New vocalist, Njabulo ‘Mthunzi’ Ndimade, burst into the scene last year with the bangers ‘Insimbi’ [Featured by Sun-El] and ‘Ngibambe La’, and has since proved himself to be a rare musical treasure.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
All images supplied
The Hammarsdale-born (KwaZulu-Natal) crooner, songwriter, producer, and self-taught keyboardist, has gone from being a small-town singer to a hit-maker.
Mthunzi was discovered by producer-extraordinaire Sun-El (Sanele Sithole) who is famous for turning vocalists into superstars, having created major hits for artists like Samthing Soweto (Samkelo Mdolomba), Simmy (Simphiwe Nhlangulela), and Ami Faku (Amanda Faku) to name a few. The new-kid-on-the-block now joins the elite local vocalists club.
His debut album, Selimathunzi, released in January 2020, is the perfect blend of house, soul, maskandi, R&B, and afro-pop. While the album sonically keeps to the signature Sun-El sound (one of the primary producers), the main attraction is Mthunzi’s lush and silky vocals. Having composed all the album tracks, Mthunzi stays true to his roots and sings and writes in isiZulu, showcasing his storytelling and penmanship skills.
The first singles from the album have already enjoyed moderate airplay, and impressive streaming numbers – the music video for Uhlale Ekhona viewed over 700 000+ times and Ngibambe La with 1.7+ million views. Selimathunzi lays a solid foundation for a musical career that promises to enjoy a lengthy reign.
Despite gaining a following through his music, Mthunzi is still an enigma. Very few know the singer’s story. Blacklight had an IG: Live [Instagram Live] chat with the star to get more acquainted with the man behind the music. The bubbly and chatty singer spoke candidly about his musical journey and his vision as an up-and-coming artist.
Here is a summary of some of our biggest takeaways from the chat:
Discovery of musical talent
Growing up, I did not think that I was “that” special until I performed for the first time in Primary – I do not necessarily remember which grade it was. I was very young, around the ages of 9 or 8, and I had to sing alone for the first time without any backing from anyone. (I recall) while singing, everybody was so quiet – attentive – and that was my first time witnessing rowdy students quiet. After I finished the song, everybody went crazy. I saw one teacher even wiping away a tear, and I also shed a tear or two. From that moment on; I started believing that I have ‘the’ voice. I started experimenting more with music and anything related to music. I was more into music than anything else. Music was one of those things that just kept calling me.
Pursuing a Career in Music
At first, I did not foresee a professional music career. At the time, I did not know that music could be a career. I dreamt of making it on radio or TV, but as a kid, I was limited to common career choices, like being a doctor, a nurse, mechanical engineer, etc. So when I was dreaming of a future career, I dreamt of becoming a doctor or mechanical engineer (because I was so good at fixing things at home). I was quite old when I realised that music could be something I could follow – pursue. I had gained a reputation as a singer in my township. I became friends with a rapper known as Black Ghost. He introduced me to music producers, and that opened my world up because at the time, I was doubtful and isolated as a singer. The only problem with Black Ghost was that he wanted me all to himself. He didn’t want me to collaborate with other musicians – he was selfish with my talent. However, when I started recording music, I never paid for studio sessions – my voice got me in. The producers liked my voice, and I would record their music and my music.
Taking Artistic Control
Not having artistic control used to give me a lot of stress – I would ask myself: How is this going to sound? When is it going to be released? When I finish a track, I wish it could come out immediately, tomorrow even, while I am still excited about it. But at that time, I had to be patient and wait for the process and the mixing – I didn’t even know what mixing was, then, to me, everything sounded good. After being exposed to the production side, I developed an interest in music production. I wanted to know what was happening (behind the scenes) when I was not in the studio. I could sing and write songs, but I was not yet perfect as a songwriter. At that time, I was surrounded by a lot of rappers, and they taught me a lot about flow. Back then, everyone was just singing, and I took the rap and rhyming elements, and I added them to my music to make myself different – I wanted to be more meaningful. People in my town started downloading my songs, and I started trending – that’s how everything started.
I started learning music production. I remember at the time I had not yet made my [own] song because I was always a featured artist. I went to some guy in my town – I won’t mention his name – to ask for beats because I had some ideas about an EP [Extended Play] even though I did not have a full understanding of what an Ep is. I wanted something of my own with just pure singing. He gave me a run-around. I was so upset that I started investing more time in learning music production. I went to a guy – an up-and-coming producer, then – who had introduced me to some local producers. I watched him as he was working without him knowing that I was taking notes – I did not tell him I was learning music production. I started voicing my ideas, and when he started using some of them, that’s when I knew that I could produce.
Working with Sun-El
I joined Instagram in 2018. I joined because I wanted to know how to ‘pop’ as an artist. After all, I had reached a stage where I believed that I was ready to take over the world. It was people who advised me to create social media accounts. I then started posting my videos, but people advised me to tag the people I wished to collaborate with, and I tagged so many people [laughs]. Looking back, I feel like I was a nuisance. Fortunately for me, Sanele was one of the people, I tagged multiple times, who saw something in me and refused to let me go. He first liked my post, and I showed all my friends – we were so excited. But everything went silent after that. I decided to take a step further and I DM’d [Direct Messaged] him – that’s how it all began.
Sanele is a good person; he is always giving back to the community. He is shy at first, but once you know him, he’s quite bubbly. He has helped a lot of artists and also has great artists under him. El Word Music has quite a diverse group of artists. I am also quite diverse as an artist because I expose(d) myself to a wide variety of music. I want to be the kind of artist who also has something to add when working with a producer – someone who adds the cherry on top.
People always like to compare artists. Just because I sing in Zulu, most music lovers compare me to Blaq Diamond, Mnqobi, or Sjava – they box us because we all sing in Zulu. They do that with many other artists as well. However, even though we all sing in Zulu, every artist has something unique about them. We all approach our music differently. I believe I am diverse because I mix maskandi, soul, R&B, a bit of rap, and other unique sounds – I don’t know how to define it, but it’s different. When I was creating my debut album, I was quite sure of myself. I believed that people would like the album, but I did not expect this kind of reception. Working on that album was great. At first, I did not know I was working on an album because when I arrived in Jo’burg I thought I was going to make one or two tracks with Sun-El, to test the waters. I ended up staying until now.
Initially, when we started working on the album, I was working mostly with young producers, Claudio & Kenza. Sun-El told us to have fun but also to come up with something fresh, and to play around with the music. We experimented and came up with the first song, Vuka. That sound we came up with was so unique; it’s hard to define – it’s indie, mixed with maskandi, hip hop, and other sounds. It’s an inspiring song that encourages people to continue hustling and not to give up. That was the first single from the latest album, and I believe it was a great way to introduce the album. It’s great to encourage and motivate people first before you bring in the love songs and dance tracks.
The theme that we explore mostly on the album is love because everybody can relate to love – whether it’s romance, love for life, love for God, or loved ones. We came out with a lot of songs, and I also started producing while staying with Claudio, before Kenza came into the picture. I came up with the songs Elentulo and Kwaphela U Inki in one week – if memory serves me well. Because I didn’t know I was working on an album, we wanted to make as much music as possible. We ended up with a lot of songs, and some did not make it on the album. It was quite an easy process, but there was also a bit of pressure to deliver. Selimathuzi was always the title because of the connection with my name Mthunzi. If you do not know me yet, then the title serves as the perfect introduction.
My mission is to inspire people and other musicians. I want to show people that with music there are no limits – you can talk to a child and an adult at the same time. There is this perception that umaskhandi is something for the older generation, and that’s not true. So through my music, I make maskandi more appealing to the youth because I mix it with different and modern sounds. Some adults also don’t relate to hip-hop because it can be quite explicit (inhlamba) and so we find a way to sell that sound to them.
It’s great to always experiment with all the genres; giving yourself time to learn and soak up any genre in its purest form – studying different genres gives you a broader knowledge of music. You can then take what you have learned and create your recipe and build your own thing. But it’s hard to merge styles to come up with something new that does not exist. There is the risk that people might not warm up to it, or they might take some time to warm up to it.
Sometimes people have this perception that I am nothing without Sun-El, but I believe that when people witness my live performances, they would see that I can sing and I am talented in my own right. I am a pure vocalist, and I have been singing everything, even acapella. I feel like many have not experienced me fully as an artist because I have not been able to go out to the people due to lockdown – that has limited me to only studio work. I try to do some live performances online to give people a taste, but it’s only just a glimpse of what I can do. There is more.
Mthunzi’s debut album Selimathunzi is available at all leading digital music platforms and at selected music stores. You can also stream the album on leading music streaming platforms.