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

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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.

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