Music industry not easy for females

LOCAL female hip-hop rapper and former radio personality Black Bird, born Nonkululeko Vundla, says she has been subjected to sexual harassment in the cut-throat competitive music industry in her journey spanning over a decade. Black Bird released a full length hip-hop album, The Rappetizer, in 2010 and the international touch in her compositions won her the prestigious honour of being the first female hip-hop artiste to perform at the Harare International Festival of the Arts in 2011. NewsDay (ND) Life & Style reporter Winstone Antonio caught up with Black Bird (NV) who opened up about her showbiz experience and below are excerpts from the interview.

WINSTONE ANTONIO

ND: It appears you have been out of the limelight since you left Star FM in 2013, what has been happening?

NV: A lot has been happening. Music wise, I have been releasing singles mainly. I went to South Africa briefly then I moved to Zambia. I have been busy with radio and television presenting and training. In Zambia I worked for two radio stations Zambezi FM in Livingstone and Pan African Radio in Lusaka.

ND: It looks like you had a full plate in Zambia?

NV: Yes, before working at Pan African Radio I had trained all their 21 presenters. Last year I was working for Fresh TV station in Lusaka hosting a daily music request show, an hour of live television everyday. It was lots of fun, but I did not have time for my music and other business ventures.

ND: Tell us more about these business ventures.

NV: Two years ago I started a clothing business, Bantu Wear. This has been keeping me very busy, so eventually I left Lusaka to come to my dream destination here in Livingstone where I am also doing a bit of farming. I have always loved Victoria Falls, so being here is perfect for me.

ND: Would you say the local music industry has fully embraced female rappers?

NV: It is very tough being a female rapper especially because the men are in control of most key positions like at radio and television stations. They are studio owners and promoters as well. A female artiste is often seen as being not serious so I had to work extra hard to show that I was professional and could do this rap thing properly.

ND: You recently dropped a 14-track multilingual extended play titled Bantu Queen in which you used seven different languages. Can you share some insights into the production?
NV: The multilingual Bantu Queen EP is a celebration of Bantu culture and Bantu people. This Bantu Queen is actually a collection of songs I have been working on over the past two years plus two BB classics H-Town Hustler featuring Davina Green and Black Bird that features J Boss which were just singles. Since I have my roots in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia I decided why not use African languages — Zulu, Afrikaans, Sotho, Xhosa, Shona and Ndebele.

ND: And you also included English?

NV: English is the predominant language, so people all over the world can hear it, but now my fans can hear me spit in five different vernaculars too. So it’s very multilingual. The EP also features DJ Smiley on a reggae tune called Mirira in which I rap in Shona throughout while track 12, Side to Side, features fellow female rapper Lady Thug from Bulawayo and it was produced by P2daoh.

ND: There are allegations of sexual abuse of female artistes in the showbiz, what have been your experiences?

NV: I have experienced a lot of sexual harassment in my journey. It is not easy to break into the arts sector as some of those who hold keys seek to exploit prospective female artistes. It has been hard, but I had to always make sure I push back and show the men around me I am not playing games and I will not take their abuse. But on the other hand I must say a lot of brothers were supporting me and happy to help a sister like me shine.

ND: As a celebrity you have also experienced both highs and lows in your life, how have you handled the lows?

NV: There are many highs, but many lows too in the life of a celebrity, but every time I felt like my world was collapsing, I knew that these challenges were just there to toughen me up. I am a goal-getter who is not affected by setbacks and does not allow previous circumstances to weigh me down. It is not easy to get up when you are down, but for me I know God has a bigger plan for my life nothing can keep me down as the Rastafarians say: ‘Who Jah Bless No Man Curse’.

ND: What memories do you have performing at big stages like Hifa?

NV: Hifa brings back memories of how no Zimbabwean female rapper had ever been invited there and being the first was just so empowering. It opened lots of doors for Zim hip-hop and for me being the first sister to do a full hour rap set was such an honour. Seeing the faces of people as they enjoyed my music was irreplaceable. You can’t put a price on how it makes you feel to see people appreciate your art.

ND: Your word of advice to aspiring female artistes?

NV: I just want to urge them to stay focused and keep their business and personal life separate from their art as men in the showbiz industry will not respect them if they let them do what they want with them. So avoid getting caught up in relationships with producers, DJs or promoters. It may seem to have benefits, but I have seen many girls lose credibility as a result. Let your talent speak for itself and sooner or later you will reap the rewards.

ND: And guidance on perfecting their craft?

NV For young artistes both male and female, I would urge them to do as many live shows as possible even free open mic sessions after the COVID-19-induced national lockdown so as to perfect their craft. These days I think it’s very easy to be a studio artiste with how technology is, but we need to make sure we have a serious stage craft.

During my time I was lucky to have places like Book Cafe and Mannenburg that gave me so much experience and training in the music business, not just on stage. A big thank you to everyone who was part of Sisters Open Mic, they helped me find my voice and my confidence at a time when no other females were seriously rapping.

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