Bongi Mvuyani is the hottest new babe on the block right now. With the release of her debut album, Dopamine, she is set to turn the South African music industry on its head – and then some. Therese Owen discovered why.
‘Aha! My strategy worked!” announces a gleeful Bongi. We are about to leave the trendy yet grungey hipster hangout called Kitchener’s. Braamfontein was a proposed area for the photo shoot with the deliciously delicate flower that is singer Bongi, but it never worked out that way.
She is a woman who is sophisticated, strong, determined, fragile, intelligent, glamorous and certainly has that “wow” factor. She is not obviously pretty. Instead, it is her inner self, her style, her determination and her talent that give her a deeper, more enduring and alluring beauty.
Spending time in the company of this young artist is always an interesting ride, full of fun and the unexpected. She is wise beyond her years and her intelligence keeps people on their toes. Another refreshing aspect of her life is that, unlike many other young musicians, she has a day job.
Most musicians don’t deem it necessary to work outside of trying to push their career, which is all well and good. However, there is that joke that goes: “What do you call a South African musician without a girlfriend?” “Homeless.”
Anyway, the truth is that Bongi has a strong work ethic and a solid plan for her success. Her journey has been well thought out from the beginning until the present.
The release of her debut album, Dopamine, sees her on the verge of establishing herself as a permanent feature on the South African music scene. The album was produced by 340ml’s Tiago. Each song is unique and there is no specific sound that defines Bongi.
Strangely enough, it is her lyrics that single her out. They are not your run of the mill: hey baby, I love you, shoop shoop. She writes poems and is inspired by the odd corners in life. Her music has depth, is sometimes catchy and often challenging.
Bongi first came to our attention with her song I Wonder which enjoyed success here and in other parts of the continent, including Nigeria.
The video features that hot damn sexy AKA and takes place mostly in a swimming pool. Visiting the set during the shoot, it was most amusing to see the booitjie that is AKA relate to the very girly Bongi. He is like her older brother, the one who is always cracking jokes and teasing her, while she worries about her make-up being perfect and her white dress looking just right.
However, as soon as the director says “action”, the two of them rise to the occasion and are consummate professionals.
Watching her do a soundcheck at L’Atelier Yswara in Parkhurst in February, Bongi again confirmed her potential to be a superstar. She was dressed in Kluk CDGT and was akin to a Vogue model on that stage. Her passion and confidence really came through. But it was also her attention to detail that was noticeable. The sound had to be absolutely perfect and, unlike many other female musicians, she knew her way around that sound equipment.
Fast-forward to Braamfontein and her triumphant statement. It is a week before the release of her album and Bongi is glowing. We have decided that Lucky Bean in Melville is a far more suitable option for an interview and photo shoot.
But what strategy is Bongi referring to?
“For my next single I wanted to release a song that reflects who I am and where I come from,” explains the KZN singer. “I persuaded my management to go with Sweet Love over the other songs and it is doing really well. I have a maskandi sound in the mix and I sing the chorus in my mother tongue which is Zulu.”
She shows me footage of her performing the song at a Woman’s Day gig at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
“It was the first time they had heard the song and look how crazy they are going!”
Indeed, the myriad women, young and old, were on their feet, singing the chorus, and then they made her play it again.
On our arrival at Lucky Bean, the most obvious drink to order with Bongi is a cocktail.
The other choice for her third single, 6am, has that dark Fleetwood Mac feel to it. Bongi confesses that she has never listened to Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks, but says she will go out and find them.
“I am always on SoundCloud and it is important that people listen to music outside of radio. I have a playlist called Music Monday which I compile and put on SoundCloud. I am doing this so people can hear more. I discovered music by listening to something that was not on the radio. I don’t want to keep the music to myself.”
In terms of lyrics, Bongi has her own ideas: “Through our music and lyrics we get into people’s routines in their lives. At the same time people should not idealise the musician. They must appreciate the musicians and reaslise they are human beings with faults.
“This album was written at a point in my life when I was wrestling with love. I didn’t understand it. 6am was the last song we recorded. If you listen to the lyrics you realise that I am not stressed about love anymore. But, I have not mastered it. The title track, Dopamine, also demonstrates the space I was in.”
The fact that her lyrics lean towards poetry is no surprise, considering her background. She wrote her first poem aged 11.
“It was called Summer and it went into an anthology called Buttons and Bows. This encouraged me to write more.”
She went on to join poetry societies and studied drama and music at a tertiary level. Now she is a digital media strategist by day and a musician by night and some days too.
So, how is she able to balance the corporate life with being a musician, particularly because her career looks like it is about to take off?
“I started working in corporate when I was 18. Luckily, someone told me that who I am inside needs to be expressed on the outside. My image has to tell people who I am.”
So, just who is Bongi Mvuyani?
“I am a woman first. I am not a music machine. I am strong. I feel a lot of issues as a woman on a very personal level. I have a mission to tackle these issues head on. I am not afraid to be a girly girl. I am assertive as to how you can treat me. I have my complexities, but I am also playful. I feel a lot, which is why my music speaks about me.”