Wanda Baloyi’s musical evolution has been a thrill to witness.
Having started out as a member of popular girl group ‘Ghetto Luv’, she quickly transitioned out of the definitive early 2000’s upbeat Kwaito era to a jazzier sound.
The songbird was raised in a musical family, a journey which was heavily influenced by her father Jaco Maria, a Cape Town singer and lead vocalist for 1980’s group Ozila. As such, it was inevitable that Wanda would sooner unleash her creative agility.
On her debut album Voices, Baloyi let go of the fierce hooks that had characterised her initial musical era, and started slowing down the tempo to showcase her beautiful vocals over delightful melodies.
And while that was almost two decades ago, the songstress maintains that music must be a platform for authentic storytelling. “Our people want to know about us”, she says. “They want to know what the issues we are dealing with are, our story, our language and our rhythm.”
After taking a breather and retreating from the trappings of popular culture and the zeitgeist, as it where, Wanda makes a triumphant to the spotlight with new music.
This season, which kicks off with ‘Umendo’, finds her content and assured in who she is.
“What’s new about me as an artist, and as a woman, is I’m more content about who and where I am. I’ve accepted things that I cannot change.”
Consistent with her commitment to telling stories that help others relate and find a sense of healing, ‘Umendo’ gives a voice to the blowback African women face when leaving marriages.
“It talks about a failed marriage and the expectations of the wife in the African cultural content, and the shame of having to go back home and face your family, face the community with that title of coming from a failed marriage”, she tells us.
In this interview, Wanda Baloyi reflects on the treasures of experiences that have shaped her new outlook on life, how she has found her voice, as well as how the new music aims to shine a light on parts of ourselves that yearn to be known.
Q: It’s always fascinating finding out about the frenzy that follows the release of new music for an artist…
Because I haven’t been doing it for a while, it feels a little bit new. But for me, it’s obviously just a process that you have to get through. So it’s fun and exciting to get people to know what you’ve been working on and what the project is about.
Q: Obviously it’s a different feeling from the day just before you release new work. What is that like, the emotions before releasing a new song?
It’s mixed emotions. There’s this anxious feeling because you’ve been creating this baby, you’ve been in studio doing whatever you can do to make this baby sound proper, and you are happy with it… you are excited!
But now taking it to the next step and to the audience… it’s like literally stripping yourself naked and expecting people to be like “Woah! Hot body!” (Laughs) So it’s a bit scary and exciting because before you let go, you, yourself are content and happy with it. If it starts with your happiness, the rest is not in your control.
Q: Is that possibly the scariest thing about being an artist?
There are many scary things about being an artist. Being an artist in itself is scary! Being able to release and let go of your projects to the world is scary. Being onstage is scary. Being unproductive and not being relevant in terms of being loyal to your craft, is scary because you feel God has blessed you with this talent, so why aren’t you doing anything with it?
That’s scary on its own. Just the fact that you are haunted by this gift on a daily basis is scary because it also affects your relationships and a whole lot of things. It’s a very selfish talent, by the way. It demands so much of you that whoever is with you is going to have to be with ya’ll.
There also many scary elements of the industry itself, but in that scariness its exciting and fun! There’s no day that you wake up with nothing to do… There’s a bit of both in it, and I think that in life, if you don’t do anything scary, you won’t do anything exciting.
Q: Your latest single Umendo. Tell us about the genesis of the song
First of all, I worked with a really amazing talent. Dr. Sipho Sithole who has worked with amazing artists in South Africa.
That’s on its own was an exciting collaboration.
I had given him the vision of what I wanted to do on the project, and I think because he was long ready to work with me, he was like, ‘I got you!’ From the first day when we recorded the first song, till the last, it was a breeze. It was an amazing experience. It was more fun than it was work.
I wanted the project to have meaning in terms of the messages we are talking about in the songs. I wanted it to have depth in the storytelling.
And not only stories that are personal to myself, but things we go through in society, in the continent, in the world. As a woman, as a black woman and as Africans. I wanted the issues to be topical.
In this case ‘Umendo’ talks about marriage. I’m not married by the way, not yet! (Laughs).
What I love about the topic is it talks about a failed marriage and the expectations of the wife in the African cultural content, and the shame of having to go back home and face your family, face the community with that title of coming from a failed marriage.
It’s about having to take your children back and having to explain. The whole issue of it being difficult for a woman to remove herself from a situation while being judged.
It’s expected for you because ‘Hawu, you are married mos. Stay there! Hold on. Fight for it!’ But there are certain things that take so much from you that you have to free yourself. Already in the country, we are dealing with gender based violence and so many issues, that the stories are not being voiced in song.
This is a song that creates and provokes conversation. It gets people to talk about it. Someone sitting somewhere will be like, ‘yo I’m in this situation and I can get out of it.’
Q: Do you feel that in the South African music industry and the space we take up in the world, that we are telling our authentic stories?
I think we are now. I’m inspired by the new talent. They are very fearless, and decisive about what they want to say in their songs. I can make an example about Samthing Soweto and Sjava. Those artists are talking about real issues.
I think what connects them to people is the audience is that realness. Someone sitting elokshini or wherever would be like ‘uSjava ukhuluma ngami’ (Sjava is talking about me), or is talking about an issue that I can deeply relate to because this is my reality.
So I think we are. We are delving into ourselves. We have revisited our roots and gone back to the source. Our people want to know about us. They want to know what the issues we are dealing with are, our story, our language and our rhythm.
Q: People completely evolve every five years. This being the beginning of a new era for you, what is new about as a person as an artist?
What’s new about me as an artist and as a woman is I’m more content about who and where I am. I’ve accepted things that I cannot change. I’m truer to myself than I was before.
I think maturing, growing and going through experiences, trials and tribulations, puts you in a space where you become a complete package of yourself. These things are not comparable to anyone else. It’s a personal space where you find contentment and fulfilment with yourself.
And I must say, I’ve become a little more spiritual and I think that brings you there. The world can be so hectic. The world can easily lead you astray if you don’t have a sense of focus and coming back to your sanity and alignment. For me it’s prayer, it’s my mom. She is a constant reminder of what I can become. Also, it’s okay for you to express yourself and tell your stories in a manner that is comfortable for you.
Q: What inspires you, ultimately?
Life. I’m inspired by life, I’m inspired by truth and I’m inspired by many things! I love coming back to my experiences, and that’s my truth. I’m inspired by pain because I relate to it, I recognise it, I’m familiar with it. That can be a little bit good, because it forces you to come out of it.
Pain in the same way as depression is a reminder of where you aren’t supposed to be, or what you don’t want. So when you feel that, go in. It’s healing, when you face your pain. I’m also inspired by people in general, by other musicians
Q: You grew up in a musical family. What was that moment for you when you knew music is certainly what you want to do?
Yes, I’m from a musical family. My dad is a musician, he’s an amazing vocalist. I think growing up in a musical family, I didn’t really know I was going to be a musician. It’s just something that was there. I was surrounded by it. I loved it and there was always some time of excitement.
As I grew older, I started to find my voice and passion and I was like, ‘This space makes me happy.’ But it wasn’t something where I sat down and decided, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this’. It just captured me.
Q: What’s been the most definitive moment in your career so far?
The realisation that I can not live without it. In whatever shape or form.