Khethi Ntshangase: Jazz dementia
Khethi Ntshangase is one of the most interesting vocal talents in the alternative jazz seen. He voice represent a soft vex that is becoming uncommon in the local form of the genre. We spoke to her about promoters that want to take advantage, the relevance of jazz in South Africa today and song writing as an art.
MindMapSA: I was surprised to learn that you are from Pietermaritzburg, tell as a little bit about your upbringing and personal background.
Khethi Ntshangase: My father is the last of 11 kids, so I come from a large family and growing up we were all close. My grandfather passed way when my dad was very young, so the head of the family was my grandmother. Pillar of strength. Growing up in the 80’s n 90’s with political and cultural transition time I believed helped me to be balance in my perspective of the world
MindMapSA: It’s interesting that you mention the role of your grandmother in the family. A lot of creatives I know come from female headed households, what impact would you that had on you?
Khethi Ntshangase: the pros would be that I realize a strength in me and don’t associate my gender with weakness. The cons might be we don’t witness an example of a male/female partnership working successfully, and so in later years we know how to be both male and female in our dealings, and end up intimidating potential partners. I’m fortunate though to have a mother and a father who are still together
MindMapSA: I read somewhere that at some point you lived in Tanzania is this true, tell us a bit about that.
Khethi Ntshangase: I run a cross-cultural exchange program; I am the initial lab-rat for it. I research cultural hubs on the continent and create a network for future exchange. From 2003 I have travelled Botswana, Malawi and Zim. I was always curious about the growth of urban culture in East Africa and in 2007 was the prog on Channel O, the Hip Hop Africa…which sharpened my antenna a bit more. At the end of 2007, I was negotiating a residency with a Swiss hotel in Dar es Salaam and I started in Feb 2008.
MindMapSA: Ok let’s talk a little bit about the music, tell us how you got involved with that?
Khethi Ntshangase: I have been singing since memory was founded (laughs) “what’s love got to do it?” a 4yr old Zulu girl’s version of it in ’84. I was in the PMB Children’s choir, where I got my official voice training and did musicals at school. After high school my dad and I moved to JHB. I studied graphics, and during breaks helped out Ayanda Nhlangothi at the music school when we were at Allenby Campus together . Later we started a live show called LIVE 101 at the Old Iguana lounge in Bryanston backed by a professional band with acts like Proverb, Clint Brink, and Kabomo.
MindMapSA: So at what point ok, I like this maybe I should do it full time?
Khethi Ntshangase: 2003 I decided to commit a year in pursuit of making music a sustainable career. From my birthday 25th May 2003 to 24th May 2004 I hustled crazy within that period I networked and travelled to Botswana, Zim, Malawi. 24th May 2004 I boarded a plane to the UK to record the remainder of my album with a young multi-cultural record label called Maestro Musik Entertainment the album was called Exemplify
MindMapSA: So as you are hustling in Jozi and trying to get you name out there as a creative what would you say are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Khethi Ntshangase: A family that paid for your education/tertiary and now you decide you gonna be a chance take in an industry that seems hopeless filled with drugs, sex and exploitation. “A psychedelic lifestyle” as my father puts it. Promoters who try get you to perform for free when you got realities of rent and school fees.
MindMapSA: So at some point are you ever thinking, screw this let me get a day job?
Khethi Ntshangase: yeah and I did back in 2005 I worked for Discovery. As I had done before in 2003 for MTN n MultiChoice. But the passion creeps back and you find yourself making excuses to be back in a studio or on stage but these days I just take jobs related to creative industry. So I can stay on for longer and I don’t feel wasted
MindMapSA: Earlier you spoke about promoters who want to take advantage why do you think this is so persistent in the local music scene?
Khethi Ntshangase: I don’t know maybe sponsorship for live gigs is not as easily accessible as before. Maybe struggling artists desperate in their mission to break into the industry allow themselves to be exploited.
MindMapSA: What do you think should be done in order for artists to take back their art because there are just too many external influences?
Khethi Ntshangase: Here you go again with ur bazooka of a question. A lot of the external influences manage to wizzle their way into the industry waving wards of money. and because our industry is not an industry as such there is no support structure of artists/creatives who are not hitting the number one spot. So external influence comes to a talented poor artist and dictates what the artists must sing/write/wear/represent.
MindMapSA: So how do you as Khethi try and not be diluted by that?
Khethi Ntshangase: The genre of music I do helps me avoid that route, I’m very jazz rooted. I was never a Kwaito or House artist, Neo Soul Music is only now being appreciated in SA and the fact that I “ran” to go work with other young creatives in the UK coming from all corners of the world helped me to understand time and how not to rush and force for things to happen NOW. That level of desperation gets u into trouble or shall I say it compromises you
MindMapSA: Ok let’s speak a bit more about your music, how would you define your sound and who are some of the people that have had the strongest influence on you?
Khethi Ntshangase: I grew up listening to jazz at home, like all the kids born late 70’s early 80’s I loved RnB and Hip Hop. So my sound infuses all of these sounds. So I use to coin it “AfroSoulJazz with a sprinkle of Hip Hop”
MindMapSA: I have seen you perform some cover songs and these are often well established, how do you then make these your own?
Khethi Ntshangase: I try picking songs that I relate to. Songs that move me thea I can put myself in that story and feel the words I sing…and the best way to cover a song is first learn it, make a carbon-copy in your brain and then add you in there
MindMapSA: It’s a serious question cause I think that is the vex in jazz, so many cover songs that try and clone and eventually the audience just divorces the whole thing?
Khethi Ntshangase: Right I hear you
MindMapSA: Is jazz still relevant in 2012 in South Africa?
Khethi Ntshangase: Yes! South Africa hosts the biggest jazz festival on the continent. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Standard Bank Joy of Jazz draws people from all over the country. South Africa has such a diverse audience and jazz is revered as the bed the root where it all stems from. As more hip hop artists venture into live bands. Jazz lives
MindMapSA: Tell us about your creative process how do you get from a song idea or a concept in your head to an actual finished song?
Khethi Ntshangase: Some songs are an opinion of a real current situation, in which case a chorus comes and they verse all at once. I take it to studio, and record it. The music is then developed around the melody. Sometimes a producer has the music and I connect with it, and start to write the words based on the feeling the music triggers in me. Sometimes you get challenged into songs, the way I ended up doing the cover of Umqombothi
MindMapSA: I f this songs are so personally charged, how do you make them relate to your audience?
Khethi Ntshangase: I am human like everyone, we have similar trails and challenges. What an audience appreciates is the fact that I am able to articulate it. The same feeling they relate to or they are in that situation not knowing what to do, I offer them comfort of knowing they are not alone. My music is my therapy. Performance is my expressive outlet. Putting it out for mass distribution is just an extension based on the demand made by an audience that have enjoyed my performance and that is how I remain consistent, but also that is how my music journeys.
MindMapSA: Finally future plans, are we going see a follow up to Exemplify anytime soon?
Khethi Ntshangase: This year people will get snippets of what is best described as “off-cuts.” These are songs I work on with alternative producers, like the funky soulful house track I brought out. There are a few more I will be bringing out as FREE DOWNLOADS. The next album is cooking, I started late last year but I am not in any rush.