Thiwe Mbola – Up Close and Personal
I’m not just a girl who makes music…”
Time stands still when Thiwe sings.
Well maybe the hands on the clock don’t quite stop, but it certainly feels that way.
Ever since the charismatic singer harmonized her way into our hearts on Black Coffee’s 2009 remix of Crazy, her subsequent music has become synonymous with effortless class and timelessness.
In an industry where principles are often sacrificed on the altar of success, the singer, songwriter and businesswoman, yes that’s right businesswoman, has fought to maintain her dignity as an artist and a woman.
Yet there has always been that crushing feeling that Thiwe has barely scratched the surface of her undeniable talent.
With highs that we all know and lows that we might not – such as being rendered homeless – Thiwe bares her soul and talks to us about her latest album and still unfolding journey.
The emotion you bring to your songs is really deep. To what extent is your music inspired by your personal experiences?
Thiwe Mbola: Everything I’ve ever sung about comes from my personal life.
I always write from the heart as I’m unfortunately unable to thumb-suck stories.
It’s funny to observe how one minute in a club some folk are acting all cool, glass in hand, then one of your tracks come on and all of a sudden peeps are all misty eyed. What do you think it is about your music that seems to move people emotionally?
Thiwe Mbola: Hahahaha this picture you just painted is hilarious!
I believe no experience is unique to one person.
Therefore people relate to what we sing about.
I’m also blessed to have worked with brilliant individuals as the production is always on par with the melody and lyrics.
“Crazy” was an absolute phenom of a track! When you recorded it did you expect that it would have such a huge impact?
Thiwe Mbola: Never ever! Trust me!
Crazy was my first House collaboration and this happened when I hated House Music because back then, House Music was just a whole lot of noise.
Black Coffee made me realize how musical the genre really is.
Now I’m an addict.
The response to Crazy is still overwhelming.
What were you up to during the gap between your latest album Soul Therapy and the previous one?
Thiwe Mbola: It’s been collaborations, hustling, going indie, then realizing that I just don’t have the resources to be indie.
It’s been nine years of learning more than anything.
What I know now, I couldn’t have learnt had things been smooth sailing.
Artists approach every project with certain expectations such as to establish a legacy, explore a new creative direction or even just to pay the bills. What do you seek to achieve with “Soul Therapy”?
Thiwe Mbola: To heal, to inspire and leave a person that listens to Soul Therapy with a lot of positivity.
I’m all about a positive energy and mind set.
I don’t wait for the label to come up with a plan. I’m forever thinking about growth. You gotta understand that if I don’t hustle, I don’t eat.”
“Sekwanele”, the first single, is a track that has a lot of fellows nodding their heads passionately to the kind of “ride or die” love you confess to a lover. How did this stirring track come about?
Thiwe Mbola: This one was written by Mondli Ngcobo.
I didn’t like it when I first heard it and I was frustrated that I had to record it as it was just not me.
It actually grew on me and now I’m absolutely in love with it.
I then convinced the team that we needed a stripped down version which is just keys and vocals.
It’s absolutely beautiful I tell you.
At a time when materialism dominates many relationships, do you think the “Sekwanele” type of love still exists?
Thiwe Mbola: I think it still does to a certain extent.
I’d like to believe that’s why people have received it so well.
Everyone wants a ride and die typa relationship.
What attracted you to sign up with Sound African Recordings (a division of Sony Music Africa)?
Thiwe Mbola: Zakes Bantwini.
When I got a call from him, I was still trying to find a home for my music.
SAR had the resources I needed and it made business sense.
What value would you say you bring to the relationship?
Thiwe Mbola: I’m not just a girl who makes music.
I’m a hustler.
I don’t sleep.
I don’t wait for the label to come up with a plan.
I’m forever thinking about growth.
You gotta understand that if I don’t hustle, I don’t eat.
So the label brings the resources, I get my hands dirty by doing the work (calling to request an interview, finding gigs etc).
What value do you expect to derive from the relationship with SAR?
Thiwe Mbola: You gotta understand that the label has resources and these include contacts.
Building relationships with other organisations is top priority.
This is not about the now, I’m always thinking about long term.
Which producer/s do you feel have brought about the realest most 100% possible projection of Thiwe?
Thiwe Mbola: Yoh! Wow!
It’s definitely Demor.
What he did for Soul Therapy is exactly what I wanted.
Listen, the man brought my writing to life with his production.
What really puts you into the “zone” to create great music?
Thiwe Mbola: Hahaha…..hey man!
Studio time is like office hours.
When I’m there, I know it’s time to work.
So the work must just come. No zone needed.
You’re in studio. Work. That’s the zone [laughs].
You’ve said that Soulistic made you fall in love with music. What will it take for you to remain “in love” with House Music?
Thiwe Mbola: Soulistic Music made me fall in love with house music.
It’s been a good six years and I’m still whipped!
With the new producers giving the big guys a run for their money and the big guys pulling up their socks, the standard of production will remain high.
There’s no falling out of love anytime soon.
Even if you have a team, you gotta be hands on. It’s your career, only you can fully understand your vision.”
You were once signed to 999 then Soulistic which are vastly different labels. What life and music lessons did you derive from each of your stints at these labels?
Thiwe Mbola: Ja hey, [I] sure have been around.
Can you believe it’s 11 years since I started in the game?
999 Music was my school of hustle.
There, you don’t wait for tomorrow.
You do it now.
No time for wondering what if.
You’ll get the answers to what if immediately because you do what you need to do now.
Soulistic Music taught me about the importance of building and maintaining contacts.
They taught me to let my work speak for me.
“Let people know you for your work Thiwe and nothing more”.
That’s what I learnt.
The music industry is a cut throat space. What’s the one the thing that surprised you when you first came into the game?
Thiwe Mbola: How deceitful people are.
Coming from a background where your word is your bond, where you do unto others as you would expect them to do unto you.
It’s been sad to see over the years how fake people are.
You are only good as long as you’re useful.
Once they are done with you, it’s like you never existed.
I still can’t grasp that and I refuse to believe that’s who we are driven to be by our hunger to succeed.
At a professional artist level how have you dealt with the inevitable punches the industry throws at everyone at one time or the other?
Thiwe Mbola: I’ve never [been] dependant on the industry or the people in the industry.
It’s always been about the ordinary people who embrace you with sincerity.
Those are the people that put food on my table.
When you emerged on the scene many people celebrated your fresh sound and look and so much was expected off you to eventually develop into this amazing global star. Today you have done well for yourself, yet there is that gnawing feeling that you have the potential to achieve soooooo much more. What has held you back from ascending to the dizzying heights so many people believe you are capable of reaching?
Thiwe Mbola: A mentor recently said to me: “You have ticked all the boxes except for one….it’s not your time yet box.”
I believe that with all of my heart.
I put out quality work that is still appreciated years later and I will continue to do that until it is my time.
What are you doing to ensure that you fully express your immense talent?
Thiwe Mbola: See this one…keep your ears on the ground *winks*
How has founding a company, Thiwe M Holdings, pushed you out of your comfort zone?
Thiwe Mbola: Hehehehe my gosh! You did your research….look, I hustle.
It’s that simple.
I’ve been blessed to have worked in corporate, events and PR and the skills learnt during the past ten years are helping me in my hustle.
How has the experience of being the “boss” been?
Thiwe Mbola: It’s a humbling experience because…
1. There’s no salary
2. The hours are crazy, you work until 5am and can only nap for an hour or two.
3. I am the resource and therefore everything is dependant on me.
It is very rewarding though to see your work, nothing makes me more proud than knowing “that’s my work”.
A number of artists are either planning to or have already established businesses with different levels of success. What are the key things you feel artists need to know about being successful in business?
Thiwe Mbola: Even if you have a team, you gotta be hands on.
It’s your career, only you can fully understand your vision.
So you gotta get your hands dirty and put in the work.
You’ve mentioned that your parents divorced at 16 leaving you to support your siblings, at 19 you were “alone” and at 20 you ventured to Joburg. How did these tough experiences mould you into the woman you have become?
Thiwe Mbola: I say I’m a dominant because I had to learn to survive and provide at such a young age.
I’m used to being in control and dependant on myself.
This becomes tricky as letting go of the control is mission impossible.
Some people get frustrated with me but hey; get out of kitchen if you can’t stand the heat.
I’m not about to turn down the heat because you can’t handle the dominant, perfectionist Thiwe *I’m holding my breath with this one*
You’ve mentioned being “homeless” at one stage and other such demoralising personal challenges. How have you managed not to become bitter with life and maintain the will to move on?
Thiwe Mbola: Oh man! As soon as I remembered that I’m responsible for myself, I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
I stopped being bitter and I channelled that energy and got myself out of that situation.
That was the lowest point in my life.
I don’t wish it on anyone.
Being the self-confessed “dominant” woman that you are, just what kind of “Romeo” will sweep you off your feet?
Thiwe Mbola: Let me take a second*sigh* …..it’s gonna take a special man to sweep me off my feet. I tell you.
He can only be a dominant man.
I can’t do weaklings.
You gotta be able to handle this “strong” woman.
Other than that, be attentive, genuine and thoughtful.
Oh and you gotta hustle five times harder tha
WITH THIWE MBOLA