Cover story – the evolution of Judith Sephuma
JUDITH SEPHUMA, 44, is on a re-invention mode, which includes a new image and global domination.
“I FEEL NOBODY IS SUPPOSED TO BE ALONE. I PRAYED TO GOD TO NOT LET ME BE SINGLE FOR TOO LONG.”
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.”
“I WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO REAL INTERNATIONAL TOURS – I’M TALKING ABOUT A SIX-MONTH EXCURSION IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES.”
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!