Her professional debut in 2004 launched her music career with the overwhelming success of her debut album ‘Zandisile’. Her debut was followed by ‘The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street’ in 2007, ‘Kulture Noir’ in 2010, ‘Firebrand’ and ‘An Evening with Simphiwe Dana Live In Concert’ in 2014, and in 2016, ‘Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience’, featuring Buika and Asa. Dana’s Afrocentric discography is said to pulsate with the Xhosa cosmology of her cultural background, while is an expression of what it means to be human.
Simphiwe Dana’s new album, Bamako, is a beautiful musical work described as playful, intense, atmospheric, and celebratory with a tinge of lyrical melancholy with its fusion of musical styles, the traditional Malian music with its vocal chants and blues-inspired guitar. Love is at the core of Bamako in terms of lyrical content. The album is co-produced by the legendary Salif Keita and named after the capital city of his home country, Mali, where the album was recorded.
Bamako is music that breaks and mends your heart with tactile sensuality, which sets the imagination alight, music made for connoisseurs, for varied moments and social rituals: intimate friendships and celebrations, scorching love affairs, lonesome evenings on elevated balconies overlooking crimson horizons. A timeless classic.
The ultimate authority and power of this music is how it escapes and resists categorisation – for its palette is wide yet focused, detonating whole fragments of jazz, blues, rock, traditional African sounds, reggae and dancehall, soul, Ghanaian and Nigerian high life music, even enchanting calypso accents. It is impossible for the ear to filter the album in its entirety in one sitting.
The Afropolitan got to know Simpiwe Dana a little better…
Would you share an early childhood memory with us?
I was raised by Rhadi (Rhadebe), who was very strict but extremely protective. She loved me and I remember she would choose me to accompany her to go get her nkam nkam, her government cheque.
The music you compose is such a beautiful fusion of genres. How would you describe it to a first-time listener?
My music is afro soul. It’s a cross-pollination of genres intended to make you feel, with anecdotes and lived experiences informed by the African viewpoint. I am an African.
Is it fair to say jazz is your first love?
Jazz was born in Africa and transported in boats to America. It came back to be reborn. So, yes!
I would sing in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, eyes closed and using my toothbrush as the microphone. I would pretend that I could see the crowds losing their minds over my performance.
When did your love affair with music begin?
My earliest memory of my personal dream to be a musician is when I was seven years old. It was the first time living with my mother for the unforeseeable future. It was the first time not worrying I may be sent off to live with relatives, through no fault of her own. And it was the first time, perhaps, that I even had a toothbrush, a flushable toilet, and running water. I would sing in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, eyes closed and using my toothbrush as the microphone. I would pretend that I could see the crowds losing their minds over my performance. Being reconciled with my mother was the first time I could dream.
Is songwriting a natural talent or is it something you can learn?
Songwriting is a natural talent.
When composing a new song, which comes first, the music or the lyrics?
There really is no formula, according to my experience.
You’ve performed on stages around the world. Which city did you love the most?
It has to be Cartagena, Spain. The shows were only at midnight in an amphitheatre. My agent and friend, Marion von Gaudecker, had to make sure we were all awake at least an hour before the show. People walked to the show. Juluka also performed.
What makes music such a powerful force for driving social activism?
Music speaks and propagates love without language. Music is the greatest force of peace. Music is where we see our humanity and thus our equality.
You’re a creative advocate of Afrofuturism and Afrofeminism, tell us more.
I’ve been learning a lot about African futurism versus afrofuturism, thanks to Nnedi Okorafor. My futurism is specific to African ways of being, whereas afrofuturism is wakandan in how it bypasses the nuances of Africanism and is all-encompassing of blackness across the globe. I am an African.
Bamako is a beautiful musical work described as playful, intense, atmospheric, and celebratory.
Making it big in the South African music scene is notoriously difficult. What advice do you have for up and coming artists?
Forget the trends. They come and go. Just be you. You are forever.
Can you recall your breakthrough moment?
Yes, it was at the Cape Town Jazz Festival – it was my first appearance there and we had to get a second and bigger stage because the people demanded to see me. Nothing will ever beat that!
What are your hopes for the future, and what do you hope to change in the world?
That the fate of the world is in the hands of the people. Particularly young people. My daughter once said we are leaving them with a mess to fix. And this was as I was brushing my teeth with the tap running, which to her was overindulgent, and selfish. The luxuries we enjoy today may be scarcities in the future. Our politics are beginning to change – no longer power-centric, but people-centric. I hope that remains.
Of all the songs you’ve written and recorded, which is the most meaningful to you and why?
Zandisile. I wrote Zandisile for all the children of the marginalised world. I wrote Zandisile for them to know they can take over the world and make it better.
If you could perform live with one artist, past or present, who would it be?
What can fans look forward to from Simphiwe Dana in the future?
I don’t know what the future holds. All I know is that I’m here! For now.
Mariza from Portugal
Favourite thing to do (if you’re not making music)?
I love to cook, and host.
Favourite way to start the day?
I burn incense and meditate
Favourite way to end the day?
I like to watch sci-fi series and movies
Favourite item of clothing?
I like kimonos