The popular Afro-soul songstress opens up about her lived experiences with chronic anxiety and aims to tackle the stigma on mental illness in the black community through her music.
By: Gift Musa Mqwashu
Images: Johnson Media
Afro-soul singer Brenda Mtambo released her single Khululeka from her upcoming album SANE, set to be released in August.
The musician tells Blacklight that the title of the song – written by New York-based songwriter Mduduzi Madela – stems from her lived experiences with chronic anxiety.
Speaking to us on Zoom, she shares that as a songwriter and a healer, her work always has to carry a message.
“I always sing to make a statement, and it needs to be delivered according to how my spirit tells me to,” she says.
“My upcoming album is called SANE, taken from sanity, which is the message that I have taken from my struggles with mental health.”
“Khululeka tackles the emotions of feeling defeated; when you feel like you’re in a dark cloud and alone. It comes and says be free and hold my hand because your struggles won’t last forever.”
Brenda says she was propelled to speak openly about her struggles to help demystify the stigma around mental illness.
“I have been ashamed to speak about it because I have been suffering from anxiety for the longest of time. I never opened up until it hit me so bad after losing my mother during the lockdown period.”
She continues: “I was not working, and in the past, I would always distract myself with work, so I never really sat still to listen to myself. Once I had that opportunity to be alone, I had a panic attack and thought I was dying.”
She was in hospital when she realised that this is a serious and overlooked matter that needed her to utilise her platform and speak up about her struggles.
“When I started speaking up, a lot of people came out and spoke to me about their struggles,” she explains.
“We have a programme that we are running with the department of Arts and culture, called Silapha, that promotes mental wellness.
“In the entertainment industry, you always have to put up a face and look amazing because people want to look at us and think we are doing great – that we are perfect. I decided to speak out about mental health to demonstrate that, as entertainers, we also go through life challenges.”
Brenda says that for the longest time, mental health has been misunderstood in the black community.
“People do not take mental illness serious; they mock it and make fun of it. We grow up in communities and townships where we have seen many people who suffer from mental health problems, but we have never tried to tackle the problem. We have seen it escalate to a point where people end up living in the streets.”
“There is no healing that can take place if we don’t let people open up and provide them with safe spaces to do so.
“In our families and communities, we need to teach our children that there is no stigma attached to mental illness and that they can get professional help and lead a healthy life.”
The musician reveals her upcoming album is very raw, delving deeper into her life, struggles and life lessons.
“Pain is pain; wherever you are in the world, we experience it the same way. Everyone is going to benefit from this album because it brings healing and perspective.”
She admits that creating an album that is so personal has not been smooth sailing: “There are days where I cut out some sessions because I am emotionally drained.
“I have learnt through therapy to take days off when the going gets tough; that is why it’s taken some time for me to release this album.”
The songstress reveals that her upcoming album is the closest to her heart due to its sensitivity – it explores forms of vulnerability.
“It is special because it is what we need,” she adds. “We need to come to a point where we feed our souls as much as we feed our stomachs.”
With the entertainment industry crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic, Brenda urges fellow musicians to seek other avenues of income to ease the fear meted by the pandemic.
“The fear that comes with uncertainty is always there, and that is how anxiety creeps in. The more you panic, the more you get sick. It is important to have other sources of income, to expand and empower yourself with knowledge.”
She says her biggest mission and intention with music is to enlighten, heal and teach.
“There’s a lot of things that I have learnt.’When you know better you do better.’ And when you know something you can teach. That is why I decided to mentor young girls.”
She adds: “I like to empower people in general, and that’s what I also do with my music, to leave people feeling better.”