Xhosa singer Cama Gwini – Siphokazi Buti – took a lengthy hiatus from the music business to focus on her life and family. Now she’s back with a refreshing new outlook on life.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Images courtesy of Cama Gwini
The singer surprised everyone when she re-emerged earlier this year by posting multiple videos of her singing acapella, smoking pipe and playing her upcoming new music on Facebook.
She had quietly vanished from public eye after releasing her rock/afro soul album Re-birth in 2012, and giving birth to her daughter the following year.
She is now excited about re-launching her career after taking the much needed break for some introspection.
“I feel good. I am very happy with myself and my life at the moment,” she shares.
The singer seems to have ditched her afro-centric and futuristic look for a toned down modern but funky look. She spots a very short hair-doo that highlights her model-like facial features, and if you don’t look closely you might miss her.
Watch the music video for Imvumi from her debut album, Zivile:
Cama Gwini reveals that she decided to take a break from the music after cutting ties with long-time label, Native Rhythms.
“After leaving the label I just wanted to take time off and live my life – be with friends, family and my daughter,” she explains.
“I had so much fun that for a while I was not even thinking about music. I was living man!”
Despite what many might think, the singer says the split with Native Rhythms was amicable.
“Leaving the label was actually not a hard decision to make at the time. I just went to them and I told them that I just don’t want to sing anymore.
“I honestly didn’t know how to explain it. Something inside of me was just saying that I must step away for a moment and focus on other aspects of my life,” she adds.
The multi SAMA (South African Music Awards) nominee was introduced to us in 2008 by Sipho Sithole, founder of Native Rhythms.
When she debuted with her single, Imvumi, she had the music world captivated with her eccentric nature and afro-centric look.
Often compared to her former label mate, Siphokazi, who was riding high on the mega-success of her debut album, Ubuntu Bam, Cama Gwini always had that unusualness that made some love her while leaving others slightly confused.
It is her daringness to be different that made her a trailblazer and made it impossible to compare her with any other artist.
Her last effort, Re-birth, saw her taking yet another brave risk and going full-on rock. She swapped her afro-centric look, beads and dreadlocks for a futuristic punk rock look.
While many critics praised album, some of her fans were once again left confused.
“When I went that direction I was responding to my artistic side that always seeks to explore new things because I always want to be an unpredictable artist.
“I am really proud of myself for taking that risk and being the first female Xhosa woman to do a rock album in Xhosa,” she says.
“But now I look back and I think perhaps that the musical change was too soon for people to embrace. I feel like people were beginning to familiarise themselves with my work as a singer and just when they were growing into the music I drastically changed direction.
“Perhaps I was also a bit too ahead for the local music audience. However I am glad that no one stopped me from making that album.
“That experience made me stronger as a woman and as an artist.”
Cama Gwini is a deeply spiritual being and her music has always carried powerful spiritual messages linked to ancestors.
It was not surprising that after she released her debut album, Zivile, she accepted her calling and became igqirha (traditional healer).
However, she feels like during the course of career she made many mistakes and may have taken her calling for granted.
“The journey has taught me that if you turn your back on your ancestors they also turn their backs on you.
They don’t guide and protect you until you eventually learn the true purpose of your existence. That teaches you to remember who you are and where you come from,” she shares.
“I had to accept some things that happened along the way and I had to accept that it is ‘okay’ to make mistakes. It’s vital for an artist to not just understand the work they are doing but to also understand themselves as human beings first.
They say the beginning of wisdom is to understand yourself first before anything else.
She adds: “One major thing that I learned was that it is okay to be fully igqirha (traditional healer), even as an artist working in the music business.
I understand that the talent I have was given to me by my ancestors for a purpose, and I must stay true to that purpose.”
The singer recalls feeling so low and having to turn to her spiritual mentor for guidance. Their conversations led her to yet another powerful awakening. “He said a lot of things that woke up me up and it made me exercise the power that I have as a human being, the power that my ancestors and God gave me.
“I feel so different. I feel strong. And I feel so much powerful,” she says.
“There is something above me, I can’t touch it but it’s always with me – I can communicate with it and it opens me up to the power that has always existed within me.”
Now she is ready to release her much anticipated fourth album, titled Uzanemvulakazi, as an independent artist. She will be releasing the first single, Ubomi Yimpi, soon, which she cites as a powerful track that deeply personal to her.
“The reason why the song is important to me is because it spoke to me in a major way and I am hoping it will do the same to other people,” she explains.
“I chose it as a first single because I want people to know exactly what I was feeling when I was away.
I was thinking about my followers the whole time and I still want to inspire them. And I want them to know that life is a battle and we must continue to fight because we will not conquer anything by just chilling.”
Watch the music video for “Uphind’Ubuye” from Cama Gwini’s last album:
For the album, she recruited young producers from Soweto and the result is a fresh sound. She credits one of the producers, Lebo, for inspiring her to start making music again.
She met the producer in 2015 when he gave her a cd with beats.
She never got around listening to it, but by chance she recently stumbled upon the CD and instantly fell in-love with the beats. “I now believe that at the time he gave me those beats I was not ready for that sound. But now it is exactly the sound that fits where I am artistically.”
Cama Gwini also reveals that she feels no pressure about returning to the ever-evolving music industry. All the singer wants to do is to share her message again.
“It is my belief that if you hold an important message you should never be afraid to share it with the world. That message will always fall into the hands of whoever is willing or ready to receive it.
She concludes:”I am not sacred and I don’t feel pressure to be relevant. I am just coming back and I am dusting my crown and wearing it again without shaking.”