Silver-grey coils of hair spring out of a headwrap. Brenda Sisane looks radiant in the fluorescent lighting at Kaya FM’s Rosebank studios in Joburg.
The 52-year-old DJ is nearing the end of her four-hour show, The Art of Sunday (TAOS), where she has interviewed a chef and played – via the airwaves and the web – a selection of contemporary jazz, African jazz and soulful sounds that lean close to the genre.
Plus, she has delivered entertaining tidbits and behind-the-scenes info on those songs that only someone in the scene would know.
When your passion shines as brightly as Sisane’s, it’s hard to hide that. Once the show is over, we take a seat – she does the entire show standing up – and talk about her journey in radio.
“This is a show that speaks about African excellence through music,” Sisane says of her TAOS show. “It’s about the selections, artists that are everywhere else, not just in Africa.
“When I came to Kaya, I bought into that Afropolitan stance. This is contemporary Africa and how do we package that musically? That’s what I like. I don’t think people want to call me a jazz DJ and I’m fine with that.”
Together with the likes of Metro FM’s Nothemba Madumo, Sisane is one of the most famous faces of the genre. Jazz has been a part of her professional life for almost three decades. In her early 20s, the Meadowlands-raised Sisane was living and working in the then-Bophuthatswana. That was in the 1990s.
“I used to fly for a small airline, Bop Air,” she reminisces with a smile. “The planes had a music system and they wanted to record music. I was a senior cabin attendant and they gave me the tapes to go and record the music.
There was no facility to do that and someone said: ‘You’ve got to go to the broadcasting organisations’. I went to Radio Bop and found Edgar Dikgole there. He asked me what kind of music I would put on the planes and I told him.”
Although she thought nothing of that conversation, he was so impressed by her knowledge of music he never forgot her. Fast-forward to Sisane changing careers and becoming a publicist at Sun International. It was then that Radio Bop was looking for a new female voice and all the DJs Sisane knew recommended her.
She went for the interview during her lunch break and got the job.
“I think they would look at how you express yourself and the ideas you get when you look at a content piece so we spoke a lot about music. I got a phone call an hour and a half later to say ‘we would like you to come in for training. You’ve got the job’. I was so scared!”
At Radio Bop, Sisane presented a Sunday jazz show and during the week she presented a lunchtime lifestyle slot. She eventually dabbled in TV and still has a keen interest in publicity.
But it was when she moved to Metro FM to present The Jazz Collective on Sundays that she became a household name. With Madumo and Shado Twala already representing the ladies on air, Sisane says she was welcomed into that sisterhood, and into the radio fraternity in general, with open arms.
“In reflection I received so much support. From both Nothemba and Shado. I’ve never been made to feel like I arrived long after them. The world that was exposed to me when I started doing jazz was one that I like because there’s content, sharing, a lifestyle, a culture,” she says.
But specialist shows seem to be dying on mainstream radio and making way for a more playlist driven and less talk norm. “I think we impose limitations on ourselves when we want to be commercial.
Radio still has a human voice otherwise you’d do your own playlists and get tired of them. The human voice will always be the power of radio and it’s still the most intimate medium we have.”
Sisane gives this advice for those who want to follow in her footsteps: “The more natural and honest you are, the better. It pays off. Even when you make mistakes, people are with you.
I didn’t realise when I started that you share so much of yourself that people know your character and can tell when there’s something wrong. So everyday, bring your most honest you.”
* Brenda Sisane’s The Art of Sunday is on Kaya FM every Sunday from 10am until 2pm.