A Chat With SA’S ‘Birdie’ Mboweni

Women have to work 10 times as hard as men, she tells Bill Odidi

Business Daily (Kenya) - - ART & CULTURE -

It takes a very ex­cep­tional tal­ent to emerge out of the highly com­pet­i­tive South African mu­sic in­dus­try. That is why the story of Trib­ute “Birdie” Mboweni who per­formed at the Women In Mu­sic con­cert in Nairobi last Satur­day is re­mark­able. The ‘girl from a dusty town’ in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Prov­ince has in the short space of three years gained ac­claim both at home and around the con­ti­nent.

10 times

Her show in Nairobi last week was a con­tin­u­a­tion of an East African tour that started in 2016 when she per­formed at the Bay­imba In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in Uganda and Karibu Fes­ti­val in Tan­za­nia.

It was in Tan­za­nia that Mboweni met Kenyan jazz trum­peter Chris­tine Ka­mau and who in­vited her to per­form at this month’s Women in

Mu­sic con­cert in Nairobi. This is a plat­form for young women artists to show­case their live con­cert per­for­mance skills.

“Women have to work ten times as hard as men to suc­ceed in their ca­reers, in­clud­ing mu­sic, so I am happy to be on a plat­form cre­ated by women and fea­tur­ing fe­male artists.”

Her par­ents named her Trib­ute as a ges­ture of thanks­giv­ing for over­com­ing the chal­lenges they did be­fore she was born while “Birdie” is a short form of song­bird.

Mboweni mu­si­cal foun­da­tion was in the church where her in­ter­est in singing started. Later in life, her in­flu­ences ex­panded to tra­di­tional South African mu­sic and con­tem­po­rary gen­res like reg­gae, R&B jazz and soul.

Mid­dle East

“I see my­self sim­ply as an artist who hap­pens to be in­flu­enced by a di­ver­sity of sounds,” she says. “Jazz is just one el­e­ment of my style.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion with jazz started af­ter she had a four-month res­i­dency as singer with a jazz band in Qatar in 2012. Two years later, the same band had a stint play­ing cover ver­sions of jazz stan­dards at a venue in Dubai.

“I honed my voice and gained ex­pe­ri­ence on stage and also learnt that you need to be well rested to sing prop­erly,” she says.

It is af­ter the so­journ in the Mid­dle East that she started writ­ing and record­ing her own mu­sic in 2014. Her de­but al­bum “Birdie” was re­leased in 2015 and a deluxe edi­tion with ad­di­tional songs launched first in Cape Verde in April this year and later in South Africa

She ex­plains that the al­bum has bro­ken many of the lan­guage and cul­tural bar­ri­ers in South Africa thanks to her own mul­ti­cul­tural back­ground that is a mix­ture of her fa­ther’s Shangaan and Zulu from her mother. “It’s been amaz­ing to see peo­ple who don’t speak my lan­guage re­act pos­i­tively to the mu­sic,” says Mboweni.

The 16 songs on the al­bum are pro­duced by Sipho Sit­hole, founder of Na­tive Rhythms la­bel whom she met in 2012 while singing at a show­cas­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg. Sev­eral top mu­si­cians played on the al­bum and Mboweni says it was a par­tic­u­lar hon­our to be in the stu­dio with the le­gendary South African gui­tarist Themba Mokoena.

Six months

Among the high­lights is “Magumede” a trib­ute to the South African icon Dorothy Masuka, best known as the orig­i­nal singer of “Pata Pata” later made fa­mous by Miriam Makeba. “I de­cided to hon­our and cel­e­brate her while she’s still alive and its great to see many peo­ple re­spond­ing to the song.”

“Ngin­jen­jenje” (I am who I am be­cause of you) is an appreciation to the peo­ple who have sup­ported her ca­reer, while “Khomanani” is a call to Africans to unite be­cause ‘we are the same peo­ple’. En­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion is close to Mboweni’s heart and its not a sur­prise that her favourite song on the al­bum “Mfula Ya Na” (it is rain­ing) is a mes­sage on the bless­ings and good for­tunes of rain.

Six months into the re­lease of the al­bum she was per­form­ing at an event that was at­tended by the di­rec­tor of the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz fes­ti­val. “The sound at this show was not great but just af­ter I fin­ished my per­for­mance, he was like, “you are booked for the Cape Town Jazz Fes­ti­val,”” She per­formed at the 2016 edi­tion of the fes­ti­val along­side in­ter­na­tional acts like Angie Stone, SWV and Amadou and Mariam.

Her mis­sion now is to take her mu­sic to as many parts of Africa as she can and in the process to dis­cover new rhythms of the con­ti­nent.

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