( Image provided by Thandi Ntuli )
The 28th of September 2014 will mark the launch of local Afro Jazz musician, Thandi Ntuli’s debut album – The Offering. Having spent her entire life dedicated to the learning, composition and performance of music, Thandi shares her love of the arts, the importance of a strong work ethic and the life of a musician in 2014 below…
Full name: Thandi Ntuli
Current title/company: Musician/pianist/vocalist
Educational background: Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance, University of Cape Town
Current city: Johannesburg, Gauteng.
Describe your path to becoming a musician
Becoming a musician was really a lifelong journey. I started with Piano lessons at the age of 4 and had no idea I’d love it one day. In my childhood, piano was an enemy to playing outside with friends, and i constantly had a love-hate relationship with it. But somehow in High School (Grade 10 to be exact) when I started playing around with composing my own songs, did the love for music really become apparent to me. I decided then that I would be a musician one day, not necessarily playing Western Classical music, but I knew that being a musician was my calling.
After High School I took a gap year in the hopes of finding a great place to study in England. In that time I spent in Coventry, England I joined a gospel choir at the University where my sister was studying at the time and for the first time witnessed someone improvising and playing by ear. I became intrigued by the whole process and decided to look for a Jazz degree to enroll in. In the same year I received exposure to the music of the late Bheki Mseleku and Moses Molelekwa through my brother, which had a lasting impression on me.
The following year after some unsuccessful attempts to study in London, I returned to South Africa and began my degree in Jazz Performance which was really an incredible journey. I was exposed to some of the most amazing musicians and piano teachers there, to this day I am forever grateful for that!
I began playing gigs for pay in 2008 – so in essence one could say that is when my professional career began. And I remember doing gigs when all I’d take home is R100 which would be enough to get a burger at McDonald’s and a cab home, haha! Nevertheless that is where it all really started and since then I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of South Africa’s most accomplished artists, such as Thandiswa Mazwai, Steve Dyer, Marcus Wyatt, Jimmy Dludlu, Neo Muyanga, Judith Sephuma, Themba Mkhize and Andile Yenana to name a few; as well as international artists such as Andy Narell.
You studied Music at the University of Cape Town. Did undergoing formal tertiary education for an inherent skill such as singing and music harness your skills further? Would you say studying music at a tertiary institution is a necessity?
I’ve been asked this question a lot and for me I really think it is a matter of each individual person. Just as one cannot have a method of schooling that suits every child, so it is with studying music. For me personally, the huge benefit of a tertiary education is structure and an environment of like-minded people. I think in your own space, finding the discipline to teach yourself can be very difficult (which is why I have utmost respect for self-taught musicians) whereas in an institution you can learn from the classroom but also from the people you have easy access to surrounding yourself with. I can’t begin to describe the amount of talent that was and is probably still flocking to UCT, so that association is invaluable to me. However on the downside I have discovered that I’ve had to do a lot of “unlearning” so to speak, since leaving UCT to find myself in all that I have studied. And I feel at this point in my career, I still have a lot to do in terms of finding my own true voice in my expression and moving away from the institutional norms that I was taught during my studies.
Give us a glimpse into the relationship between talent and hard work – do you think one can survive without the other?
I once heard that success is 1% talent and 99% work. I agree with every bone in my heart. Quite a number of people get discouraged upon asking me when I started playing the piano – and my response is age 4, when in fact, I’ve met many people who have achieved a lot more in half the time! The key to everything in life, is work! I do believe inherent talent has a huge part to play in someone’s overall success. It’s not to say that we can all be everything and anything. But I think society places way more importance on talent than it should. A great example is singer Beyonce Knowles. People always look at Beyonce in awe of her talent. And though she is incredibly talented, I do think that we diminish a person’s hard work when all we focus on is their talent.
You are nearing the release of your first album launch – Congratulations! You have chosen to release this album independently of a record label– give us more insight into this decision?
Thank you! The choice to go independent was influenced by a few factors. Firstly, a record label is in essence a loan. If I went through a record label I would inevitably have a debt to pay them, so in essence raising the money myself is the same thing. Also, with the rise of internet distribution and the decline of the CD buying culture, I felt it was a reasonable move. I may still need some help in terms of distribution with a record label but this is a decision I have left to be dictated by demand.
How did you ultimately determine the genre of music you were most passionate about? Did you have an “aha” moment?
Well, I didn’t actually decide on a genre – I think it was more a result of me writing music that reflected my influences at the time. I do write songs that are different stylistically, and I prefer it that way.
Have you had any mentors or influential people in your life?
Of course! I don’t know where to start, but definitely my parents and my family. My friends! My boyfriend who has always been the voice saying “You can do it” since we met in varsity, and musically my late piano teacher Ada Lewkovitz, Neo Muyanga who has been a great mentor and Andrew Lilley at UCT who taught me a whole lot and Andre Petersen who also taught me at UCT briefly, but also challenged me to really be inquisitive in music and explore different concepts. There are so many people who have touched my life, I could never mention each and every one of them!
Has there been a point when you’ve decided to take a big risk to move forward?
As a musician, that happens almost daily, haha! But even deciding to take this career path was a jump off the cliff. It is a challenge being a musician, but when you are on stage performing music that inspires and heals you, it all makes sense!
What is a typical work day like for you?
It depends! My days are usually spent practicing either at home by myself or in rehearsals. Writing and arranging music, reading, exercising, in meetings, it all depends what I’m working towards. I love the flexibility that I have.
What is most fulfilling about being a musician?
Three things I love most about being a musician
1) Being on stage performing and really being ‘in the zone’; it’s a feeling I can’t describe
2) When someone is really positively affected by a performance and comes to say thank you for the music, it is incredibly rewarding
3) And lastly the number of different people I meet and places I see that keep me open minded as a human being. I completely cherish the gift of being a musician.
Advice for aspiring musicians?
Dream big, work hard and trust in God’s guidance.
Last question, as an Afro Jazz musician in a country like South Africa (which is still developing in terms of its Arts and culture) what legacy do you hope to leave?
You know that feeling you get when you hear a song and can’t stop repeating it, or cry, or feel peace just listening to? I hope to write at least one such song. I also hope to bless people from underprivileged environments with the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument.
Morning or night?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Oprah Winfrey, I’d order sushi
I wish I knew how to…
Dance the SAMBA
African women are…
Beautiful, intelligent, strong, worthy, important, the builders of nations.
South Africa is…
Alive with possibilities
Worst money mistake…
Taking out my savings from my 32 day account when I was in varsity
Books and Success Seminar Tickets
Motivation in 3 words…
Never Give Up!
Thandi Ntuli shall be having the official launch of her first album at The Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontein (81 De Korte Street) on the 28th of September 2014. The launch will encompass many local musicians who have featured on her album such as Spha Mdlalose, Marcus Wyatt, Sisonke Xonti, Mthunzi Mvubu, Benjamin Jephta, Sphelelo Mazibuko and Keenan Ahrends. The launch and performance will essentially include a collection of songs Thandi has written over the past few years with influences from RnB, Jazz and African Music. The album, entitled “The Offering” will be for sale on the evening of the launch. Booking is essential!
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Credits to Song Embedded in this post :
Written by Caiphus Semenya
Recorded live at college
Vocals: Vuyo Sotashe
Piano: Thandi Ntuli