Pic: Katlego Mokubyane Photography
Tribute Birdie Mboweni isn’t your typical music star. Not only does she produce beautiful and authentically African music, she’s also an accomplished academic and conservationist. Having recently taken up a position as a lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) nature conservation department, Mboweni continues to broaden her horizons.

Since releasing her debut album, Birdie, two years ago, Mboweni has been travelling regularly and playing for audiences across the globe.

She’s also been recording and rearranging the deluxe edition of her album, which she recently released. Mboweni grew up in a place called Mkhuhlu in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga - which is not far from the Kruger National Park. Since the age of 11, she recalls planting trees and being involved in conservation-centred programmes.

Her early surroundings and activities planted the seed for her interest in conservation and the environment.

She went on to study eco-tourism at TUT before expanding her education in the field of nature conservation. Mboweni moved to Pretoria after high school and she’s been there ever since.

With the album still only a few months old, she’s already observed some interesting responses to it. “The fascinating thing for me is that a Zulu-speaking person would come to me and speak about MaGumede because it’s in a language they understand. And they’ll come and speak about Soul in Heart because I mix isiZulu and a bit of English. Then the people who understand Shangani would come and speak about Mpfula Ya Na and N’warikapanyana. But as people got used to the album, I’d get different people coming through to speak to me about songs that are in languages they don’t really understand So how are you navigating around the song because it’s in a language that you don’t understand?”

It’s more than just about the lyrics, she’s discovering. Initially, her concern when recording the album was that the South African audience wouldn’t receive it as well as audiences she’s encountered in other African countries such as Cape Verde, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. There, she says, people respond more to the sound than the language.

Mboweni credits much of her career success to the personal and tight-knit atmosphere at her label, Native Rhythms, which she signed to in 2014. She’s growing more as an artist and a performer. This year she’s already performed at Kaya FM & Bassline Live Presents, Zakifo and the Africa Day Concert. These three performances all came on one crazy weekend, she recalls.

“It was an amazing experience. One, I was doing it on Nicky B’s show. Nicky has been really supportive and she’s been playing my music. She’s such a passionate broadcaster. In the past two years, since I released my album, I’ve been getting to know the Kaya FM audience. They connect with you personally if they know you have something going on out there, they will come.”

One of her immediate targets is to start working towards her PhD. “I promised myself that by the age of 35 or 36, I’d have my PhD. I’m not sure if I can still make it. I’m 31 this year and I’m only registering next year I really am passionate about education. I once watched an interview that they did with US comedian Chris Rock, who’s one of my favourite people. He’s quite serious off-stage and he said that it’s important for people to see people like them doing things.”

Last year, she started her East African tour with performances in Uganda and Tanzania. She’s now set to go to Kenya and she hopes that this will open up more opportunities for her. “My handle is Birdie WorldWide (@birdieworldwide) and I just really want to take the music to the world,” she says.