Lo­cal celeb – Brenda Mtambo

BRENDA MTAMBO talks sis­ter­hood in the mu­sic in­dus­try, sec­ond time moth­er­hood and Mh­laba Wethu, her lat­est sin­gle to get South Africans talk­ing


Brenda Mtambo made Mzansi sit up and take no­tice with her stir­ring ren­di­tion of the strug­gle song Mh­laba Wethu at Mam’ Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela’s memo­rial ser­vice in Soweto on 11 April. Shortly af­ter­wards, the song re­ceived well-de­served air­play and fea­tured on iTunes’ Top 20. The song struck a chord with so many black South Africans that a re­quest for it to be made the sec­ond na­tional an­them might just be on its way to Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s of­fice.

But her mu­si­cal jour­ney didn’t start there. For eight years, Brenda carved out a place for her­self on the mu­sic scene as a mem­ber of Joy­ous Cel­e­bra­tion be­fore go­ing solo in 2013. The vel­vety voiced Afro-soul songstress is se­ri­ous about cre­at­ing a time­less mu­si­cal legacy — and she has a loyal fan base in us!

I dis­cov­ered I could sing in pri­mary school. I was an at­ten­tion-seek­ing child and started singing in grade one. I also come from a mu­si­cal fam­ily — my grand­fa­ther was a gui­tar player, my un­cle played the ac­cor­dion and we all just loved belt­ing out our favourite tra­di­tional tunes. My birth name isn’t Brenda but be­cause I could sing and Brenda Fassie was a huge star in the ‘80s, ev­ery­one just started call­ing me that. My real name is Busezweni. Find­ing my own sound was daunt­ing but great. Grow­ing up, I sang Maskandi mu­sic and lis­tened to Anita Baker, Busi Mh­longo and Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo. My fam­ily was into tribal mu­sic and tra­di­tional gospel be­cause my grand­par­ents were staunch mem­bers of the Nazareth Bap­tist Church. I only learnt how to sing con­tem­po­rary gospel when I joined Joy­ous Cel­e­bra­tion in 2005. Craft­ing my sound was easy be­cause it had lived in me for so long. I re­mem­ber hav­ing to rein­tro­duce my­self and be­cause no­body be­lieved in me, I’d end up go­ing back to Joy­ous Cel­e­bra­tion. The group’s founders un­der­stood my vi­sion, be­lieved in my tal­ent and they helped me record my first al­bum. Per­form­ing Mh­laba Wethu at Mam’ Win­nie Madik­izela Man­dela’s memo­rial ser­vice was emo­tional. I per­formed the song a day prior to its re­lease on dig­i­tal plat­forms. When I first heard Mh­laba Wethu, I im­me­di­ately knew the song needed to be heard again. It’s a strug­gle song our elders used to sing when they were des­per­ate for change — and once again, our coun­try finds it­self at this crossroads. Through this song, I wanted to re­mind our gen­er­a­tion of the need for this change. When the or­gan­is­ers booked me, I im­me­di­ately obliged be­cause, other than it be­ing a great op­por­tu­nity to honour the late Mother of our na­tion, I was ex­cited about sharing the stage with our coun­try’s mu­si­cal greats.

Be­ing part of Joy­ous Cel­e­bra­tion was stress­ful in the be­gin­ning. I felt like I didn’t fit in. The founders loved my voice, but there’s a spe­cific Joy­ous Cel­e­bra­tion way of singing, which I quickly had to ac­cli­ma­tise to. Over­all, the ex­pe­ri­ence was filled with many lessons that I needed be­fore ven­tur­ing out on my own.

Go­ing solo taught me how to hus­tle and trust my­self. I stayed with a friend for a year be­cause I wasn’t get­ting a salary. It took me three years to re­lease my first al­bum — a jour­ney marred with self-doubt. I even con­sid­ered go­ing the cor­po­rate route at some point. It helped that I was self-driven through it all and stuck it out un­til things worked out.

My 2016 sopho­more al­bum So Much More is my proudest creation. It’s a por­trait of who I am as a singer and song­writer. I had a lot of cre­ative con­trol dur­ing pro­duc­tion. Be­cause I’m an emo­tional singer, I al­ways want the raw­ness of my voice to come through. I strive to evoke emo­tion.

Find­ing sis­ter­hood in the mu­sic in­dus­try is not easy. Find­ing peo­ple you can truly count on in an in­dus­try where ev­ery­one’s chas­ing the same goals cre­ates com­pe­ti­tion. I think our in­dus­try hasn’t evolved to the point where some­one can of­fer to take you un­der his or her wing. I’m for­tu­nate to have found my own clique — I’ve worked with Lira so she’s be­come a sis­ter. I also love singing with my friend Kelly Khu­malo. We gel and our voices com­ple­ment each other. What’s kept me go­ing is that I’m liv­ing my pas­sion. Mu­sic is the first thing I think of in the morn­ing, and my last thought be­fore bed­time. Dif­fi­cult as my jour­ney has been, I fo­cus on where I want to go and where I see my­self with mu­sic. The great­est feel­ing ever is when peo­ple ap­proach me to tell me my mu­sic heals them. I get mo­ments when I feel re­ally down. Then, as though my fans know what I’m go­ing through, they’ll ran­domly post some­thing up­lift­ing about my mu­sic on so­cial me­dia. That cheers me up in­stantly.

My sig­na­ture style’s a huge part of who I am. I’m ad­dicted to black and love ac­ces­soris­ing with African-in­spired pieces. I don’t have a stylist but I worked with dif­fer­ent de­sign­ers in­clud­ing David Tlale, NN Vin­tage and Lunga Cre­ations. I love in­cor­po­rat­ing other styles but my core is African.

I’m about to be­come a sec­ond-time mom. I’m ex­cited, I’ve al­ways wanted to have two kids — specif­i­cally a pi­geon pair. My first­born’s a boy and I’m ex­pect­ing a girl. I’m a lot calmer this time around and don’t run to the doc­tor for ev­ery lit­tle thing. It’s been a beau­ti­ful preg­nancy so far, ex­cept that I eat a lot. Be­ing a mom in en­ter­tain­ment doesn’t al­low you to re­lax and en­joy your baby. I might be work­ing just a week af­ter the baby’s born, but I’m okay with it be­cause this is the path I chose. There’s no tak­ing time out — it’s the na­ture of the game.




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