How Maleh’s musical destiny was sparked
01 January 1970
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Aphiwe Manono: If you’ve just joined us, you are listening to Old Mutual Radio and we are still chatting to Malehloka Hlalele. She was just explaining how she came about into the music industry. Now, Maleh, you spoke about you planning the event around the Standard Bank – Joy of Jazz. I know there’s a story behind that that actually made you decide right then and there.
Something happened at the Standard Bank – Joy of Jazz that year. When you were just someone running around backstage, making sure that other artists know where they’re supposed to be and you just came across someone that made you say ‘oh my gosh this is what I want to do.’ I want you to tell that story.
Malehloka Hlalele: Yeah man actually sometimes in life you just need one moment to awaken. For me it was a reawakening of my passion for performance, and it happened to be at one of the performances at the Joy of Jazz by an artist, by the name of Chris Botti. Who was just an exceptional, exceptional musician.
It was during a short break that I had and I happened to catch just a glimpse of this moment that was happening for him, as an artist where he was really connecting with the audience, you know. Everyone had kind of gathered around the stage. A very intimate moment that I was lucky to witness and I remember feeling very emotional.
I was overwhelmed with emotions at that particular moment because something inside of me was reminded of my love for singing. My love for music and I think I consciously made a decision, at that point that I would pursue my music career as an artist. I needed to find my voice and my sound, and that’s a moment for me I don’t forget and I’m very grateful to have been able to just catch that glimpse and to witness that, yes.
AU: So Maleh, before you came out as a solo artist you were part of a group.
Formed part of a group before going solo
MH: Yes, I was. I was part of an Afro pop group by the name of Kaya and we were based in Bloemfontein, in the Free State. It was a very popular group, even today and of course, there was myself and three other guys and they really became like my big brothers, you know. Taught me almost everything I feel I know about performing on stage and interacting with an audience.
Those years with Kaya groomed me and this was from the beginning of my matric year, and one or two years into my varsity days. I had an amazing and an incredible journey with them, so in terms of collaborating my love for R & B and kind of fusing it with African songs and African music. That would have been the beginning of that different view of my sound, the sound that I produce today. So they definitely influenced the direction that I decided to take, in music.
AU: You speak about them and I’m happy that you’re saying that they were like your big brothers and they actually helped you discover yourself and your sound. But we can’t ignore the fact that sometimes working in a group doesn’t seem to work for everyone because Kaya, eventually parted ways.
Would you say you and Kaya parted on good terms and what are the, because we’ve seen Bongo Maffin. They were great together. They sounded great, just like Kaya did, and TKZee. Do you think it’s just, do you just grow out of the band itself, as you grow older and people have new ideas? What really happened? What makes a group decide ‘okay guys we’ve had a good run but let’s just let it go?’
MH: I know, it was a very difficult time, at that point where I had to make the decision to leave the group because one of the main reasons that it came down to me parting from the group was because I was still studying. I had taken a year off of my varsity studies to focus on promoting the Kaya, Kunzima album and in as much as we achieved so many great things, you know. I needed to get back to my studies. I needed to go back to school and make sure that I graduated and I completed that task, of attaining a degree.
So balancing both, my studies and being a performer, at points, compromised the group, so when the time came. Really, it was an amicable decision that I would leave the group and they would replace with another female singer, and I think because of just how long we’ve been together and the fact that we had a lot of love between us. It was something that we could all live with, and we still keep in touch now. They are doing, obviously still very well and I think also, I don’t know, I think what happens is you are a group but you are individuals, you know and unfortunately life has set different paths for everybody.
So at some point, yeah, things change and people have to grow in different ways and opportunities are presented. Yes, that cannot be passed up because you have made a commitment to a group, so those things do happen. It was a peaceful, kind of separating of ways. It is so much better and, yes, you are very lucky if you are able to get out of a group situation and not having animosity.
AU: Now, fast-forward a couple of years later, 2013 to be precise, you dropped the album ‘Step Child’. Now, despite being repeatedly told that ‘Step Child’ is worthy of a collector’s item, you still feel the album was a bit all over the place. Tell me about this.
My debut album – Step Child
MH: You know, I think it was, that was my debut album, and I think I still am, and I think you don’t get to a point where, as an artist you can say ‘I’ve completely discovered what I’m about’ or ‘what the sound is about’. So for me, when I listened to the ‘Step Chid’ album, I get a sense that I was still doing a lot of discovery and, yes, I feel like it was a little all over the place.
I had songs that were very different to each other but I think, somehow at the end of the day, there was a similar thread and it comes together, and it was my introduction as a solo soul artist. I think it was very well received. I was overwhelmed by the reception and very excited that people were accepting and receiving of me, as a soul singer. It was definitely a good introduction but yes it was very –
AU: it was good enough to earn you a SAMA nod. You received, as I mentioned earlier, an award in the best African adult album. Tell me what that felt like, if this for you now was, if you felt like it was a bit all over the place, and you might have attended the awards thinking ‘this might go to someone else’.
MH: Oh, yes.
AU: ‘I got an invite, so I’ll just be here and enjoy the evening’ and then boom, you won the award. What did that mean to you?
MH: Aphiwe, it was, you know it’s an overwhelming feeling when you put yourself out there and you, you know. When you produce an album it’s a very, what’s the word, yeah, it’s a difficult process you know. So when you come to the end of it and the reception is the way that it was. It’s overwhelming and it’s very exciting. It’s my first offering, the ‘Step Child’ album, so to get an award is validation for me that I’ve made the right decision to pursue my music career.
It was exciting, I mean I was sitting in front of some of the artists that I’ve looked up to and who inspire me. So to be amongst people that I have always wanted to find myself in some of the spaces with, and to be amongst them, I really, really was feeling very grateful. I’m still very grateful for the opportunity.
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