SA-based Mae Sithole speaks on flourishing career

HARARE - Talented Mae Sithole, sister to 2007 CBZ A-Academy winner Jonah, is part of a growing list of talented local songbirds who are making a name for themselves beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.

This group also includes Berita Khumalo, who is based in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and Cape Town-based Gemma Griffiths who performed on the opening day of Harare International Festival of Arts (Hifa).

Sithole, a product of Chipawo who is now based in Cape Town, has two acclaimed albums under her belt.  She recently spoke to Daily News on Sunday’s Special Features Editor Dakarai Mashava soon after making her maiden performance in Zimbabwe at the on-going Hifa 2018. Below are excerpts of the interview.

Question: Who is Mae Sithole?
Answer:  Mae Sithole is a Pan-African singer-songwriter, born in Zimbabwe and currently based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is passionate about making “music with a message” and empowering youths to find their voice and leadership journey. Her music is a fusion of Afro-Pop, soul and jazz.

Q: When did you venture into music?
A: I started singing in my early years. My mom always relates stories about how I used to dress up in her heels when I was three or four years old.
I would pop in a video tape of Tina Turner in concert, tie a doek round my head to imitate her long hair and sing and dance along to all the songs.
I was privileged to have vocal training with Chiwoniso Maraire through Children’s Performing Arts Workshop (Chipawo). This gave me the confidence to sing in public!
I sang my first solo in primary school. It was a worship song titled I will praise him. I also performed in musicals including The Wizard of Oz Comes to Ethiopia (as Demekech/Dorothy), Fiddler on the Roof (as Chava), A Christmas Carol (Mr. Scrooge’s Fiance), Oklahoma, amongst others.
When I was in high school, I entered the SuperStar competition and made it to Top 20 in Zimbabwe. I worked closely with Andrew Baird and Bernie Bismarck as part of the band for A-Academy’s live shows.
I was also a worship leader at Celebration Church before moving to Cape Town to pursue my postgraduate studies in 2009. The Mae Sithole Band project culminated from years of songwriting with my friends at HP Baxter (now Every Nation Church).
My husband encouraged me to finally start recording and we officially launched in 2015.

Q: How many albums do you have and when were they released?
A: I have two albums — namely — First Glance (2015) — produced by Keith Kavayi and Visions (2018) — produced by Andrew Baird (Orangotang Records).

Q: How was your Hifa experience?
A: The Hifa gig has been so special to me because it is the first time I performed in Zimbabwe with our band and most importantly, the first time my parents got to watch us live.
The concerts have been emotional because there is something so significant about sharing your gifts at home and working closely with young people to inspire and be inspired about what’s possible through more collaborations.
I really have to say a BIG thank you to Manuel, Blessing and all of the Hifa team and Concerts SA for sponsoring our band to travel to Harare.

Q: For how long have you been based outside Zimbabwe? Did you begin your career in earnest outside Zimbabwe? How long have you been based in Cape Town?
A: I’ve been out of Zimbabwe for nine years now. My career, as mentioned earlier, actually started in Harare and blossomed before I left.
I moved to Cape Town after completing a BSocSci Honours in Politics and Administration at the University of Zimbabwe. I worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross during that time too.
I had always wanted to pursue my postgraduate studies in Public Policy and Development Studies, so when the opportunity came up, I moved to study at the University of Cape Town.

Q: Since you ventured into music what would you say have been the major milestones in your career?
A: We have had several opportunities on South African radio and television to perform and share our music with other countries, as far as the US. We have also toured many festivals including the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, and will soon travel to Europe for a tour. Our biggest award to date has been the SAMRO Concerts SA Mobility Fund Award.

Q: What is the name of your band? Are you backed by a full-time band?
A: The band is called the Mae Sithole Band and we have a dedicated team of musicians who are part of this musical journey. Our band director is Mr Takalani Tshikovhi. We have Dylan Fine (guitars), Jason Skippers (drums), Daniel Abeka (drums), Khwezi Ziqubu (bass), Wayde Hardy (Percussion) and Sam Sithole (vocals).

Q: Have you performed in another country apart from Zimbabwe and South Africa? Do you have any plans to tour other countries and when?
A: I have performed in Nice, France; at the AU High Level Dialogues, Regional Meetings etc including in Addis Ababa at the Pre-Tana Forum.
We have plans to tour around Africa and perform at more festivals here and abroad.

Q: During your Hifa performance you revealed that you were nurtured by Chipawo. Can you tell us more about that including late Chiwoniso Maraire as your vocal coach?
A: Yes, I joined Chipawo whilst I was at Marlborough Primary School in Harare. Professor Robert McClaren started this initiative.
Sister Elizabeth taught us African dance, Brother Clarence taught us Marimba and other African instruments, and Chiwoniso Maraire was my vocal coach. I learnt about stage presence, projection, performance and African music through this platform. I was humbled to play Chipo, in the ZTV and Chipawo series, Chipo and the Bird, in the 90s.
Chiwoniso impacted me in a big way. Her humility, kindness, generosity will never be forgotten. In my early 20s, she mentored me on how to start a music career.

Q:   Are you from a musical family? Is it true that 2007 CBZ A-Academy winner Jonah Sithole is your brother?
A: My dad and his side of the family are all musical. My brothers and sisters all have a musical flare. Jonah Sithole (CBZ winner) is my younger brother. Sam Sithole (younger sister) is part of the Mae Sithole Band.

Q:  Some critics believe that you will have a more successful career than your brother because you have more passion and determination?
A: My brother Jonah is one of the most dedicated and passionate musicians that I know. He studied music and sound engineering and has collaborated with some of the best musicians globally.
We write music together and we work together on our projects. He features on my album on the song Handeyi Kumusha, which we wrote together during a jam session with our friend DS (aka David Sengwayo).
My success is his success, his success is my success.

Q: Lastly, are you related to the late legendary guitarist Jonah Sithole who used to perform with the Chimurenga music legend Thomas Mapfumo?
A: I’m not sure of a direct relation to the legendary Jonah Sithole. Funny enough, my dad also called Jonah Sithole) plays guitar and sings. When he was younger his peers thought he would become a musician. He imparted his love for music to us.

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