KB Motsilanyane – a North West upbringing
01 January 1970
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Welcome back to Old Mutual Live Radio and you are tuned in. My name is Aphiwe Manono. I’m still in conversation with actress, musician, mommy, dancer, producer – I actually won’t mention all of them by the end of this interview, but her name is KB Motsilanyane. Welcome back, KB.
KB Motsilanyane: Thank you.
AU: We spoke about your crew and the people you work with. Now we want to get to know KB, the little girl, where she was born and what kind of family she was born into? The Setswana girl, we want to know about her, so take us back to the North West. On a Sunday morning, and all your siblings are home and your parents are home, what was your house like? What was your home like?
KB: It’s funny that you chose Sunday because that was…
AU: Okay, hold on. Please move around again.
KB: Can you hear me now?
AU: Yes, that’s fine.
Music was always a part of our household
KB: Okay. It’s funny that you mentioned Sundays because that’s the one day when something very specific happened. Every Sunday morning my parents would play ‘Hand of Messiah’, so we’d be listening to all of these different classical songs and, at my age. I mean when I was at home there was just music. There was just background music for us at home. They also played the Beatles quite a lot, and for us it was just music.
It’s only when I got older I realised that, you know, they planted such an important seed because I understand music and even though sometimes I cannot explain it to the next person. I know, like I get it, I totally get it. I have five siblings. We are very blessed, a very musical family.
They can all do some form of art, whether it is sing, dance, or act. I’m the only one who is doing it as a career. My parents write literature. They do translations. They do a whole lot of stuff in the Setswana space, in terms of our language, and they also composed choral music.
So most of what I do is almost by default. I didn’t have to go and find it. I think I was just like stuck in it, you know. Yes, and I think I grew up like any other little girl in the bundu. Playing around, barefoot, and just liking to play outside. I never thought of myself as a singer. I never thought of and I never dreamt of being a singer.
In fact, it was only when my first album came out and I did my first, when I got my first award, best newcomer. I stood on stage and that’s when the penny dropped that it is actually happening but it was never a dream of mine. It is something that I found myself in, so to speak. It came easy for me.
AU: Now, you speak of your parents being choral composers and the kind of background you had and everyone in your family being inclined to the arts. How did you then cultivate that? Were you doing other things around Mmabatho in the North West and how did you eventually get to Johannesburg and realise your dream?
How I progressed into becoming an entertainer
KB: You know, like I said, you couldn’t like, any place you ended up in, like gave you an opportunity to do some form of art. So whether you want to dance in competitions, singing competitions, or acting competitions. I went to Mabana but there were also groups like cultural groups and so on that I joined.
I used to rehearse with a group called D&T, and they used to rehearse in a classroom and did like the, sort of the Rafina-style acting and dancing, and those kinds of things, so I did all of that. All of that because I just loved it and I think one of the things that made me love it was that I could do it. Some of the stuff was difficult but we always had like older group members that I could go head-to-head with, and I was always comfortable.
Then I went to study musical theatre too, after my matric. Even though I studied commerce, I did accounting, business economics and so on but it wasn’t really for me. So I was at TUT. I did this course and, like I said, things just happened for me.
I was one of the very few students that was handpicked to put on a show at the State Theatre. Buddy Holly, stand in for an actor that wasn’t there. Then to go do the Wizard of Oz, which was their big year-end production, and I was also in the cast of African Footprint.
It was something that my path was almost like it was there. All I had to do was to show up and, ja, so I didn’t have to physically try. It was there and one of my lecturers used to say that luck is being at the same place at the same time, and being ready. I think my fame was somehow emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way – I was always ready, even without really knowing it and I think that is what just helped me get where I am.
AU: I think we’ve spoken about the musical side of KB. Let’s go to the acting. One role that particularly stands out for me, as short as it was, was you co-starring in the movie, I don’t know if co-starring is the word to use, but we’ll call it that because it was a pretty big deal. You were in the movie Ali with Will Smith.
Now, you have a lot of acting, or a great spectrum of acting background. You were on Backstage. You helped found and you were one of the first casts of a very popular soapie on eTV, and you’ve done a lot of movies and theatre work. Which one would you say, if you had to decide, would you be KB just the singer or KB just the actress?
I’m blessed to be able to act, sing and dance
KB: I’m very lucky because I get to do all of them. That when I stand on stage and play my role..
AU: I’m losing you again. Hello.
KB: Just hold on for me. Hold on.
AU: Okay. Why are you still awake its school holidays.
KB: Who, this one? This one sleeps when everyone is sleeping. It’s like we’ve given up.
AU: That’s the way. I wish my parents were like that. Just leave me.
KB: The determination of the child. Trust me there’s determination here. Can you hear me now?
AU: Yes, I can. I will let you go soon. We are already past our second mark.
KB: Okay, this one is also they are on school holidays, so you know.
KB: Okay, can you hear me now?
AU: Yes, I can.
KB: Okay, I was saying.
AU: Do you remember?
KB: Yes, I’ve been asked that question a lot, about choosing between acting and singing and I used to say I would go for singing because with singing I get to be KB and I get to tell my own story but I thought why choose? I’m so fortunate that I can do all three, and not everyone can. Therefore, I shouldn’t choose.
I should always look for opportunities where I can do all three because I think it will give people so much more than just standing and singing or so much more than just acting. I can do musicals. I can, even with my own shows, do a little bit of, I get into character when I do my shows and people will say, “You are completely different.”
I wouldn’t choose. I think the main thing for me is as long as I’m comfortable and I’m happy to do what I’m doing because not every show, not every character, not every song is what I want to express, so that’s the main thing for me.
AU: Okay. You’ve accomplished a lot in your career. I just want to find out from you if you could undo one thing what would it be? If you could would, you still pick the same career path? Have you found that it is fulfilling or, if not, what other ways that you’d make sure that you would go and sleep at night knowing that I did my best, that this is what I love to do and so I did my best.
Is there anything you would change?
KB: You know being able to influence people, I think, is the one thing that I really love about my work because you live a life where when people see you they glow. Their day becomes better. Even if yours is not okay and that is a huge gift and sometimes I felt that, you know what, maybe the reason why everything of mine was so smooth was that it wasn’t about being an artist or doing music.
It was about being able to do exactly that, meeting somebody and them talking to you for a few minutes, and them, walking away feeling like life is good, and things do get better, or whatever the situation they were in. So the last, I think the one thing I would undo is, I spent a lot of time being in shock about how big this thing was.
Because, like I said, I didn’t set out to say ‘I’m going to be an artist one day’. I was just like a very naive, oblivious, little girl that just, if I wanted to sing this song I would sing it and not realising that it could be part of a big movement and it could mean something to a lot of people. I think that would be the thing where I get it and stop being shy about it and stop trying to figure out why.
Like why me and why is this happening, kind of thing and act with a lot more confidence, like I have now. It’s only now that I’m having so much fun with it and I’m so much more confident. I’m not afraid of it, so whatever it is and I feel like it is given to me for a reason and for a purpose and I should just trust that and run with it. That is the only thing that I would undo but I’m also glad that I discovered it, while I had an opportunity to change it and do something about it.