Berita – a universal foundation
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Radio. My name is Aphiwe Manono and as usual we’ll bring you some of South Africa’s most talented singers, songwriters, producers, vocalists. Today we are speaking to Gugulethu Khumalo. Better known as Berita. Today we are speaking to Berita, Zimbabwean born, South African raised vocalist. They’ve crowned her the new princess of afro pop. Welcome to Old Mutual Live Radio, Berita and thank you so much for joining us.
B: Thank you so much, Aphiwe for having me, it’s a pleasure.
AU: Let’s start from the beginning. Who is uGugulethu, where is she from, where was she raised and from Zim to South Africa, that transition, just take us through all of that.
A foundation laid in Zimbabwe and New Zealand
B: Yes, I was born in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe as uGugulethu Khumalo as you’ve mentioned. I grew up there, I went to school there. Of course I went to other schools. I’m one child that went to different schools in the provinces of Zim but the main province was in the city of Bulawayo and then I had a normal childhood.
I was raised mostly by my grandmother because my father and mother were teachers in another province in Zim. It was a lovely childhood. I loved playing, I loved just being a child that was loved, but I never thought in my life that I would giving love to people and like via music.
I always thought I was going to be maybe a doctor or something that was very education related because that’s what I loved doing the most. When I was 16 my parents got an opportunity to go and work as dairy farmers in New Zealand. I guess that’s where things changed because my father took the whole family with and that transition into a country where things are so different from the way things are done back home and being an African girl all of a sudden in the spotlight in another world. It just gave me thoughts of my own and I started to just be very conscious of who I am and what I’m about and from there music came. I started to spend a lot of time on the guitar or the piano. Back then it was still just something that I wished I would do but then in 2011 after I finished high school in New Zealand I couldn’t get a place to study over there. There were permit related issues but then that got me an opportunity to come and study in South Africa and I came with my guitar and I never looked back.
AU: When you came, when you moved from New Zealand, your story starts in Zim and your parents moved to New Zealand and then you find yourself back in South Africa to start your tertiary education.
AU: When you got to South Africa you went to Rhodes. Am I correct?
B: No, I went to Walter Sisulu University in a campus in East London.
AU: Oh, okay, so you get to Walter Sisulu University and what were you studying then and yes, the music bug had bitten a bit but were you sure at this point in your life that this is the course you want to run?
A change in direction at university
B: Yes, I started financial information systems and I have a basic rule in life that you finish what you start and I started it and I’m someone, I’m very dedicated in whatever I do so I’m very dedicated. I put in the three years of work into it, you know, I got my diploma, I graduated with cum laude but I think my big wake up, like emotionally happened the first time I visited Joburg.
I thought Joburg was so big, I better make it before I even get to Joburg so I started pushing and playing a lot of community events in the Eastern Cape, hospitals, anything really if there’s like a society event happening be it Women’s Month, be it the mayor’s coming to town or whatever.
I would play there and that’s where I just, before I knew it I had a following and I came to Joburg. I think it’s the second time, I was offered a record deal, found myself in studio recording but after my album came out when was a second year student and I went back to school as normal and before I knew it, Thandolwethu was on the radio you know. Just hitting airwaves in the right way and from there a lot of amazing things happened.
AU: There’s a misconception, Berita that you came out or came into the industry around the same time as uZahara.
AU: Now Zahara for those who don’t know, is also a female vocalist that uses a guitar but the grapevine says you were overshadowed by your debut album and actually now it’s making sense that maybe you did come out around the same time as Zahara but you were still concentrating in school so maybe it wasn’t your focus.
B: Yes, well, ja.
AU: What do you have to say about that? Were you overshadowed by Zahara when you released your first album?
Breaking through at the same time as Zahara
B: My first, well, first of all I respect Zahara a lot. I like her music. She’s a very talented, beautiful, young woman who’s doing amazing things in the industry and my album came out, I think 2012. I don’t know when her album came out but I think my album came out after hers and by then she was doing so many amazing things in the industry.
I guess I can say it’s two female vocalist/singer/songwriter/guitarists that are on two different lanes so I wouldn’t see, I never look at the industry and see someone as overshadowing someone else. It’s a talent, it’s a gift that comes from God and it’s showcased in many different ways. Everything that we do as musicians and our goal is to touch as many people as possible but there’s timing involved as well, so ja, that’s all I would say about it.
AU: All right, so you eventually finish school and you decided to focus on only the music. What steps did you take in trying to achieve this goal?
B: Yes, I got to through to the last year. It’s been quite a journey actually because I can say being a student and a musician I wasn’t seeing the industry for what it was. I was seeing some of the industry on weekends and on holidays but now the industry is real.
There’s a lot that goes on and I feel like I’m still getting my feet in and thankfully there’s a lot of amazing things happening. This year alone I won an award for songwriter of the year for my first album and I just came from a trip in the Netherlands where I was performing in the Nelson Mandela Celebrations that were taking place in Amsterdam.
I just released my single featuring Oliver Mtukudzi and Hugh Masekela which has a mix coming as well and a music video. So I feel like so many amazing things happening since I decided to take music full time but I’m still getting my feet in and you know, I’m still getting my hands dirty.
AU: All right.