Rising star | Singer Odwa Bongo on why he wants his perfomances to be a space for healing

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Odwa Bongo says he wants his audiences to find healing through his live performances.
Odwa Bongo says he wants his audiences to find healing through his live performances.
@lilitagcwabe

His live performances are much more than a show. 

As he stands on stage, his white headwrap placed firmly on his head, his voice echoing through the room as he sings emotively in IsiXhosa – audience members cannot help but ululate in response. 

Singer Odwa Bongo’s mini-concerts are a spiritual and healing experience, and that’s how he intended them to be. 

“I want people to get healing from my performances,” he tells us. 

“I am a broken soul, and I am constantly looking for healing. We are all broken and when I am on stage I want to create a space within my music where people can cry or laugh.

“I want my audience to release their emotions. My music is about finding space to be yourself. By the time you leave my show I want you to feel at peace,” he says. 

Odwa (27) – who is originally from Cape Town – is an African instrumentalist, singer and song composer. His sound can be likened to popular artists such as Zoe Modiga and his personal idol, Simphiwe Dana. 

Odwa Bongo
Odwa Bongo and Simphiwe Dana CPT Jazz Festival.

“She is out of this world,” he says of Simphiwe.

“I have been listening to her for as long as I can remember, and a day does not go by without me listening to her. Some people would say I remind them of her. Maybe it’s because I studied her vocals. In my head I can imagine the stuff that she writes about and how she feels. She articulates her feelings through her voice and her lyrics.”

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He may have been inspired by the soul singer but his love for music started in the church. 

“I fell in love with music and instruments when I went to church growing up,” he says. 

“At church, they would play instruments, I liked it a lot. Church music was what I knew and because my family loves music my dad would play Penny Penny, Brenda Fassie and TKZee.”

He later studied African music at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and says that introduced him to African Music and “allowed me to explore sounds outside of classical music and Jazz."

“As I grew older, I wanted to know more about my culture and the kind of music we make.

“I didn’t know where the curiosity came from, but I started digging deeper into African music. I play uhadi and the instrument has been such an important part of my journey,” he explains. 

Uhadi is an instrument popularly played by well-known African musician Madosini. He says she is also one of his biggest inspirations.

Odwa Bongo
Odwa Bongo plays African instrument uHadi.
Odwa Bongo
Odwa Bongo says he wants his audiences to find healing through his live performances.

“I have always wondered why I am playing the instrument, maybe its because it is largely played by Madosini. She is a walking archive; she is an amazing artist. The instrument brings me peace and when I’m on stage I say what hurts me and I release it off my shoulders.”

He has been performing for years, doing shows all over Cape Town and other parts of South Africa. Finally, it seems more people are getting to experience his sound. 

“Whoever is coming to watch my show needs to get what it means to feel things. 

“My vocals help me take out whatever is eating at me from the inside. For people to be able to relate to me I need to be vulnerable. It's an experience; it’s not necessarily about the song but how it makes you feel when you are engaging with each other. If we are crying let’s cry, if we are laughing let’s all laugh,” he says. 

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Odwa Bongo
Odwa Bongo's art speaks to broken soul that are in search of healing.

He tells us he is currently in the studio, recording songs for an E.P to give people something they can listen to at their convenience. “I am recording because people want music they can listen to anywhere. 

“I see the importance of it. I thought recording in the studio was easy but for an artist like me, it is almost easier to just record at a live show. Beautiful moments also come from the audience and their reactions,” he says. 

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