Brenda Mtambo’s sophomore album So Much More begins with Aluta Continua, a rallying call for Africa to wake up that sees Mtambo croon soulfully over a minimalist piano melody. At the recent Metro FM Awards, Mtambo was rewarded for this outstanding body of work with nominations for Best Female Artist and Best Urban Jazz. Those who weren’t paying attention to her before are starting to take note.

“I was very surprised,” she says of her nomination. “I was not even aware that there was a nomination event, I just saw on Twitter that I was nominated and I was like (she let’s out a hysterical, disbelieving scream) I was so surprised, mostly because I was nominated with really amazing and talented people. To be amongst Thandiswa, Hugh Masekela and Jimmy Dludlu, that was amazing for me. These are people I grew up listening to, looking up to. Today I’m nominated alongside them - and getting to perform at the awards was the cherry on top.”

For Mtambo, who was born in Empangeni and raised in the Durban township of Umlazi, achieving mainstream success was always an improbable dream. But when she moved to Joburg in 2005 after successfully auditioning for the gospel choir, Joyous Celebration, that dream became more credible.

“It was really great. I enjoyed everything and it was really a learning curve for me. I was still a baby at the time and I was learning everything in the industry - how things are done. Even musically, I had to learn a lot of things at Joyous Celebration.” She isn’t a baby anymore and has gone from strength to strength since she began pursuing her solo career as an afro-soul jazz artist in 2010.

Initially, things didn’t pick up as quickly as she’d hoped, partly because she wanted to do things independently and in her own unique way. Instead of sending out a demo and searching for a deal, she threw her own live show so that she could show people what she was about.

It took her three years to record her debut album, Inspired, because she had to raise money to record and package it. It’s a project she was proud of, but it didn’t spawn sustainable gigs and opportunities to make money the way she’d hoped it would.

“I was working here and there, but it wasn’t really what I’d pictured in my mind. So I took that as a lesson to prepare and focus on what I had to do to break through. When you’re a backing singer and you’re in a group, you’re used to always having an income and security. And then that goes away as you start your own project, things are not flowing as much and you have to change how you live. I really struggled.”

The situation started to turn around when she released So Much More last year. “It’s been amazing to be recognised in the industry with the awards, getting more work and also just being amongst the greats. When they mention the greats and you see your name there as well, that’s absolutely amazing.”

She feels like she’s finally got her foot in the door, but she still wants so much more. “Sometimes in life when you say things, they happen the way that you said it. I realised that I’ve got so much more possibility in me. I have a lot of things that I need to unleash. That’s the concept of the album: there’s so much more I’d love to share with the world. Not just as a musician, but as a person, a composer, a producer, a performer.”

Mtambo has released a video for her most recent single off the album, I Love You. “Black and white is my colour,” she says, referring to the video’s black and white theme. “I’m always in black, or black and white. It’s only now that I’m trying to move away from that.” It’s a song she wrote while she was pregnant and very “crazy and emotional”, and all she wanted from her husband was for him to tell her that he loved her. “I was just saying words that I like to hear everyday. Tell me that you love me.”

Despite her incessant writing and the lengthy backlog of written work which she says could easily see her record another album right now, Mtambo isn’t planning on releasing another project this year. There are a number of potential singles on the album and she’d like to capitalise on that. She also wants to explore new arrangements and see if she can do some collaborations with DJs and other artists.

While she figures out her next move, Mtambo will be touring the album around the country, beginning with Durban next month.

“Music these days is more about visuals. People want to see what you can do. They want to engage with you So we’re trying to do as many performances as I can.”