Isn’t it funny how sometimes, a hour-long phone call can change your perception of someone. There have been many descriptive words used in the past to describe Unathi, some good, some not so good.
I must admit that I too have passed some judgment. However, after my chat with the singer, I know for sure that she is as authentic, honest and true to herself as she says she is. Unathi shot to fame more than 10 years ago as a radio and television personality.
Her music career soon followed and she has been a household name ever since. Known for hits like Sana Lwami which features kwaito star Zola, Sonini and We Thembisile, Unathi has released four studio albums.
Now she has just released her latest studio album, Brave, True and Strong and with this album, Unathi says she is just starting to discover herself as a female vocalist.
“I’ve been writing material for this new album as soon as I was done with my previous one. I don’t believe that the creative process ever stops, so I am always writing even though I only release an album every three years,” she said.
Although she had been writing songs, she only got into studio six months ago and she was very clear what she wanted this album to sound like and what she wanted it to say. “In the past I struggled to connect my actual music to my lifestyle. People often told me that my music doesn’t match up to my performances on stage. On stage, I’m amazing. They wanted that connection in my music as well when they are at home or in their cars but did not feel it, and that really bothered me.”
She describes this album as deeply soulful, African, sensual and joyful. “The sound is definitely what my fans have come to know but it’s so important for the music to evolve, so as much as it’s still me, there are a number of new sounds on this album.”
The songstress did a number of things differently with this album. One of those was shooting the album art before she finalised the music.
“I called on the creative team and told them we are shooting my album cover. They obviously thought I was crazy and so did I because I have never done that before, but we did the shoot. I found that when I was putting the music together, I would actually look at the album art and find inspiration from it,” she said.
When compared to her previous offerings, Unathi said that this album was more focused. “I think my previous albums were all experimental, this album is focused. With this album I play with my voice but I have also realised that I have a very unique voice. It might not be the voice that has been sold to us as the perfect one, but it is mine and I have embraced it. God made me this way and I trust myself now.”
One of her favourite songs off the new album is Prayer, a song she said she wrote at the request of her mother. “My mom called me one day and asked me to write a spiritual song for this album and I did, because who says no to their mother, but also because it was important for me as well,” she said.
With more than a decade under her belt, Unathi has learnt a number of lessons. “The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that people’s perception of me has been a distraction to me. And I’ve learnt to let that go...
“You can’t take a short cut on loving yourself, it comes with experience and often we learn more from our failures. I have just learnt to surrender all to God. I trust that God wants only the best for me and after I took the conscious decision to absolutely surrender to him, that’s when I found peace and undying self love for who I am,” she said.
Known as the loving and sweet judge on Idols SA, Unathi, who hides no emotion, is often asked why she always cries. “Here’s what I think: the very first tear you cry, in any situation or circumstance, that first tear is gathering your strength, so it’s okay to cry. Vulnerability is so strong, it’s such an asset and that’s how I see it. For me, pretending to be strong is a weakness. I don’t mind you seeing me cry,” she said.
Early next year the star plans on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and will then start her album tour in February. “I love a challenge and I am very excited to do the climb, I really am. I’m also looking forward to my tour. I will be starting in Port Elizabeth, then take it to the rest of the country.”