Cover story – the evo­lu­tion of Ju­dith Sephuma

JU­DITH SEPHUMA, 44, is on a re-in­ven­tion mode, which in­cludes a new im­age and global dom­i­na­tion.



Ju­dith Sephuma is in high spir­its, and her up­beat aura spreads through the room. The songstress still dons her trade­mark dread­locks, and is rock­ing a dress that shows off her sexy legs. These days, her In­sta­gram ac­count is filled with pic­tures that flaunt her new body.

“My daugh­ter forced me join In­sta­gram. She was like ‘mom, peo­ple love you and they want to know what you’re do­ing’. Ini­tially she’d check my posts. But now I’m even bet­ter than her,” says the artist in laugh­ter.

With a fol­low­ing of more than 100 000 on both Twit­ter and In­sta­gram, the mother of two is in the know and un­der­stands that the mar­ket is for­ever chang­ing. This is why she’s con­stantly look­ing for new ways to rein­vent her­self.

“You have to keep track and move with the times. Don’t stay in one place for too long. Try to be rel­e­vant to your mar­ket.

“Lately I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that thing of feel­ing like I’ve done ev­ery­thing. But I don’t want to feel like I’ve reached the ceil­ing. In South Africa you can only do so much as an artist and this ap­plies to ev­ery leg­end in our coun­try. I want more for my ca­reer. I al­ways want to make to­day bet­ter than the last time. With me ev­ery project is a new chal­lenge. I want to be an in­spi­ra­tion to other.”

On the day of our in­ter­view, the singer had just per­formed at a cor­po­rate gig, and she ex­plains: “As an artist you need to be smart and cre­ative. Don’t al­ways rely on what worked the last time. Small things like song se­lec­tion make a huge dif­fer­ence. Take to­day’s gig for ex­am­ple – some­times you’ll be per­form­ing and only a few peo­ple know or can re­late to the songs. What do you do? I im­me­di­ately change the pro­gram on the spot. I went back to singing mu­sic from A Cry, A Smile,A

Dance and it worked. The mood in the room changed. My band knows that noth­ing is pre­dictable with me.”

Born Ju­dith Sephuma in Seshego, in Lim­popo, 44 years ago, all the muso wanted to be grow­ing up, was a mu­si­cian. To­day not only does she boast a horde of awards – in­clud­ing the Metro FM awards, and South African Mu­sic Awards for Best Jazz Vo­cal­ist – but Ju­dith has also shared the stage with in­ter­na­tional artists like Bebe Wi­nans, Jonathan But­ler, Randy Craw­ford and Chaka Khan. Her an­gelic voice has seen her per­form for heads of states like Thabo Mbeki and Nel­son Man­dela.

The artist also now lends her star power to the One Cam­paign, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that’s fight­ing to end poverty and pre­ventable diseases in Africa. “I think a suc­cess story is where at some point in your life, all of a sud­den, peo­ple talk about you but in a pos­i­tive way be­cause you’re touch­ing lives and do­ing some­thing good with your ca­reer to ben­e­fit peo­ple around you.” While she might be happy now, life hasn’t al­ways been this clear and smooth. The singer has had her fair share of chal­lenges: 2016 saw her sep­a­rate and get a di­vorce from her hus­band, renowned photographer, Sphiwe Mh­lambi. News broke late last year when Sphiwe changed his Face­book sta­tus to ‘di­vorced’, leav­ing the pub­lic guess­ing if the cou­ple had in­deed di­vorced. De­spite endless queries from the pub­lic and news hounds, the pair man­aged to keep mum about their mar­riage break­down. But now Ju­dith opens up, say­ing it wasn’t meant to be.

“When I be­came a singer, it was sup­posed to be about my mu­sic ca­reer and noth­ing pri­vate. But then my work be­came big­ger than I ex­pected, and other things, in­clud­ing my pri­vate life, be­came tabloid fod­der.

“With the di­vorce we tried to keep the me­dia out of it to pro­tect our­selves and the chil­dren,” she adds. “There’s no bad blood be­tween Sphiwe and I. We’re co-par­ent­ing and do talk. Just be­cause peo­ple are di­vorced doesn’t mean they hate each other. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the per­son any­more. Be­ing a Chris­tian has helped me a lot with han­dling cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Just the other day I was speak­ing with him, and we were both laugh­ing, which goes to show we’re able to joke about things now be­cause we’re cool.

“One day I’m go­ing to write about this di­vorce and peo­ple will be sur­prised by the things that went on be­hind closed doors. But at the end of the day I wanted to be happy and he wanted the same.”

The muso goes on to say: “The big­gest les­son I’ve taken from this is that when you en­ter into a re­la­tion­ship, you must be ful­filled and whole be­fore some­body comes into your life. Let them find you in­tact be­cause noth­ing is go­ing to make you hap­pier. Hap­pi­ness is within you. Be­ing di­vorced or mar­ried doesn’t make us ex­perts in mar­riage – whether you’ve been mar­ried for 20 years, less or more, there’s no recipe for what you must do. That’s why they say marry your best friend. Re­mem­ber mar­riage is about in­di­vid­u­als com­ing to­gether. Even though you’re con­nected through Christ you’re still in­di­vid­u­als; be your­self at all times.”

Then Ju­dith says some­thing un­ex­pected: “I feel that no­body is sup­posed to be alone. I prayed the other day to God not to let me be sin­gle for too long.”


This month, the songstress turns 44 and will take a break from work. A girls’ get­away to Europe is planned. “We’re go­ing to Am­s­ter­dam for 14 days for a mu­sic fes­ti­val. Then we’ll jet off to Ger­many. And in be­tween this I’ll be do­ing my re­search on the lat­est global mu­sic trends. I’ve been do­ing this for some time. I’ve also been do­ing a lot of en­quiries re­gard­ing mar­ket­ing, event man­age­ment, and how artists pre­pare for tours. In­ter­na­tional artists take breaks af­ter ex­ten­sive tours but here in South Africa we put our­selves un­der pres­sure be­cause we don’t have that kind of a life.

“I don’t have an in­ter­na­tional man­ager yet. I had one in Europe but things didn’t work out. So I’m still scout­ing. It’s im­por­tant to take breaks in be­tween work but have some­thing to do to keep ac­tive. That’s why I al­ways tell peo­ple to travel so they can ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent mu­sic. You al­ways come back re­freshed and ready to do some­thing unique with your own work. I know that in­ter­na­tional artists do bet­ter be­cause they have re­sources. But as South African singers we have to strive to be in­ter­na­tion­al­lyrecog­nised. I want to be able to do real in­ter­na­tional tours – I’m talk­ing about a six-month ex­cur­sion in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.” Ju­dith doesn’t shy away from

change, say­ing that she does ev­ery­thing she can to stay rel­e­vant. “If you’re a cre­ative artist, you don’t want to be in the same place do­ing the same thing and singing the same genre of mu­sic. It kills your cre­ativ­ity.” This is why her tran­si­tion from jazz to gospel artist was so smooth. The vo­cal­ist is pro­mot­ing her lat­est of­fer­ing, My

Wor­ship, which is a praise and wor­ship al­bum.

“The Ex­pe­ri­ence, which I re­leased in 2013, was ac­tu­ally my first gospel al­bum. I re­leased it in­de­pen­dently through my com­pany Lalomba Mu­sic. I got saved in 1996. Back then mu­sic would just make me cry if I heard a beau­ti­ful melody. I’d find my­self weep­ing. One day at school they said we must sing a hymn – I don’t even re­mem­ber the name of the song – but I ended up cry­ing be­cause I was so emo­tional. When I got saved I was in so much de­nial, it was re­ally dif­fi­cult. One day I broke into wor­ship and I re­alised that this is my call­ing; it felt so good to sing gospel. There was this in­ner voice telling me to go this route. When God has called you there’s noth­ing you can do about it. It doesn’t have to be wor­ship it can be any­thing, it’s a gift.” She adds: “The Ex­pe­ri­ence did un­ex­pect­edly well. It went gold; both the CD and DVD are now chas­ing plat­inum sta­tus. It’s been ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.

“Our in­dus­try is a lot of fun, but it needs you to be very pa­tient. It comes with a lot of pres­sure when things don’t go your way; you be­come frus­trated. We have events like the Stan­dard Bank Joy of Jazz and Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Jazz fes­ti­vals; but they be­come the same thing ev­ery year. If you’re not on the line-up for that year what are you do­ing? The good thing about me is that I don’t have to wait or de­pend on any­one. My team and I stage our own shows all the time.”

Not only is Ju­dith con­cen­trat­ing on push­ing her mu­sic, she’s also chang­ing her lifestyle. The songstress looks slim­mer and sex­ier than be­fore. How does she do it? “I’m very strict about what I eat,” she says. She some­times uses In­sta­gram to show off her new body, and even posts a few snaps of her­self wear­ing a swim­suit. “When I got mar­ried and started hav­ing ba­bies, I tried to train and it didn’t work. When I was done giv­ing birth I de­cided to re­ally work on my­self.” The singer says she has roped in her kids to ex­er­cise with with her. “It’s fun to train with them. I think it’s im­por­tant to teach our chil­dren from an early age about lead­ing a healthy lifestyle. It helps them to be bet­ter peo­ple.” To main­tain her fig­ure the songstress jogs, does boxing and fol­lows a healthy diet, in­clud­ing drink­ing green smooth­ies.

So what’s next for her? “The way for­ward for me is to find that one thing that’s go­ing to make me feel ful­filled; it may not even be about record­ing an­other al­bum. I’d like to min­is­ter in many churches all over the world and be part of in­ter­na­tional jazz fes­ti­vals, not just in Europe and Amer­ica, but all over Africa and Asia too.

“I want to do more than just sing. My Wor­ship is only my eighth al­bum, but did you know that Re­becca Ma­lope has worked on more than 50 al­bums? I don’t think it’s go­ing to get eas­ier in this in­dus­try so my big­gest chal­lenge is to keep rein­vent­ing my­self so that when my name is men­tioned, I’m counted among the great­est artists that ever lived.” There’s no doubt that we’re yet to see the best of Ju­dith Sephuma. She’s about to get bet­ter!

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