DJ Black Coffee has garnered internationally.

“His success has made artists like myself believe the world will open up to us. That’s always been the plan for me, to be an international star and it is something that has been sort of happening for me. My music is being discovered in many different parts of the world; Japan, Australia, Europe, and now I am getting a chance to perform in South America around November,” he says. 

“It's really something exciting for me to have these ideas in the EC, and make music in Joburg and release it and to have the world respond to it, I am humbled and thankful for that.” 

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He is due to perform in Hogsback, Eastern Cape during a Music In The Snow concert supported by the Eastern Cape Jazz Festival. He shares that performing in EC is “different”.

“It’s really important for me to perform in my home province because that’s why I make music, that’s what inspired me to write.. to write about and for the people in the EC. It’s nice when they react to it, the understanding is much deeper, they sing along, understand the meaning and they join in such a special way. I love performing overseas and for a new audience but it doesn’t match performing for my own people.”

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