Puleng March to women trying to break into the gospel industry - 'Believe in yourself first'

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Puleng March
Puleng March
@pulengmarch/Instagram
  • Gospel star Puleng March has been in the gospel industry since she came to Johannesburg in 2001.
  • She is nominated in four different categories for the 9th Independent National Gospel Awards.
  • The former Joyous Celebration singer talks to us about her journey in the gospel industry.

Multi-award winning singer Puleng March was born and raised in Kimberley, Northern Cape, by a single parent who was also a pastor. Naturally, as a pastor's kid, her roots were firmly planted in the church and she soon became more than just a choir member and would sing at people’s weddings and funerals.

Speaking to TRUELOVE, she tells us she began pursuing her music career when she moved to Johannesburg in 2001, where she worked with gospel greats such as the late gospel legends Lundi and Sfiso Ncwane, as a backup singer. She also had a stint in theatre when she played Nala on The Lion King, in Singapore, during the early stages of her career. Upon return, she then joined the popular choir group, Joyous Celebration.

READ MORE | Puleng March bags 4 nominations at the ninth INGOMA - plus a list of this year's nominees

Now, the gospel singer has bagged four Independent National Gospel Music Awards (INGOMA) nominations as a solo artist, and we caught up with her to find out more about what this achievement means for her as an independent artist.

Puleng says it has always been gospel for her. Her record label at the time convinced her to dabble in AfroSoul, which she did an album of and even won two Metro FM Awards for, but she still found herself returning to her roots.

“I tried but it was not me. I remember when we were about to record the second [album], I said 'I’m not doing this'. We had already started working, we were already in the studio, and we wrote a couple of songs and I was set to work with the Jaziel Brothers and The Lion King/Singapore deal came along, I ran for it. It was just a way for me to run away from this thing that I didn’t want to do. So, while I was that side, I told them (the label) that I don’t think I want to do this anymore. It’s either gospel or we just leave it and luckily because we were like family, they let me and that’s when I joined Joyous.”, she recalls.

The former Joyous Celebration member sang with the choir for six years and describes it as “amazing”. Her love for the genre made her put her accolades aside and humble herself when she joined the group and used the opportunity to learn.

She says, “I’m here to learn something new, especially in this genre that I love. I know I want to be a gospel artist and this is a big platform. When I was there, I learned so much about music, backstage, the behind-the-scenes and the business side of things. And I’m glad I did because when I was done [at Joyous Celebration], I opted to record my album under my own record label, not under any other company. So, with what I’ve learned there, I was able to put it into practice where I am now and I’m glad actually that I did that because I’m now on my second album and it’s doing well and people know who Puleng is, outside of Joyous.

Having gone into Joyous celebration as previously being a solo artist, the INGOMA multi-nominee says, upon leaving the group, it was only natural that she goes back to being a solo artist and that it was, in fact, always the plan. She knew this as early as one year into being a member of Joyous Celebration. So, when she finally went back to being a solo artist, she won nine awards for her first album and that’s when she could tell that her work was being recognised.

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On her four INGOMA nominations - which are for Best CD Sleeve, Best Songwriter/Composer, Best Female Artist and Best Live Recorded DVD - Puleng says it means a lot to her because being an independent artist navigating the industry without the support of a big, well-known label is challenging.

“You have to kick and push to be seen and for the work you do to finally be recognised. I recorded my second album during the lockdown and everything was just so beautiful - that means I'd put my everything into it, money included. So, to finally be seen and be recognised is basically being told that 'we see you and we see the work you do, continue'.

“It really gives you a smile and a boost and reminds you that you can’t give up now. It means that the work I’m doing is visible and there are people behind me. A reward comes after you have put in the hard work. So, to just be nominated for not one but four awards in this saturated market, I thank God.”, she says.

The mother-of-two cites sharing the stage with the likes of Bishop T.D Jakes and Kirk Franklin during her time with Joyous celebration and her multiple INGOMA nominations under her own label as the highlights of her career thus far.

“So, now again to be nominated, four times, as an independent artist and as a woman in this male-dominated industry and to be making it, and making it big, is a big deal. I always say I believe I am that girl who was brought into the industry just to bring hope and light to that one girl who, just like me, is from the informal settlements and from poverty and a township, from which people thought nothing good could come. That’s where I’m from.”, she shares.

To Black women who want to break into the gospel industry as independent artists, Puleng encourages them to never lose hope and continue making their own noise because it will always attract someone, someone will notice.

“You make your own noise, you market yourself. If you have to sing at church for free, do it, we also started there. We would go sing for free and lo and behold, someone would recognise us and take a liking to what we do. Sell your product, make and sell your own merchandise. Believe in yourself and love yourself first, love the sound of your own voice, and as soon as you get to that point, no one can stop you.

“You are going to meet people who won’t be on your side or think what you do is great but even when that does happen, you must be stubborn, and you continue pushing. So never give up, pray for your product, believe in it first before you want others to believe in it, knock on doors, and don’t give up.", she concludes.

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