In Conversation with Amanda Black: 'I've grown incredibly from the girl who wrote 'Amazulu''
The South African artist speaks about what she learnt from her debut album, being back in the studio and her challenge to South Africans this Women's Month.
Amanda Black burst onto the South African music scene with her debut album, Amazulu, back in 2016. The Afrosoul album, which included the hit songs "Amazulu", "Kahle" and "Sinazo", did incredibly well, and four years after its release, is still one of the highest streamed albums in South Africa. Then 23-years-old, Amanda Black sent shockwaves throughout the music industry with her seamless ability to create relatable anthems to which the whole country was singing along.
Following the release of her debut album, she went on to collaborate with a number of South African musicians including Sjava and Vusi Nova. "I do", the laid-back and dreamy track which she worked on with LaSauce, had South Africans undeniably in their feels for months on end. At the 2017 South African Music Awards (SAMAs), Amanda Black showed everyone that she'd been in top form the previous year and went on to take home the awards for "Album of the Year", "Best Newcomer of the Year," "Best Female Artist of the Year" and "Best R&B Soul/Reggae Album." She was also nominated for BET's "Viewers' Choice: Best International Act" in the same year.
Amanda Black has set her sights not only on becoming a musician of note in the country or on the continent, but the world as well. Earlier this year in February, she dropped the single "Thandwa Ndim" ahead of her upcoming album, Power, which drops at the beginning of October. Alongside the likes Shekhinah, Sho Madjozi, Lady Zamar and Simmy, Amanda Black is currently one of the most streamed women artists in South Africa and has been highlighted by Apple Music as part of their Visionary Women campaign.
We caught up with her to talk about her upcoming album, the inevitable pressure that comes with releasing a sophomore album as successful as its predecessor and what changes fans can expect in her new music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You've had a tremendous amount of success with your debut album Amazulu. Close to three years later, what would you say about that body of work?
I put a lot of my heart into it. I remember when I was making the project and telling some of my stories, I had to relive some of the things that I went through. I had to go back in my mind and try and remember certain feelings. I had to try and remember how I felt when I got my heart broken, but at the same time, the journey songs were also where I had to remember where I was coming from, and my hopes and dreams before that. So I was really, really proud. I'm still so proud of Amazulu. I never actually anticipated the success that came with it. I had no expectations once, because it was my first project. My only hope was that people would like it.
What are some of the current musical projects that you're working on?
I'm actually working on my sophomore album and that is going to be released later this year. It's dropping on the fourth of October. I have a date already. The title of the album is Power.
Is there any pressure to produce an album that is as successful as Amazulu?
Yeah, like a lot. I've heard a lot about the sophomore slump. I've felt a lot of pressure because of the success of Amazulu. I've had people coming to me and saying, "How are you going to top Amazulu?". I'm like, "Please guys, can I just make music?" I had to remove myself from that so I can make the music, you know? There's always that pressure of making the next big song, but I've had to remove myself from it so that I can make the music that I want to make.
Amanda Black - Amazulu (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Besides the success of your debut album, what would you say has been different with you being back in the studio and working on the second album?
I'm different, for one. Even the way I write is different. It's not like completely different, but I just feel like I've grown. Three years later, as a twenty-three-year-old, who was experiencing and writing Amazulu. I've grown from that girl. I've grown from that person. As much as people will compare, I'm also comparing myself to myself. Like yeah, "Okay, that one was great. How did I make that one?", and then the self-doubt creeps in. I listen to those choruses and think, "Can I even write anymore?" I did the whole thing of being in album mode. It puts so much mental pressure on you and the challenge is now literally going through the writing block. That's one of the challenges that I have encountered.
Would you say that your sound has stayed the same or do you sense an evolution?
I've experienced new things, new challenges and new emotions as I'm going along so the sound has evolved but has also stayed Amanda Black. Music changes, music evolves, music grows—grows really fast these days. The times are also changing, you know? What people are listening to, the sound that I'm also influenced by, are not necessarily the same sounds I was influenced by three years ago. When you hear the next project, you will hear the difference and the growth as well.
Amanda Black - Thandwa Ndim www.youtube.com
What are some of the artists that you're looking forward to working with in the future?
There's a lot of people who I respect right now, respecting their artistry and them just being genuine people. I'm like, "Yes, I want to work with them". Definitely Anatii, I'm really loving his vibe right now. Shekhinah as well, I love her. Africa is like crazy with talent. I love what's happening in the music space, where we are all now collaborating with each other and basically just becoming one. It's incredible.
Apple Music has highlighted you as one of the most streamed women artists in South Africa. How does that acknowledgement feel?
It's incredible. Some people may know what I've been through, where I live and the challenges that I've been through in the past two years during this sort of quiet time. A lot has been happening emotionally and psychologically when I wasn't releasing anything. I felt I was being quiet and feeling a little bit forgotten. I was incredibly overwhelmed seeing Apple releasing the most streamed album in four years and I was there; Amazulu was there. For me, that was such validation. That's what I take away from it. I'm like, "Yeah, I'm here, I'm still here". So that was incredible. I'm so overwhelmed by that, being among such great women who I respect and admire like Shekhinah, for instance.
You've created a playlist for Apple Music. Tell us about that.
I have a couple of new songs and new artists that I really love to listen to and who also inspire me. They're all the friends that I grew up listening to, the songs that inspired me to do what I'm now doing. The playlist has a couple of my favorite songs from women who I really adore.
Listen to Amanda Black's playlist on Apple Music.
South African women are in crisis in this country. Personally, and as an artist, what do you want to be the focus for this Women's Month?
I feel a month is just not enough. I think what's also part of the problem and hypocritical of us to do is to simply wait for August to celebrate women while also not actually implementing changes in terms of gender-based violence and stuff that South African women are going through. We just make it so pretty, everything is pink. In my space, there are so many shows that are named after women, but the money doesn't even go to women or women initiatives.
"Women in the country need to be a priority and I feel, they sort of come after a lot of things."
That's my opinion. But I'm also actively, like I said, trying to help. A year ago, I started trying to do a pad drive where I donate pads to schools. At the moment, I'm still pretty much doing it on my own, and I'm in the process of planning to get sponsorship and doing it on a larger scale and more frequently. There is a problem and there are people who have the power to just basically fix the problem, but it's going to take a long time for us to get there.
What are you looking forward to most at this point in your music career?
Musically, I obviously want to grow. I want to become a continental songwriter and vocalist. I'm also just working on myself, basically to become a better musician. I also want to take my music globally. I want to be the voice of the voiceless because I do believe my music speaks for people that can't speak for themselves.