Entrepreneur Nandi Dlepu: “Black Creatives Must Treat Themselves As Business Owners”

Creative entrepreneur and organiser of the ‘UMI: Our Music Festival’, Nandi Dlepu, says she simply wants to create safe and inclusive spaces where black people can show up as themselves.


By: Blacklight writer 
Main image: Supplied

The Feel Good Series is gearing up to host the second annual UMI: Our Music Festival, on 29 February, at Victoria Yards, in Johannesburg. 

Headlining the festival is award-winning and internationally acclaimed singer Bongeziwe Mabandla, alongside The Charles Gene Suite, Lazarus Man, ByLwansta, and Koek Sista, to name a few.

Dlepu says she has been running the monthly Feel Good Series with emerging Deejays and live acts for about four years, and she was inspired to create something bigger to mark their journey: that’s how the UMI festival was born.

The UMI Festival is the mother of all festivals – Umi means mother in Arabic,” she explains.

UMI Festival headliner, Bongeziwe. (Photo by: Lidudumalingani)

“The festival is everything we have been striving for with the Feel Good Series, but even more amplified. We are in our second year – we may not be where we want to be, yet, but already from year one to year two we have made incredible strides. 

“We have grown from having only one stage to now introducing the art stage, which allows us to explore other different creative outputs, like poetry and visual art.

“We will also be having a film festival that features acclaimed filmmakers, like Lebogang Rasethaba and Zandi Tisani. So, we are very excited about where the festival is going.”

Dlepu (37) founded her company Mamakashaka when she turned 34 to pursue her own vision, which is to inspire, empower and entertain.

Apart from the UMI Music Festival, she also runs Bloom, an organization dedicated to the empowerment of female creative entrepreneurs.

It hosts Women In Bloom, a conversation series and conferences for women. She also hosts Pantone Sundays – a monthly colour-themed fashion pop-up party in Johannesburg & Cape Town. 

What really inspires me is my community and creating platforms for those who have been categorised as ‘the other’.

As a black female creative entrepreneur in South Africa, she admits that there are a mountain of obstacles one must overcome. “I look at obstacles as challenges,” she explains.

“For me, a lot of things in life are about having the tenacity to rise above them, and do the best that you can.

“What really inspires me is my community and creating platforms for those who have been categorised as ‘the other’.

“As much I want commercial success, I also want to leave an important imprint behind, that is why a huge portion of what I do focuses on people who are emerging – the underdogs. 

“I would like to think of myself as a good and responsible person and I want that to be reflected in my career.”

Dlepu believes that even though creative entrepreneurship has the potential to be one of the most successful sectors, the biggest challenges for creative entrepreneurs is articulating value for money to people.

“The challenges are more social political problems,” she adds. “Most of us [black creative entrepreneurs] don’t come from a rich legacy or from place of opportunity, so we are the ones who are building that foundation.

“I started my career in design and animation and you have to explain that to your family in the rural areas so that it makes sense to them.

“So, I am part of the first or second generation of people who have dared to explore careers outside of being a doctor, lawyer, nurse etc. And most of the time I feel alone in that space, especially as a black woman.”

She adds that because most of the time she feels alone in the space, she purposely seeks out to collaborate or partner with other black women in the field.

Being a creative entrepreneur is not being a freelancer, it’s about creating something bigger than yourself that can benefit other people as well.

Dlepu studied film at AFDA, and majored in producing, while studying she worked as a receptionist at a design and animation studio. After graduation, she was then moved up to the production department.

“I look at that as an incredible detour because sometimes you take a job because you need the money and before you know it turns out that it’s leading you to the right path,” she says.

“That detour influenced me a lot; as a result, I have a great eye for design, and that is due to me being surrounded by designers for the most part of my early career. 

“I believe that is also why my brand does a great job in terms of visual identity and art direction because that became a great passion of mine.”

Failure simply means that I still have some things I need to learn, and there is still room for improvement.

With many black young people opting to become creative entrepreneurs, due to lack of employment and opportunities, Dlepu warns that even though it’s creative it still means you are a business owner. 

“Being a business owner means having a commercially viable and sustainable business,” she says.

“Being a creative entrepreneur is not being a freelancer, it’s about creating something bigger than yourself that can benefit other people as well.

“As black creatives we show up great in terms of talent but we don’t treat ourselves as business owners.”

The entrepreneur reveals that even though her journey has not been without pitfalls, she has learned to have a great relationship with failure.

“I understand that failure does not mean I am inadequate,” she explains. “Failure simply means that I still have some things I need to learn, and there is still room for improvement. 

“That is an important life lesson, because I am still going to fail a hundred times over. What matters is how you get up and move forward after you have fallen.”

For more info on the UMI Music Festival and to get your tickets go to:
Instagram: @umi_ourmusicfestival
Website: mamakashaka.co.za

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