Singing for Nelson Mandela ‘was unforgettable’, says Simphiwe Dana

Simphiwe Dana. Picture: Puxley Makgatho

Reminiscent: Simphiwe Dana. Picture: Puxley Makgatho

IT IS more than 10 years since Simphiwe Dana sang for Nelson Mandela on his birthday. She got a standing ovation.

It was the former president’s 84th birthday, and Dana was relatively unknown at the time, but the experience was unforgettable, she says.

“It was a song I never released because it was a song in progress that I later wasn’t so happy with, but to have gotten the honour to have performed with him and to have shaken his hand on that day … I am sure he never remembered me after that day, but that moment will stay with me forever.”

In the years since the singer-songwriter has won several awards for her unique blend of jazz, Afro-soul, rap and traditional music. Dana, who celebrated a decade as a recording artist late in April, celebrated her recording success with a concert at the Baseline in Newtown, Johannesburg.

“I wanted to celebrate my 10 years at a place where it all started,” she says.

Dana’s career kicked off after she attended a poetry and open mic session at the Baseline. She sang Jill Scott’s A Long Walk. The audience loved it, and gave her a standing ovation. It was then that she knew she had to follow her calling and become a musician.

“I was scared to get into the music industry because of the horror stories people told,” she says. “I guess when you are destined for something it will happen.”

While Dana was still trying to find her feet she worked in web development and graphic design for about three years before recording a song called Zandisile.

The album of the same name, released in 2004, sold well and gained several awards, including a South African Music Award (Sama) in 2005. On its worldwide release, the album gained success in the Billboard charts and Dana won an AVO Session Basel Award.

She says it was Roshnie Moonsammy, a producer for various shows, who helped her to get a recording deal with Gallo Music in 2003. Moonsammy promised to book her for gigs for a year. Not long after that she got a call from Gallo Music’s Sipho Sithole to confirm a recording deal.

That was how her first album, recorded with Afro-soul group Stimela’s Thapelo Kgomo, came about. It was launched during yet another Baseline show, headlined by Grammy Award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo. The Afro-soul album was influenced by jazz singers such as Dorothy Masuku, Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu. It remains her best selling album. “I didn’t expect to be received this way,” she says.

Looking back over her decade in the music industry, Dana says she has seen it change with the growth of digital technology, which has made it hard to sell CDs. One thing that has not changed is that piracy is the biggest problem and, like most of her peers, she complains about the amount of airtime available to South African artists.

Dana says the Baseline celebration, which was packed to capacity with her fans singing to every song and screaming, “got me emotional”.

She was worried that the live DVD she recorded at the event would not come out well, but it turned out fine.

Dana plans to travel across SA to celebrate her decade in the music industry. “I plan to perform in every province,” Dana said.

“Music is Godly and the best way to communicate,” Dana says. “I write is from a sacred space, write about what I feel, I’m honest and I don’t try to speak on (other) people’s behalf.”

She is working on two videos for two of her singles and is planning to record with Cobhams Asuquo, a music producer from Nigeria.

Outside her music, she is an ambassador for Amnesty International and a convener of an African Union project called Africa Re-Imagination Creative Hub (ARCH) aimed at developing the identity, heritage, arts and culture chapter for Agenda 2063.

Dana’s latest album, Firebrand, her fourth, was released last year, full of passion and with a song for every mood.

The deep jazzy melodies of the title song bring out the passion in her voice. The album includes a song Dana has recorded before — Nzinga (Ntshilo Ntshilo) — and she has done a great job, sticking to the original melody, while adding something fresh. It is the song you would want to sing along to at a jazz festival.

Roll me down sounds like one of those songs that became hits during the apartheid era, very jazzy. My favourite is You My Light. The first time you play this song you just want to hear its sing-along melody again.

All in all, this is the album is for everyone who loves and understands Dana’s music. The CD is in stores and the album is available for download.

Source:Priscilla Malinga|

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