“WHEN I was in the studio recording my album, I’d pat myself on the back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could do that’,” Durban songstress Natalie Rungan (pictured) laughs as we chat about her latest album, Heart Aflame.

The 11-track collection, written, arranged and produced by Rungan, was launched at the Durban Jewish Centre last week. There’s no denying this jazz singer is highly skilled, with powerful vocals and control.

Her music is endearing and the great thing about Rungan – and this stands out in her live performance – is that she’s immensely passionate about what she does.

For her, it’s the live performance that counts.

“I wanted a live album because I’ve always felt there was a big difference between our live performances and what happens in the studio because you control that environment in the studio – sometimes too much so you don’t get the energy that’s on stage.

“For this album, we went into studio for three to five hours. The greatest thing started happening, we would do songs in one take, from start to finish. There was no overdubbing and no auto-tuning.”

As it happened in the studio is what the listener is going to hear.

“I’m particular with performances on stage being different from an album because sometimes you listen to an artist and they sound fantastic on the album, then you listen to them live, and that’s another story.”

Her first album, Love, took more of a pop and R&B route which opened doors, but Rungan realised this wasn’t the kind of music she wanted to make. It was jazz that beckoned.

“It was hard because of the market at the time in the music industry and where South Africa was. It was tricky because people weren’t used to jazz and couldn’t relate. But jazz was where I blossomed. The musical style allowed me to find myself because it encompasses so many different ideas and spaces. Its improvisational aspects allow you to explore what’s inside you, much more than a pop genre.”

Heart Aflame is about celebrating who you are without trying to be somebody else, Rungan says. “People have opinions and that’s okay. You have to accept not everybody is going to love you. But this is who I am and we love that people love what we do.”

An interesting concept is the Up, Close and Personal (UCP) concerts that Rungan stages every month at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Here, the focus is on how the audience feels as it is being taken on a musical journey.

The concerts are intimate and Rungan engages with the audience throughout.

Her keyboardist, Mark Royeppen, and drummer extraordinaire Bruce Baker complete the trio for the shows.

The concerts also feature supporting acts.

“When I was coming up in the music industry, there were few people, if any, who said, ‘Let’s give you a lift-up’ or Let’s support you’. I made a promise that, if I could, I would help up-and-coming artists,” she shares.

• Catch Natalie Rungan’s UCP concerts at the Durban Jewish Centre on the last Thursday of every month. On May 30, she sings at NCF North in Tongaat. See natalierungan.co.za