Singer Simphiwe Dana on living a purpose driven life

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The title of the concert Isipaji Sika Simphiwe Dana was inspired by her song Chula Ukunyathela which is in her first album.
The title of the concert Isipaji Sika Simphiwe Dana was inspired by her song Chula Ukunyathela which is in her first album.

She is warming up her voice for her big concert titled ‘Isipaji sika Simphiwe’ translated to mean ‘Simphiwe’s purse’ on 28 May 2022 at The State Theatre on the Opera Stage.

This year she celebrates 18 years in the music industry and what better way to do it than through song? 

Singer and songwriter Simphiwe Dana tells Drum that the title of the concert was inspired by her song Chula Ukunyathela which is in her first album. She only got to perform it 18 years after its release.

“18 years later I performed it and it gave me the idea of challenging myself. Some songs I tell myself are only studio songs, but it turns out the audience loves them,” she says.

“I have so many songs and often pick the low-hanging fruits that everyone loves and are easy to do. With Isipaji sika Simphiwe Dana, I am going to my bag of creative goods to challenge myself with the music I don’t normally perform because might be too hard or complicated or not easy on the ear.”

She released her debut album Zandisile in 2004. A lot has happened since then.

Somewhere along the journey, Simphiwe believes she lost her true self in the noise. But during lockdown, she reconnected with herself again.

“I find that I am reconnected with that Simphiwe that started out 18 years ago. She was calm and believed in something bigger. She knew that her guides were with her, she didn’t feel alone and going through life blindly and had a sense of self-assurance. I lost the sense of connectedness to something bigger.”

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In 2021, Simphiwe lost her mother to Covid-19.

She says losing her mom, who was a retired nurse, allowed her to look within herself to find healing.

“My mom’s passing got me on a spiritual journey to self-discovery again which I had abandoned for a while. Her death and the time out due to the lockdown reminded me of who I am and who and what I mean to the universe and what it means to me, call it God, Qamata, Mvelinqange,” she says.

“It’s not easy living in a country like South Africa as an artist. There is a lot of self-hate that is always imposed by others in various ways. You find yourself fighting with everyone and when you ask yourself what the fight is about, but its just people wanting to deny you your humanity."

This time allowed her to shut out the noise.

“Grief has a way of resetting you. It’s either you look at the positive side or you don’t. It’s a life-changing experience that makes you feel so helpless, and all your fears come true. When your biggest fear happened, it gives you an opportunity to start over. It's either you die or start over.”

Losing her mom has been tough but she is taking on the challenge as the eldest child among her siblings and taking care of her own children.

“The other day I cried, missing my mom. It came about because there are certain times that no one else will understand what you need and can use the words, ‘Mntanam kuzolunga’ even when you know ‘akuzolunga’ but those words are comforting, and not having that has been tough.”

Her children two children are teenagers and she sees a little bit of herself in them.

“They grew up differently from me and my generation. They are a lot more protected and I’m hoping that will make them turn out into better human beings. But I also wouldn’t want to think I raised them to not have a sense of danger and adventure.”

But Simphiwe believes everything happens for a reason.

“I don’t have a fear of time anymore. It’s silly how we are always rushing to get this and that done. I am not on this earth to make sure my bills are paid at the end of the month. I have a bigger purpose than that. I’m here because I am a spiritual being, having a human experience. My time here cannot be governed by bills and traffic.”

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Simphiwe has always been very vocal about social injustices. She speaks openly on public platforms and on her social media about issues pertaining to gender-based violence, sexuality, and the LGBTQI+ community.

“I am the voice of the people. I wonder if it has anything to me being the firstborn who never got the chance to fully be a child because they were always taking care of their siblings, worrying about them, and taking care of them,” she says.

“But I grew up with a lot of injustices, which I won’t mention that happened to me and I didn’t like how it made me feel. That generated a lot of empathy in me. It made me want to prevent negative things from happening to others.”

In 2020, she came out to announce her engagement to another woman. Taking to social media, Simphiwe announced to her millions of followers that she is gay. 

“I’ve been holding this in since forever. I am gay,” she wrote.

“I know coming out means Africa will block me. But, after a lot of thinking, I’m ok with it. I’m marrying a woman, and I’ve never been happier.”

She tells Drum she felt the need to publicly come out.

“I didn’t want anyone else to tell my story. I have seen how tabloids reveal people's relationships and make them seen as dirty or bad. I wasn’t going to have someone spoil what was beautiful for me by trashing it on tabloids and ridicule me.”

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Having achieved almost everything on her wish list, such as performing with a 100-piece orchestra, traveling the world, and sharing a stage with her icons, Simphiwe says she is not yet done. 

“Some of my icons have passed on and I am not stepping into a new role as an icon myself. We are no longer just performing on stages. We create the shows, we curate them. We have to set the tone as the captains of the industry, and I am hoping for the transition into that will not be too difficult. The industry needs to open up to women to run big projects, be producers, be engineers and play instruments. We are capable. I am a dreamer, with more support, need more.”

She has many career highlights but performing for the late Nelson Mandela before she was famous stands out.

“I performed for Mandela’s birthday and got a standing ovation. I was a nobody and unknown then,” she says.

“That performance opened doors for me. It made me feel worthy and inspired me not to stop doing things my way and being true to who I am. That day is a memory that keeps me to remember who I am. I grew up in a village and singing was part of everything we did, in the field plowing, when boys go to the mountain, and in church. Everything we do has a rhythm, and a melody, and music was part of my upbringing. Even way before I started hearing music on the radio,” she says.

“Fame has been a turbulent journey, sometimes unnecessarily challenging but very fulfilling. But I am happy to live my passion and pay my bills doing what I love. I feel blessed. With all the challenges of being an artist in South Africa, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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