South Africa’s musos dish on being a woman in music

It’s tough being a woman in any industry; women are treated differently and some say they need to work twice as hard. Singers like Toya Delazy speak about the women who inspired them, and share their experiences in the music industry.

Image description Zanne Stapelberg says Sibongile Khumalo, a musician from Soweto inspired her to be versatile in her career. (Image: Supplied)


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Melissa Javan

Being a woman in the music industry is no different from being a woman in other industries, according to South African women in the field. Many of them agree it is challenging, and that men are treated differently, but that has not chased them from following their dreams of making it on stage.

In years gone by, Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka were among those who carried the torch for women in South Africa’s music industry. Now artists such as Karen Zoid, Lira, Zolani Mahola and Yolande Visser are making a name for themselves on the national and international music scene.

For Zanne Stapelberg, a Cape Town-born classical singer and producer, your dreams will be achieved if you are passionate and work hard enough. In celebration of Women’s Month, Stapelberg and several other female artists spoke about who inspired them to follow music as a career, as well as what it was like to be a woman in the industry.

Stapelberg became a member of the Cape Town Opera Studio in 2000. At the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2014, one critic lauded her as a “national treasure”. Her awards include the Kanna Award for Best Classical Production at the 2014 Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, with the Odeion String Quartet.

She was inspired by Sibongile Khumalo’s versatility, Stapelberg said. “She [Khumalo] is a formidable opera singer, but has also established herself as a remarkable jazz singer. She has shifted and redefined the boundaries of what it means to be a singer.”

Inspired by this, Stapelberg had never been able to classify herself as an artist who sang just one genre. “[Khumalo] made it possible for me to believe that I could be more than just one thing.”

This mother of three did not think of herself as a woman in the music industry, she admitted. “I think of myself as an artist. And being an artist is both extremely fulfilling and very difficult. I produce, write, teach and perform. I have managed to create a living for myself through freelance work.”

Toya Delazy – named Latoya Nontokozo Buthelezi by her parents – said musicians such as Lebo Mathosa, Nhlanhla Ncinza of Mafikizolo and Fassie inspired her to pursue a career in music.

Image description Toya Delazy says she does not conform to the entertainment industry’s stereotypes and that has made her successful thus far. (Image: Facebook)

Delazy was nominated for the Best Female Southern Africa award in the 2014 African Muzik Magazine Awards as well as for Music Video of the Year for Memoriam at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs). A year earlier, she won three SAMAs: Newcomer of the Year, Best Pop Album, and Best Producer.

A singer, pianist, dancer and performer from KwaZulu-Natal, she said women had to work twice as hard as men in the industry. There were sectors, for example hip-hop, where women did not get much exposure. “When you look at the female emcees, no one is giving them [the] support that the males are getting. It’s hard work for a chick out there. I guess I stand tall, because we have accepted the challenge to prove the contrary,” Delazy said.

She decided not to change herself to suit the industry’s stereotypes, she added. “The industry tends to take a sexual approach – entertainment wise – when it comes to women. I took us off the car bonnets and used the artistry to communicate my view on a better life filled with dreams, which eventually became reality.

“I kept real to myself and owned my style. I didn’t compromise to fit into an industry that is created to entertain men.”

Josie Field, a Johannesburg-born singer and songwriter, pointed to Claire Johnston and her band Mango Groove as her inspiration. “Growing up, I admired her voice, Mango Groove’s songs and sound. The band was amazing and their songs are world class.

Image description Josie Field says though women are always treated different to men in careers, the advice is to stay true to who you are. (Image: Facebook)

“It was amazing to hear a South African woman and her band making world-class hit songs.”

Over nine years in the business, Field has released four albums and received six SAMA nominations by 2012, including Best Female Artist. Her first album, Mercy, was released in 2006.

She was not fazed by the fact that women were treated differently in any career field, she said. “It’s great being a female artist in this country. Musically there are always more men involved than women, but I love it.”

About being treated differently as a woman – whether good or bad – her advice was: “It’s easy to handle. You just remain true to yourself and keep other people’s issues at arm’s length.”