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.
FLANKED BY LETTA MBULU AND CAIPHUS SEMENYA
PERFORMING AT WINNIE MANDELA’S MEMORIAL SERVICE
WITH LEGENDARY JAZZ ARTIST THOMAS GWANGWA