Winnie Khumalo. Picture: Timothy Bernard

A MUCH smaller Winnie Khumalo (pictured) walks in to the Star’s photographic studio. She had just recovered from a stint in hospital caused by ulcers, which in turn meant she could not eat.

“It was really painful,” said the gentle woman. “But my family was there for me and Oskido really inspired me when he used to visit me.”

In the studio she responds shyly at first to the camera. But then, through encouragement from photographer, Timothy Bernard, she warms up and becomes the superstar that we all know and love.

This took place late last year. We had agreed to meet because she had just released her new album, Woman.

It is the follow up to her big hit I Just Wanna Live My Life which brought her out from her role as a backing singer into the limelight as a solo artist. Her energy on stage is captivating and relentless. Her trademark bittersweet voice, which has a vocal range from falsetto to sexy and raspy, is one of the best in the country.

After the photoshoot we were supposed to do an interview, but, as with most Kalawa Jazmee artists, she had to leave for another appointment.

Almost a year later, in women’s month, another interview is arranged through the label. This time it is lunch at Sofiatown in the Newtown Cultural Precinct.

Winnie is looking stunning. Not one for dressing up like other female celebrities who always look like they’re about to depart for a matric dance in Limpopo, Winnie has always worn what suits her.

For the interview she is dressed casually in a tracksuit. But she is glowing. In fact, she is looking much younger than when we first met all those years back.

“I eat healthy now,” she shrugs. “I have recovered. I am a boring person. I am always at home. I only go out when I have to work. I am quite shy. I am only loud on stage. People have lots of opinions of you and once you’re out there… heyye…”

A tabloid recently accused her of wanting to be the next Brenda Fassie, something which they clearly got wrong and something that she clearly rejects. Looking around at the South African music scene, there is no other Winnie Khumalo. She has created a unique niche for herself – that of a sporty, large chick who can rock it on stage and sing better than most.

“I am the first lady of Kalawa Jazmee. I have been there for 10 years. I am a brand on my own. On the album, Oskido decided to do Too Late For Mama and we’ve done it faster so that people can dance. The reality is that if promoters want to do a tribute to Brenda they call me.”

The album is produced by Kalawa’s Uhuru, Mono T, Bobstar and Oskido, a lethal combination.

“The album talks about me a lot. I speak about my personal experiences. There is a lot that has happened in my life and I am expressing them through my songs.”

Being one of the most down-to-earth and successful female artists, what is the message to aspiring female vocalists out there?

“They must be humble. They must know who they are and what they want. Remember it’s easy come, easy go. Persevere but be humble all the time.”