Interview
Photo courtesy of the artist.

South African Artist Simphiwe Dana releases her latest album 'Bamako'.

Simphiwe Dana's New Album 'Bamako' Lays Bare Her Musical Ingenuity

"I am kind of a genius," says the South African artist about her exquisite new album, an Afro-fusion extravaganza featuring the legendary Salif Keita.

Simphiwe Danais without a doubt, one of South Africa's very best musicians. With over a decade in the music industry, Dana has shown her tremendous versatility, mastery of her craft and originality without wavering. There's a reason why Dana has often made her fans wait for long periods of time between album releases. Each album and project has been better than its predecessor

What has made Dana stand out head and shoulders above her peers has been her ability to comment on the human condition and experience in all its complexity. From addressing the political climate of the country and constantly shining a light on the inequalities of South African society to showing vulnerability by sharing with her fans some of her own personal challenges, Dana has more than earned her stripes as a musician.

She's given South Africans timeless hits such as "Ndiredi", "Inkwenkwezi" and "Bantu Biko Street" as well as collaborations with some of the greats. Her latest 13-track album titled Bamako is no different. Largely influenced by the time she spent in Mali's capital city of Bamako, the album is an Afro-fusion extravaganza with an old-school feel to it.

We caught up with the artist to discuss her new album, the creative process behind it, working with the legendary Salif Keita and navigating life as an artist amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What would you say was one of the biggest inspirations behind this particular album?

Well it's actually the same with every album that I do. The reason why I take so long in between album releases is because I want to experience something new, something that I can comment on, whether it's based on my life or the life around me. So my go-to inspiration originally is the human condition, our evolution, how we will get better, how we will heal. So that is my inspiration in a nutshell really.

How would you say this body of work is different to the ones that have come before?

Besides the fact that it was recorded at home and all the vocals are mine and I also produced it not too much really. Obviously, as human beings we are continuously growing. I'm old enough to credit myself for the work that I do now even instrumentally, because [with the albums] Mayine, Inkwenkwezi and Kulture Noir, I did the same thing that I'm doing with this album but I never credited myself. I gave all the credit to other producers instead of saying, I actually initially produced the album instrumentation and then handed it over to someone else.

Walk me through the creative process that went behind the song "Kumnyama".

Well, I was really high on my emotions. It was dark. It was really dark—you know how it goes. I didn't even think that I could see the next day and so it's a song of heartbreak and knowing that it can't be fixed. And also not knowing what to do with yourself. I loved someone really hard but it hurt me really, really bad. But [the song] was the right thing. I needed to just cry and figure it out and then I felt better.

Simphiwe Dana pictured above.Simphiwe Dana.Photo courtesy of the artist.

In "Masibambaneni" and "Ndizamile", you feature the legendary Salif Keita. What would you say were just some of the highlights of doing that collaboration with him?

I wanted to feature him in the music but he had to like the song and then say "I want to be on this song". When he heard Masibambaneni, he was like, "What is this song about?" And I said to him that it's calling for African unity and moving forward together. And he was like, "Please get me to the studio right now." He then sent my favorite song from him and as I listened to that song, I was literally almost in tears and in awe. So that's what happened with "Masibambaneni". On the other song he plays the guitar.

In "Mkhonto", which speaks to the armed wing of the ANC, you're asking if the spear is still sharp or going to bring about change. Do you find an answer to that question?

I actually wrote Mkhonto during those Zuma years. The whole of the ANC had become about personality and not about the people, they literally sacrificed everything to just protect this one guy. And hence my question, is it still as sharp or is it blunt like a knobkerrie? And because I sent the song on my SoundCloud, it was doing the rounds even within the ANC. There were those saying, "Guys, let's fix this." And I do believe that, that was part and parcel of how people got the strength to say no [to Zuma].

"I am kind of a genius."

In the album, you seamlessly move between, speaking about the political climate to relationships and heartbreak to fathers not being present in their children's lives. How do you do that?

I am kind of a genius. There's a part of me where I'm also autistic which means my attention to detail is very obsessive in a way. I'm a perfectionist. In many ways, my mind is always racing and I come up with a lot of stuff all the time. The reason why I'm a loner is because I don't really focus much when there are a lot of people around. I think that's part and parcel of autism. I don't think that I'm special or anything, I'm just saying the facts about the person that I am.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, how have you been engaging with your fans following the release of your album?

It's a really uncertain time for musicians particularly, because we make money from crowds. You don't necessarily make money from CD sales but from performing. But that has been taken away from us. However, I also feel like it's a new way to embrace our record labels. Thing is, if you do the whole digital thing, it makes the world very, very small in that you can reach people literally all over the world. So I feel like it is a grand opportunity to go full scale into digital marketing. And that will mean that we may not even need other labels anymore, because right now as someone from South Africa, if I want to enter the Grammys, I have to get a label in the U.S. But perhaps with this kind of marketing, I won't even need that.

Do you feel the Department of Arts and Culture has responded sufficiently to the concerns raised by artists?

Well, I do feel like it has been very inadequate how they have responded. And also thinking of their adjudication team, the age profile is very glaring. Basically, they're not in touch with what is happening today and solutions that would work quickly. That is why in three weeks, they have only managed to go through a few applications and only approved like a hundred. I just feel like, and I think with any other government department in SA, that they need to revamp and get with the times. We are in 2020 and things work differently. We cannot be using the same models that we have been using since 1994.

Listen to 'Bamako' below.

Sports
Photo by David Mesfin

Africans Are Taking Surfing Back

We sat down with Ethiopia-American director David Mesfin to discuss the importance of knowing where you come from, and his upcoming surf doc 'Wade In The Water'

For so long, Black and African communities have been made to believe that the water was our enemy, often citing the traumatic history of African slaves drowning at sea during the Atlantic Slave Trade. But, what certain people with certain agendas failed to add was the fact that the slaves had such a powerful understanding of the ocean that slave owners began to torture them into fearing the thought of it.

Keep reading...Show less
Music
(Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for Coachella)

Black Coffee & Tresor’s Work On Drake’s New Album Speaks to the Rise of South African Music

Unlike the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther: The Album or Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift album which had hints of South African flavours on them, Honestly, Nevermind is imbued with them.

On the 16th of June, news that rap superstar Drakewas dropping a surprise album first hit the internet. As with any of his releases, the announcement sent people into a frenzy. Leading up to the drop, the OVO camp, as part of a subtle and timely album rollout, put out a track list. Included in it as one of the album’s executive producers was South African super producer, DJ and artist Black Coffee. His name was listed amongst Drake’s regular collaborators and business partners, Noah 40 Shebib, Oliver El-Khatib and Noel Cadastre.

The two artists have previously collaborated on the remake of Black Coffee’s seminal 2009 hit “Superman.” Drake’s take on the instrumental and composition, “Get It Together,” was released almost a decade later on his 2017 playlist More Life. When the song dropped, the reviews and public reactions were split because of the original vocalist Bucie being replaced by then-burgeoning British singer Jorja Smith.

Fast forward to 2022, Black Coffee has a ‘Best Dance/Electronic’ Grammy award for his 2021 album Subconsciously, and has played at the biggest stages across the globe. It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that when putting together his experimental dance album, Drake tapped the South African producer to oversee and shape the sonic and creative direction of the album.

Keep reading...Show less
Music
(YouTube)

The 6 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Kizz Daniel, Tekno, Focalistic, Ckay, Davido, Mayorkun and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

Keep reading...Show less
Featured
Photo by Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

8 Queer-Owned African Fashion Brands to Check Out For Pride

In honor of pride month, we highlight eight African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

In the last decade, there have been an emergent of fashion designers who aren’t just queer but have aligned their fashion vision with their identity, creating demystifying collections and criss-crossing their concepts and ideologies to represent the inscape of non-conformity, fluidity, queerness and androgyny — whilst maintaining a quick balance with their cultural roots. Despite the numerous fabric experimentations and collections, these designers never forget to tell stories that align with them, especially those that resonate with queer people in queer unfriendly countries.

In honor of pride month, OkayAfrica highlights 8 African queer fashion designers and brands putting queer stories on the global map through fashion.

Rich Mnisi

South African designer Rich Mnisi is part of a new wave of designers putting African stories on the global map. Founded in 2015, the brand Rich Mnisi is immersed at offering fluid expression to gender, celebrating youthful excellence and exploring extremist design elements with minimalist cultural tailoring. For pride month, the brand released a limited edition capsule titled “Out." The capsule visualizes a fine-line between elegance and fluidity whilst boldly emphasizing on the act of struggle and resilience as an outfit.

Udiahgebi

For a fashion brand like Udiahgebi, identity is very important. And offering that form of visibility to femme queer Nigerians is not just a form of visual activism but a detailed story of essence. The brand was founded by Emerie Udiahgebi, a gender non-forming fashion designer who wanted to give queer, non-binary and non-conforming individuals more options to express themselves fashionably. Udiahgebi’s fashion concept is extremely bold, fierce, and unconventional.

Lagos Space Programme

Designer Adeju Thompson fuses traditionalist concepts with genderless possibilities. Founded in 2018, Lagos Space Programme is a gender-neutral fashion brand that enveloped aesthetic designs using local craftsmanship. The brand appreciates West African unique fabric and communicates compelling stories of identity, gender and queerness — a ideology that has garnered them not just audience but earned them a spot at the LVMH prize.

Muyishime

Patrick Muyishime is a fashion innovator. Not only does he know how to source excellent fabrics but his designs are authentically vibrant. Founded in 2016, Muyishime is a Kenyan fashion label that introduces conversations surrounding androgynous and explores aesthetically fabric inventions that commands fluidity, feminine wiles and constructive elegance.

Bola Yahaya

Founded in 2019, Bola Taofeek Yahaya's fashion label aligns thought provoking pieces that elevate the discusses around queer representation, sexuality and feminity. The brands merges sustainability and explore eccentric fabric experimentations.

Nao Serati

Founded by South African designer Nao Serati Mofammere in 2014, the fashion brand Nao Serati explores the versatility of gender and the fine margin of sexuality whilst finding its balance with their South African heritage. Mofammere wants his brand to explore masculinity and the different ways it takes to wear a fragile look.

Vangei

Lolu Vangei has different recipes to gender fluidity and she has used fashion to express that. Founded in 2018, Vangei is a fashion label that unites modern ideology of afro-centricism to produce pieces that dismantle cliched ideas about gender.

Mayetobs

There is no explaining the sort of talent Emmanuel Tobiloba possesses. Founded in 2020, Mayetobs' eccentric approach in reinstating androgynous norms is interesting. From oversized pants that speaks of fabric maximalism to fast flowing robes, the fashion brand is an ode to redefining modern masculinity.

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

Afro-Colombian Francia Marquez's Ascendance Is Historic

The single mother and former cleaner captured many as they voted her and President-elect Gustavo Petro in to redirect the South American nation's path.

Magixx Wants to Speak for a New Generation of Nigerians

The Mavin Records signee talks to us about his come-up, signing to Mavin Records and his debut self-titled EP.

Black Coffee Brings South African Magic to Drake's New Album, 'Honestly, Nevermind'

The star South African DJ, alongside his son Esona Tyolo and singer Tresor, give Honestly, Nevermind that classic South African house music flair.

The 5 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Black Coffee x Drake, Ladipoe, Ayra Starr x Sun-El Musician, Gyakie and Tay Iwar.

popular.

Watch: Kendrick Lamar Celebrates His Birthday With A Love Letter To Ghana

The American rapper teamed up with Spotify to document his recent and first trip to the West African country.