Interview with Simphiwe Dana

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Simphiwe Dana has a pleasant surprise for her Kenyan fans ahead of her concert which will be happening at the Arboretum tomorrow. Simphiwe will be launching her brand new album Firebrand. She has this to say about her new album.

“I am a firebrand, and always have been. I am a firebrand because I do not allow society’s prisons to hold me back. I speak my truth. I am free. I love fiercely and I fight for what I love, and this is the source of my activism”.

This album is being launched in partnership with Capital FM as the media partner. This is a big deal because she is launching this album here before launching the album in her homeland South Africa.

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The album firebrand took 2 years to create. Simphiwe Dana will woo the audience with the new album material at the Koroga Festival happening tomorrow (we have gotten an advance copy and Simphiwe Dana fans are in for a treat. Carry money to buy a couple of copies for your friends and family.)

George Kilibwa had a chance to interview with Simphiwe Dana and brings you some insights into this fascinating musical icon who combines brains, beauty, heart and art to bring you a different kind of music that takes the listener on an exciting musical journey.

GEORGE: What is that one thing that people do not know about you?

SIMPHIWE: Well, um… that I love to joke around… but I keep it for my family and a few of my friends.

GEORGE: What are some of your proudest moments?

SIMPHIWE: The first one was when I was very new in the industry; my album had been out for only six months and I was invited to perform at the Cape Town Jazz Festival. As a new comer, I was given a really small stage and what happened is that people were fighting to get onto the venue and there were even some people who broke their bones and the paramedics had to be called. The organizers had to give me another stage after I had finished my performance, on the same night. The only other person that had ever happened was Miriam Makeba. That was among one of the most memorable moments of my career. That is what stands out for me…what it did is that it confirmed that I was born to do music.

GEORGE: You have mentioned Miriam Makeba, and there has been a lot of comparison between you and Miriam Makeba. I am sure you know that?

SIMPHIWE: Yes (she laughs)

GEORGE: People are saying you are the next Miriam Makeba mainly because of your music and the way you comment on political issues and so on and so forth. There being so many South African artists like Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie etc, but who do you look up to?

SIMPHIWE: I look up to a lot of activists … Artistes who use their voice for change. Artistes like Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, Bob Marley, Nina Simone… I look up to activists.

GEORGE: And you’re most embarrassing moment?

SIMPHIWE: Oh no … if it is embarrassing, why would I even mention it? (She laughs) I am not going to tell you!

GEORGE: Okay, one of your embarrassing moments.

SIMPHIWE: Anything embarrassing belongs in a tiny dark corner in my head that no one can access.

GEORGE: I understand.

GEORGE: When we look at artistes who have made it, we have this perception that everything is working well for them. What we do not remember is the artistes face challenges and low moments. What was that point where you were at your lowest and most importantly where did you get the strength to lift yourself up?

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SIMPHIWE: As an artiste and a woman, there are many challenges in my industry. And when you are a healer, you cannot heal yourself. I have tried to use the convictions of myself to get through life. As they say, when life gives you lemon, make vodka and lemonade.

GEORGE: Not throw the lemons back at life?

SIMPHIWE: Why would you waste lemon? Don’t waste lemons.

GEORGE: Do you know any Kenyan artistes?

SIMPHIWE: I know Eric Wainaina! I am hoping I will see him. I also know Nanjira. I am supposed to meet her today. I have not met Eric Wainaina, and I would like to meet him.

GEORGE: Do you have any upcoming projects or any plans of doing any collabos with, not necessarily Kenyan artistes, but East African artistes?

SIMPHIWE: At the moment, no, not really but as a Pan African, I am always looking for those opportunities where there are synergies or a connection, then definitely I would consider. As African artistes, I think we really have to work together. I also work for AU, where we deal with how we can unify the continent through art.

GEORGE: You mentioned that some of the people who inspire you are activists. And you are not the kind of person who shies away from what ails the society; you actually speak your mind without really being afraid. You are trying to change the society from your music and the gift God has given you. Not many Kenyan artistes take that route. You mentioned Eric Wainaina who has done a great job, has an amazing song on corruption and tries to sing about the ills of the society. What can you say about the Kenyan artiste who only sings about women, money, cars …

SIMPHIWE: …and tweaking… (We both laugh)

There is space for all different kinds of art forms, I would not want to say they should not sing about tweaking…please, go ahead, by all means. People also need that music, to let it loose and let our head down. It is also important to note that the artistes should be able to understand what is happening in their society and have the privilege of having enough time to sit down and observe the society. By doing that, they are able to identify what the real issues are.

GEORGE: Your recent song, My Light, can you tell us about it? Is there someone you were dedicating the song to?

SIMPHIWE: Yes! Yes! Yes! This song was written for my son. He is such a bundle of joy. He walks into the room and just lights up the room. He did this at a very heavy time in my life, where I would look forward to him coming back home and just filling the house with light. That’s when I wrote the song. And I had always wanted to write a song for him, and when the first album came out, he was not around.

GEORGE: You sing most of your songs in…

SIMPHIWE: …Xhosa.

GEORGE: I cannot get to say that. You sing most of your songs in…

SIMPHIWE: …Xhosa.

GEORGE: Yes. Don’t you think that it is limiting you? For example, your East African fans do not really get to understand what you sing about. Do you ever feel like if you sing in English, you will reach to more people?

SIMPHIWE: I feel like music is its own language. When a song is good, it is good, regardless of what language it is sung in.

George Kilibwa aka @greatrnk is an entertainment blogger who also writes on African issues.

The performance by Simphiwe Dana is not to be missed. Firebrand will be made available for fans to pre-order on iTunes across the continent, and around the world on 10 November 2014 to coincide with the launch in Kenya.

Last night there was an exclusive listening party at the Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi. Here are some of the pictures from that event.

The Koroga festival starts at 11 am tomorrow and ends at 7 pm at the Arboretum.  The festival also features Atemi Oyungu and Amileena Mwenesi.

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