Simphiwe Dana was born in 1980 in Gcuwa, Transkei, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Her father was a preacher and her mother, a passionate singer. Her upbringing to a great extent explains her deep love for gospel music. As a pastor’s daughter you can imagine that all she was exposed to was church, choir, music and more church.
But those could not have been the only forces responsible for her unparalleled and celebrated rise in African music. Her grandfather’s radio would always be mentioned in the list as it served as a grooming tool for young Simphiwe.
“And I won’t forget my grandfather’s radio in those days in the Transkei. When he hadn’t hidden the batteries, this is where I listened to my first songs, songs that had a great impact on my own development.” She says.
More than that, I imagine that her name Simphiwe, which means gift, must have had the greatest impact on her, if the saying “Your name is who you are” is correct. For indeed, Simphiwe is celebrated as a great gift to Africa, which is why she is called the new Miriam Makeba of Africa.
The young diva attented Vela Private School in Mthatha, where she matriculated in 1997, before proceeding to Wits Technikon, Johannesburg for her National Diploma in IT. She also loves graphic design and is known by her friends as an avid reader of prose.
Simphiwe Dana continues to excite and inspire her audience with her rich and unique blend of Jazz, Afro soul, rap and traditional music.
Her musical career gained an unrestricted expression from 2002, when she started singing in small clubs in Johannesburg and attracted tremendous attention.
She made a major impact in South Africa with the release in 2004 of Zandisile, her first musical album. The album sold so much that it gained several awards, including some South African Music Award (SAMA) in 2005. On its worldwide release the album gained success in the Billboard charts and she won an AVO Session Basel Award.
Music means more than a combination of sounds to the African diva, for her, music is a force that has the ability to move one to a land of intensity. In her interview with Jamati, she says;
“From a young age I associated music with reaching the Divine and, thus, reaching myself. So I learned that it’s not music unless it takes you to another place–a place where every feeling is intense.”
The depth of her musical exposé is such that she has drawn immense support from an older generation of South Africans, especially women, while her youth and grasp of contemporary pop has endeared her to the young audience. Some of the songs in Dana’s repertoire are ‘Ndiredi’, ‘Troubled Soldier’, ‘Chula Ukunyathela’, ‘Bantu Biko Street’, ‘Zundiqondisise’, ‘Uzobuya Nini’, ‘Sonini Nanini’ and ‘Naphakade’. She also sings the theme song of the Yizo Yizo television show.
In 2005, Simphiwe Dana won the “Best Newcomer” award and Best Jazz Vocal album at the 11th South African Music Awards with her first album “Zandisile.”
Two years later, she was named the “Best Female Artist”, with the song “The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street”, at the 13th South African Music Awards.
Her third album, Kulture Noir, was released in the summer of 2010. She later released her live album, An Evening with Sipmhiwe Dana Live in Concert, which features her singing some of her best hits accompanied by a 27 piece orchestra. Simphiwe has been vocal on topical issues in social media including political issues in South Africa.
Her graceful stage movement can be likened to no other and her head wraps seem to be some form of signature as she almost never gets on stage without that touch of ‘Africaness’.
She has maintained a strong presence, with regular radio play and live appearances at key national events and Festivals such as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz and Art alive.
Interestingly, with her family, Simphiwe is anything but a diva. She is a real African mother who enjoys trying out new spicy dishes and playing with her children.
Simphiwe Dana is indeed an African star.
Keep the flag flying great diva, Africa loves and celebrates you.