Simphiwe Dana, jazz diva with a mission

March 2008 -

South Africa's jazz diva Simphiwe Dana has a message, and it is being heard. In her own country she keeps winning award after award, and in Europe all of the concerts she gave in February 2008 were sold out.Yet her music style is not easy, and her message is anything but. Dana: "I want my songs to demonstrate what apartheid has done to my continent. My people were oppressed and treated worse than animals. I want to inspire Africans to take back control and to decide to live rather than to suffer and exist in the margin."

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Simphiwe Dana, photo (c) World Connection Agency

Dana primarily writes her battle songs in Xhosa, but on stage she always explains what they are about. "Politics again," she almost apologetically says to her audience. Although the 28 year-old singer looks shy and modest, the undertone is anger. "Yes, I am angry about what was done to us Africans," she admits. "But anger will not get us far. We need one another, Africa and Europe. We need to sit down with mutual respect and talk about what we can do for one another. Africa is threatened by aids. Millions are dying, and Europe can help us fight that."

Dana grew up in Transkei and started singing at weddings and circumcision celebrations in her village. Her parents convinced her to study ICT and graphic design in Johannesburg, where her performances during open-mike nights soon attracted attention. She says she got her talent from her mother, "who sang to heal the pain of apartheid. Singing also has a healing effect on me. I sing about the search for our African soul, which we must teach how to love again."

Dana consciously opted for the Xhosa language and is also raising her children in her native tongue. "We used to be punished if we sang or talked in Xhosa. Everyone had to speak English. Our culture was repressed as a result. I am proud of my heritage and I believe it is important to save our culture. That is why I sing in Xhosa."

Simphiwe Dana has been nominated for BBC's World Music Award, which will be presented in April 2008. In 2006 she released her first cd Zandisile and in 2007 her second cd The one love movement on Bantu Biko Street, both at Skip records.