Local celeb – Thandi Ntuli
THANDI NTULI’S sophomore album was described as one of this year’s highlights. The 2018 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Jazz winner shares her musical journey
We caught up with Thandi Ntuli while she was still on a high following her performance at the Amersfoort Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. This happened to be the first international act where she got to showcase her own music. Joining in on her excitement, we asked about the overall experience. “It was really special. For the first time, I performed my own project overseas. The festival has a huge following and attracts a lot of tourists who go to the small town just for that. The reception was amazing!”
The Soshanguve-born artist fell in love with the piano after her mother’s relentless pursuit to have at least one of her kids play a musical instrument. “My mom took me to private piano lessons when I was just four years old. She loved the instrument so much, and someone had advised her to enrol me as early as possible seeing that my siblings were already too old to pick it up.”
She continues: “I wanted to study music because I wanted to learn how to write my own work. I was tired of playing other people’s songs. One of my teachers said I was very talented and should perhaps consider a career in music. I had no idea what I wanted to study in varsity.”
Thandi went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance from the University of Cape Town in 2010. But before tackling university, she travelled to the UK for a gap year.
“Matric was a very busy year for me and my mom felt I hadn’t had time to consider my options. She suggested that I take a gap year. My sister lived in London so I stayed with her while I figured out what to do. I was a bartender, and then worked at a bank. That experience gave me time to think,” she explains.
When she came back to South Africa, her career took off slowly but surely. “I started gigging, writing and composing music while I was in varsity. I also set up a band, and thought about releasing my original compositions, but I
wasn’t ready. When I reached a point where I could go to studio and record my work, someone suggested I use my first album as a business card that would introduced me to the South African music industry.”
She released her crowdfunded debut album, The Offering, in 2014 and it went on to earn her a Metro FM Award nomination for Best Urban Jazz a year later. Then doors started to open.
“The Offering was something I created for people to know about my story. All of those compositions came from a very personal place. People got to see me as a musician – not just a pianist. I was an independent artist, I wanted to just get out there. I received a lot of support and the momentum grew.”
Thandi is inspired by musical greats like Abdullah Ibrahim and the late Hugh Masekela because as a child, her father played their songs at home. “I probably know every Bra Hugh song. I can hum his melodies even though I’m not sure which song it comes from. My father loves music, and was once involved in choral music — that passion clearly rubbed off on me. My family loves singing together too,” she says in between giggles.
A great collaborator and band leader, the award-winning muso is also part of a group called Rebirth of Cool, a genredefying jazz-meets-hip-hop collective. “Rebirth of Cool is the brainchild of DJ Kenzhero. He has a knack for identifying unique opportunities in the music industry. I first encountered him on the dance floors as a student in Cape Town. He put up a post on Facebook saying he’s looking for artists that love jazz and hip-hop. A friend tagged me on that post and I reached out to him. We met up and discussed the concept. He even trusted me to put together the musicians that would form the collective. I love Rebirth of Cool — it’s a fun experience and I’ve learnt so much that I didn’t know about jazz hiphop,” she muses, also mentioning that she tries not to limit herself.
At just 30, with four solid years in the music industry, Thandi has already captured the ears of global audiences. Two of her original compositions are on the Netflix series She Has Got To Have It by world-renowned producer Spike Lee.
On that, she says, “Working on Spike Lee’s series was very exciting. I read his post on social media that he was looking for an independent musician to work with. I took the chance and responded, not knowing I would actually make it. When his people responded, telling me my work was shortlisted for the series, I had even forgotten about it. I really believe that’s the reason my music is gaining interest outside of South Africa because Netflix is everywhere. A lot of people will come across my music that way.”
The Standard Bank Young Artist award winner released her sophomore album Exiled in February, which Apple Music dubbed one of 2018’s musical highlights. “Exiled came out at the perfect time because of the themes I talk about in the album — I touch on issues of masculinity and tensions in our society. It is also personal — I describe spiritual and emotional exile as a way of linking how we relate to each other, the subject of black love and different types of relationships.”
The jazz enthusiast wants to grow her reach and tap into the international market. There’s no doubt that through Exile, that’s exactly what she’ll be doing. Her music is exceptional and her vocals mesmerising. “I realised that there’s no point in creating something no one will hear. I’ve been so well received here at home that I now want to reach other countries as well. I’ve been getting interest from the Netherlands and Japan. I just want to spread my music everywhere.” With the amount of passion and determination she’s already displayed, Thandi’s star is one to definitely keep our eyes on.