Mbabane– She is the quintessential soul Sistah with an urban edge, cut from the abstract neo-soul cloth.
Multi-talented, she has pretty much done all there is to do in the arts. Yes, the term artsy encapsulates her very soul. She wears many a hat with such grace and finesse. It’s amazing how her tentacles are wedged in varying art forms.
She has ‘done it and got the t-shirt’, so-to-speak!
This artist is equal parts singer-songwriter-poet-fashion designer-writer.
Eswatini music artist Bongiwe Dlamini has been in the music industry for like ever and shows no signs of letting up any time soon. With a string of consistent achievements as long as her arm, she has undoubtedly made her own sublime imprint and looks set to continue in 2020 and beyond. She has had an illustrious career continue to have some deeply wonderful life experiences, of course laced with some challenges but she is still moving and amazed by the possibility of life. Looking nothing like her age, she is every bit the artist with her head-turning fashionable garb. It isn’t her traffic stopping fashion that reels you in but her soft, inviting aura.
She takes us to where it all started and where she is headed. Her narration of her background begins from the time of her birth at the Raleigh Fitkin Nazarene Hospital in Manzini. Her first years were spent living in Mbabane before the family’s relocation to Simunye when she was six years old with her mother and young brother. It was there that she did her primary schooling at Simunye Primary School before transitioning for her high school education at St Marks High School. She recalls that upon completion of her education, she pursued a career in music by enrolling at the Fuba Academy in Johannesburg.
However, she discontinued her studies but also chose to continue residing in Johannesburg, a decision that would work to her favour before she even knew it. She singles out her choice to remain in Johannesburg as the best she has ever made. That decision would be catalyst to propelling her to her destiny. She firmly believes that one choice, throwing caution to the wind was the necessary push she needed. “It was because of my decision to remain in Johannesburg that enabled me to be exposed to artistry at a level I never could have had here at home especially during that time,” she states.
She is also certain that it set a certain tone to her expectation as an artist. “I was exposed to working with Ray Phiri & Joe Nina. I got to work in spaces where I could meet & watch artists like Bo Hugh Masekela, Busi Mhlongo, Mfazomnyama, Jonas Ngwangwa and others,” she adds. She further glares back into the past and states that it was from that exposure that at some point, she returned back into the kingdom and managed to secure a stint fronting the Tiger Band sponsored by Ron Smith of Tiger City.
A victim of wanderlust, she would later find herself working on a cruise liner, contracted for six months. She had the rare fortune of travelling and experiencing so many cultures.
Drawn by the allure of Egoli, she would later find her way back to Jozi. She picked up the microphone and continued to dazzle audiences as a duo called, Savanna. She recalls that they were really just blessed with so much work and credits their agent Maurice Fresco, for this. Coincidentally, it was Fresco who had also connected them to the ship gig. She notes that she had always known she was cut out for a life in showbiz.
“As a child I just knew. There was never any question,” she simply says. She doesn’t recall having any life-defining moment that cemented her decision to pursue music. In the same breath, she points out that it’s her involvement in the other things she has done that came as a surprise. The 46-year-old is mostly self-taught, with academic training in Fashion Design, Pattern Drafting & Garment Construction from the Ian West Academy of Design, after which she founded a company & fashion studio in Manzini called The Art Revelation where she worked as Creative Director & Head Designer. However, it is music that has and will always be her first medium of expression. “I believe artists are like prophets. We have been entrusted with a mission by God. To awaken the consciousness of the people God has placed us amongst. To speak life truths as they are revealed to us. To call out deceptions,” she explains.
Her career highlights are innumerable. As a musician spans over a period of 24 years, having worked with many musicians from various parts of the world, including Ray Phiri of Stimela, Joe Nina, Chico Antonio, Azagaia, Cremildo Caifaz, Pedro of 340ml, Milton Gulli, Pak Djamena, The Gravity Regulators, Smiles Makama, Ralph Smit of Mr Freddy, Jazz P, Bheki Nhleko of Tindzaba Temdzabu, Thobile Mcincinini, Floewe, Ambrozio Sparagna, to name a few.
She has performed at various festivals in Southern Africa such as the Moshito in Johannesburg, The Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Azgo Festival & Kinani Dance Festival in Mozambique a number of time and of course, The MTN BUSHFIRE Festival in Eswatini on numerous occasions.
Due to her abiding Love of collaborative work, Bongiwe has co-founded a few collectives. These are Spirits Indigenous with Thobile Mcincinini, Afro Cherie with Jazz P & Floewe, Lilanga with various artists from Eswatini, France & the UK, The Funk Riot which was a cross cultural outfit with artists from Mozambique, Portugal & of course Eswatini.
Bongiwe is now on the Board of Directors of the EUnited Arts of Eswatini, which is an Art’s Association set up by Italian Co-operative, Minerva & funded by the EU which aims to promote the Arts & artists in the Kingdom of Eswatini. This association has set up the first and only free rehearsal lab for artists with full sound and lighting equipment at the Mbabane Theatre Club along with performance space at the Club & the Alliance Française.
She is eager to affect the Arts scene in Eswatini, as she has experienced the many challenges which artists face. She opines that Eswatini has incredibly gifted artists.
“Our people need to understand that art is a necessity to life. It is vital to your soul. You’re not doing artists favours by exposing yourself to their artistry. You are doing yourself a great service. Part of why our nation is depressed is that they are not hearing and seeing their own truths as expressed by those who have been entrusted with those very truths amongst them. God gave us a voice to speak on behalf of our people & on behalf of God to His people. Sitfunyiwe. We would do well to remember it ourselves as artists too,” she goes on to say. She further suggests that people need to be educated about art, what its function is in society.
“I think it would give us the proper perspective and the challenges we face could be done away with. Because we would have a better understanding as a society,” she reveals.
According to Dlamini, if government were to be concerned about the people who have entrusted them with the responsibility of governance, if those individuals would grasp the magnitude of their responsibility, they would behave differently, if they did the best they could for the PEOPLE then that would take care of a lot of the problems they encounter.
“We need first to decolonise our systems to reintroduce indigenous knowledge. We can only be ourselves. We can never be anyone else. If we want to evolve and BE, we have to return to ourselves. Our vision as a nation at the moment is chaotic. We’ve lost our identity & are floundering about in the dark and clutching at straws but we’re drowning. We have to go to root cause. What we’re seeing are the effects of something. We have to stop the ripple effect by searching for root cause. And stop with the self-deception because that is the most destructive thing. When you don’t face the TRUTH of who you are you’re lost,” she explains at length.
Nonetheless, she is upbeat about the future and looks forward to a brand new season and the endless possibilities. Her eyes are firmly fixed on her 20/20 vision.
Although reluctant to let the cat out of the bag, she manages to say that she is taking the biggest leap she has EVER taken and exploring all her gifts as she knows them so far. What is imperative is that she plans to occupy space and will be unapologetic about the FULLNESS of who she is. “I am no longer minimising myself to make others comfortable. I am all that I am. No more negating myself as God’s creation,” she says.
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