Jonny Vilakazi – consumed by music
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Radio, my name is Aphiwe Manono and as usual I bring you some of South Africa’s most talented musicians, song writers, producers. Today my guest is a vocalist, his name is Jonny Vilakazi. He’s done a lot of work, including backing vocals for big names, but he is on the line and he’s going to tell us all about it. Jonny, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to Old Mutual Live Radio.
Jonny Vilakazi: Thank you for having me.
AU: Let’s start with where your passion for music comes from.
JV: Well, I guess, you know how it is, like we all say from the age of six, whatever, from a very young age. You know when you start getting smart as a kid and knowing what’s right and what’s wrong and what you want and what you don’t want. What you understand, what you like and what-not.
I always somehow knew that music is my thing, you know and I don’t really come from a musical background. So I won’t say there is some inspiration that comes from the family, that would be a lie. I just always knew that I’ve got this interest in music and I think I sound proper when I sing. I always sort of knew that this is my path, I didn’t really have an idea how I would get there. But it’s always been there, that’s one thing that I know for a fact.
AU: You say that you’ve had this passion for as long as you can remember and even though you don’t have any background influences, what made you finally take the plunge and say, you know what, this is really what I want to do and how did you start out in music?
Music has always been a part of my life
JV: You see, from a very prominent school I was in school choirs. In high and primary I was in school choirs and I was in the local choirs in the community. Like I would get beaten up at home later when I come back from playing, while other kids were playing I was with the choirs in the community and in high school. I was like, I started conducting, I started vocal coaching in a very small spectrum, in a way. I’ve always really been in it, like with my studies, with everything that was going on and then I later moved to Pretoria.
I was in the corporate world for eight years, still my night life was music. Weekends there were shows, there was everything. So it was always, I really had no idea how I’d end up doing it full-time, but like I’m saying, it’s always been a part of my life and it’s always been a really important part of my life. I’ll always choose music over my job, but I needed a job to pay the bills. I guess I never believed or I never saw myself living and making it happen through music alone, that type of thing.
AU: So you say you were in the corporate world for about eight years, the decision to transition from corporate to doing music full-time, how has that affected your life?
JV: The thing is, I worked for a private company for about eight years and I started working from a very young age, when I was 19. So honestly, I didn’t leave that place that I was working out to pursue music, no, that’s a lie, but I left because I believed life had other bigger things for me.
When I left there I started looking for other jobs, but I just couldn’t find anything, but I guess the universe and God had a bigger plan for me because that’s when things just started happening. That’s when music forced me to go full-time. That’s when I started getting jobs that demanded me to have day rehearsals and stuff like that. Then from there the rest is history.
AU: And who have been your musical influences growing up, like on a Sunday morning while you, or let’s say a Saturday morning, you know how it is, when you wake up in the morning and in black households, what usually happens on a Saturday is that we wake up in the mornings and it’s time to clean up the home. Like a thorough spring clean, what would have been a typical Saturday been like for you in your home?
I’ve always listened to music on the radio
JV: You know, growing up, of course I was just a big fan of radio and like listening to your Top 22, your Top 40 on Metro FM. Even where I come from like Metro FM is not really, it doesn’t really play proper, like we don’t Beyonce has always been an inspiration for me
So I’ve got influences from all kinds of music you can think of, like everything, but one person that at least she has been a bit more than inspiration, just someone that I go to, to study and understand her as a vocalist. It’s going to sound very crazy, but believe it or not, Beyonce is my girl and she’s always been. Like as early as Standard three, which was in 1995, I just spotted something different in her, Because everyone can sing, everyone is talented, everyone works hard, whatever, but she’s just different and she’s all about people knowing her for what she’s good at and I just think she’s a vocal beast.
Whitney Houston, yes, I think I was too young for her at that time but I’ve always been a Beyonce fan, until this day. I’m a Beyonce die-hard fan, simply because, for me, musically, she makes it and she can do anything. You can give her jazz, you can give her gospel and that’s what I aspire to be, I wanted to be this diverse singer that anything I get. I don’t want a job that I won’t be able to do, I don’t want to ever be chucked out of a rehearsal because I can’t crack the music, even if it’s pop, whatever, even if it’s something which is totally out of my zone. I must be able to somehow crack it, so it’s just been my goal.
AU: You mentioned earlier that you did a bit of vocal training and conducting, I’m assuming you have a choir background. Tell us a bit more about that and teaching other people to hone their skills, what did that entail?
I also have a passion with helping others improve
JV: I guess throughout the years I’ve learnt that one of the things that I’m very passionate about is working and getting people to sound good, if that makes sense. Because particularly when I don’t really have an idea of what’s going on, but get me to understand. Because maybe it is a language, it’s like the whole world altogether.
You need to understand the skill, the dynamics and everything and the technique that are required for you to take up this beautiful sound because it’s very possible. Talent or not, but if you’ve got the understanding, that’s why you find people who don’t really have great voices. But they sing in tune because they understand the study behind the music. I’ve always been so driven by that.
Every time, even when I was young, when I was in choirs, I’d just always, because certain things would make sense to me. It was more easy for me than other kids, I’ve always had harmony, in my ear. Every time I sing a part, I always hear the other two or other three parts and it didn’t make sense then.
But now it makes sense that with harmony, I guess it’s one of my specialties. So I specialise in school choir, like in church choirs. I just take the platform and ja, take the lead and help others and it just brings great joy to me when everything comes together that I’ve been involved in.
AU: Johnny, there’s a saying that says, when words fail, music speaks, what does that saying mean to you, translate to in your life?
JV: To me music, that saying means music is life, music reaches places that nothing can reach. Music brings people together, music makes sense when nothing does, when life doesn’t make sense, you find sense in the song. So for me music is power, music is a force and music is a spiritual journey, it’s very spiritual for me.
It just goes to a place, it takes you to a place that you’ve never been before and it just makes you a different person, it makes you tapped into another level that you just don’t get, but yet it makes so much sense. It’s my heart.