VOICE OF HOPE
From busking to the big time – a local singer’s journey to the international stage
Khayelitsha-based singer and songwriter Zanie Mdloyi has landed a six-month gig in Spain, where she will share her voice with an international audience for the first time. The trip comes in the wake of her participation in the Beyond Busking Development Programme, run by the Cape Town Arts Festival in partnership with the Ariva Arts Foundation.
For Zanie Mdloyi, a singer and songwriter based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, music is a tool of self-expression and a way of preaching to the world. Her love of song is rooted in its ability to motivate the people around her.
Now, Mdloyi is on the verge of sharing her voice on a whole new scale. A six-month trip to Spain, backed by company Jo&Na Shows, will see her performing for an international audience for the first time.
“I feel so excited, and I can’t wait to explore and travel the world,” she told Maverick Life.
The overseas gig comes in the wake of Mdloyi’s involvement in the Beyond Busking Development Programme, run by the Cape Town Arts Festival in partnership with the Ariva Arts Foundation. She was among the first cohort of artists to benefit from the programme when it was launched in 2022.
“What I loved about that project is they don’t just take you through the music side. They start with your mentality first – making sure that emotionally and spiritually, you’re in a good space. So, what I learnt through the project is that you must have personal development; you need to… make sure that mentally, you are strong,” she said.
Mdloyi was the only woman artist involved in the programme, which sought to provide musicians from underresourced communities with training and mentorship that would lead to sustainable employment. Her training included private vocal tuition at the University of Cape Town.
“[Mdloyi] had such an amazing stage presence and energy when she performed, and an absolutely amazing voice,” said Yusuf Ganief, CEO of the Cape Town Arts Festival.
“We wanted to launch [the artists] and now we’ve got someone that’s being launched internationally, which is really like a dream come true for what we wanted to achieve through the Beyond Busking project.”
Luzuko Tutu, another local artist who will be joining Mdloyi on the trip to Spain, described her as an “authentic” vocalist with a commanding stage presence.
“[Mdloyi] is an example… when it comes to just believing in yourself and trusting the higher power and really going for what you want,” he said. “She has so much optimistic energy, where she just wants everyone to be good, everyone to feel happy, and it’s contagious.”
The long road to Spain
Growing up in Gugulethu, Mdloyi came to love a wide range of music genres, including rap, R&B and hip hop. She began her journey as a vocalist in music competitions and talent shows, and by joining a local gospel group.
Mdloyi later performed as a back-up singer for other artists and took on gigs in her community. However, the road to success is difficult for South African musicians, and she was often underpaid – or not paid at all – for her performances.
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“It is difficult – even though you tell yourself that you’re a musician who is so focused, who knows what you want… – when it comes to getting paying gigs in South Africa or in Cape Town,” she said.
“I’m the kind of person who loves to do something excellent. So, if I don’t get the quality that I’m looking for, I tend to… not do anything. In my journey of music, the challenge was that when I wanted to record my music, I didn’t have enough funds to go to a good-quality studio.”
The Beyond Busking Development Programme was born of the need to assist and upskill marginalised artists in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Ganief. He described it as a “heart-centred” decision.
“There’s so much talent on the street that wasn’t nurtured and wasn’t given the exposure that other artists have, who have more support in terms of marketing or in terms of privilege,” he said. “These guys have a raw talent which I wanted to expose, and so my motto was to take them from the street to the stage.”
The five-month project put participating artists through a customised development programme, with mentorship from industry professionals, that culminated in performances at the Cape Town Arts Festival in October 2022.
“What came out of that course was an absolute miracle. We had six buskers, each producing original songs, and had professional composers from Ariva Arts Foundation that assisted them to develop the songs and actually produce them in professional studios,” said Ganief. “Each one of them has now got a CD wherever they perform… and that’s already tripling their income.”
Mdloyi had produced her first single, Higher, before participating in the Beyond Busking project. Through the programme, she produced Africa Yam, which she describes as a song of “hope and peace”.
Beyond her upcoming travels, Mdloyi aims to continue developing her skills as a musician, with an eye to opening her own studio one day. Becoming a producer is also on the cards, she says, since there is a shortage of women in the field locally.
“I just want to open opportunities for the underground artists because I know how it is to be in this journey of music,” she said. “I want to make things better for them so that they don’t go through the challenges that we went through.” DM/MC