Lucky Ndaba – Umoja has been extremely rewarding
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Radio, my name is Aphiwe Manono and I am your host with the most. As usual we bring you interviews of the latest and shiniest talent in South Africa. Today we are in conversation with a vocalist/part time stylist, Lucky Ndaba. Lucky was just telling us a story about how actually knew that, maybe he didn’t know, maybe he knew that he wanted to get into music eventually.
But he found himself at a radio station as a news reader who then almost became a DJ, but we are going to get into how he eventually got into music. Lucky, let’s go back to the music. You were talking about, you were approached, you heard that Umoja, which was a huge production, acting and dance, was looking to cast. When you heard this you packed up your bags and you found yourself in the City of Gold, let’s start from there. You were training at the Market Theatre and preparing for Umoja.
Umoja gave me my music break
Lucky Ndaba: The training at the Market Theatre was back in high school, which kind of gave me like a foundation for the performing arts, acting and singing, which went well. Then the radio came after and then when I heard that there were Umoja auditions, this was when I was desperate to actually get out of a small town and kind of go and pursue my passion.
So yes, I went and I got there, I was a bit disappointed to see a lot of hungry young people gunning for the same thing and I’m thinking, what are the chances of one actually making it, to actually doing this. Obviously when you’re at the auditions, you’d see all these actors that are actually doing the show, that are working on the show, walk in and out.
Just looking at how they just, doing what they love and you can see the passion burning and you can see the passion in their eyes, which was just so inspiring. I was like, wow, I just wish to actually have a spot there and prove that I can also learn as fast as possible and become one their greats.
AU: You have worked with some of South Africa’s freshest talent. I mean even the great Sibongile Kumalo, to name a few, what has that experience been like for you?
LN: It’s been amazing, I can tell you, it’s been so amazing. You know, I always say to my friends that being a fashion musician teaches you a lot, especially as an artist. It builds you up, you discover things about yourself that you never thought you had in you, you know what I mean?
Obviously each of them have different characteristics and a different way of doing things, of working. I mean my one co-performer, I call her a mother and a teacher. Every time you’re in a rehearsal room with her, you feel like you’re in a classroom learning something. Every time after rehearsal you feel like you’ve just gotten out of a hectic lecture room where you just had sponge in a lot of information, you feel like, after every performance or encounter with her, you know you are a different person, you know where you are now.
It’s really humbling. Getting work with younger artists, then you catch the no trends that are happening and it all comes together nicely and paints a beautiful picture and it’s really been a humbling experience and still is.
AU: Now, you’ve been doing this for a while and I know someone can look at this from outside and think, wow, this is amazing, it’s all light and glamorous, for someone on the outside. But what kind of work goes into putting together a show with big names, like the ones you have worked with. What is the nitty gritty and what do you need to get right?
How do you maintain that energy all the time?
LN: What you need to get right first of all is positive attitude. With positive energy, it takes you a long way because it means you’re not defined by your work circumstances. You’re in a work environment to learn, to grow and to learn some more and humility as well.
It teaches you to be so humble because you are under somebody’s leadership, that means that you’re there to take instruction, so you really need to stop and be a good listener and take well to instruction. That’s when you can see that you’re progressing and growing as well. It just really requires one to be humble and just fill themselves with positive energy and positive thoughts.
Obviously in a creative space there’s just a lot of stuff, there’s egos, there’s tension, I mean putting together a show comes with a lot, you know what I mean, and it takes its toll on us as people because we’re all human. But it just makes you, it just shapes you into being this confident, yet humble and positive young person. That young person that’s actually growing to be a teacher one day, you learn a lot from these greats.
AU: Now, I’ve had a bit of a background experience with being a backing vocalist. I started singing, I was actually discovered on some show on a national broadcaster where an artist actually approached me and said, “Hey, I think you sound good, would you like to work for me?”
Well I did this and I was in high school and one of the things that I had a problem with was late payments and yet you are expected to pitch up for the show, get yourself to rehearsals. Then you find that an artist who has been booked by, well use Old Mutual as an example and Old Mutual pays X amount of money and you know that the artist is not even giving you a quarter of that. These are only some of the challenges that I’m highlighting here. What have been your challenges as a vocalist in South Africa?
Backing artists do get overlooked
LN: That’s a very touchy subject, people lose jobs –
AU: Yes, I hear that and I think these are things Lucky, that need to be discussed. I think that as much as it is an opportunity for a vocalist to shine next to an artist and please note that I’m not saying that any of the above mentioned underpay their artists. I’m just making an example of how it might for a young person seem glamorous, but you might be taken for a ride and these are things that happen, am I correct Lucky?
LN: You are so correct. It takes a lot on you, like you said, late payments and all these things. In all of that you’re just expect to just show interest and perform and push. I always tell my friends that it’s not as glamorous as it looks like.
There’s more hard work, it’s almost like 90% sweat and tears and hard work and 10% of it is the glam and the glitzy part of it and the glamorous part of it. Then it just boils down to your character. I always say to people, how you relate has everything to do with how you turn out.
Me being me, of course we experience such things, but I mean you can’t let them define yourself, you can’t let them define your space. So you try and compose yourself, you try to keep yourself calm and you try to keep yourself driven and positive, regardless.
Every work environment has its own negatives, its ups and downs. In the industry, the problem you’re facing is that you come across such things and you’re not even expected to voice out as you’re going to be perceived as arrogant or as though you know too much and what-not. I’ve come across a few of those artists that are just so inconsiderate and disrespectful at times.
What’s confusing about the whole thing is that they give out this positive outlook on things and they’re about this and this and that and in actual fact you find that they’re just not good people. Especially when it comes to payment and money is a very sensitive issue. That’s why it actually helps us get around. Most artists would even go as far as to say that it’s not always about the money, you need to know that you are privileged and honoured to be a part of this or whatever, trying to just brainwash you.
But at the end of the day, if you’ve chosen to do this for a living, it means you’ve got bills to pay and certain responsibilities to take care of financially. It means you need to be paid properly, especially when you’re so passionate and you’re good at what you do. So I don’t know, we always face such problems but I’ve been privileged to work with those people who are wise enough, or supportive enough or respectful enough.
Because at the end of the day I always say that if an artist doesn’t pay you on time, they’re not even apologetic about it. They’re disrespecting your art and your gift and therefore they’re disrespecting the creator, the one who actually gave you the talent. I always just give it to God and say God, you know me, we put in work to it and passion to it and time to it, time that we may not regain, but if I’m not going to be compensated properly, then it means it’s beyond me, beyond my strength.
How do you even fight it because you know, you can’t even go to the media, actually we refer to all these artists that we work for as clients. Imagine if you’re going to the media and saying, so-and-so, Aphiwe hasn’t paid me or whatever, Aphiwe hasn’t paid you. When Vusi so-and-so wants to hire you and check the papers, I mean obviously it’s a bad track record. It’s a tricky state to work in, but you know, it requires you to be self composed and positive and passionate and humble above all else.