Simphiwe Dana on travel and the Symphony Experience

Simphiwe Dana has become synonymous with the principles of true artistry, creating music that encapsulates the ills and beauty of society, extends bridges across the continent and the diaspora through song and continues to redefine the experience of sound, as seen in the monumental Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience in November 2016.

For those who may have not been able to witness her magic on the historic night, with the singer joined by a 60-piece orchestra, a 30-piece choir, a 10-piece dance ensemble, Nigeria’s Asa and Equatorial Guinea’s Buika, the Symphony Experience is now available on CD and DVD at selected stores and iTunes.

Defined as “a kind of homecoming project that promotes the best that has come out of Africa and its diaspora”, Dana says “creating the Symphony Experience was a labour of love, a bold step I had to take to manifest one of my wildest dreams and to show the continent what is possible when African artists work together, when women come together”.

Dana has a legacy of celebrating pan-Africanism in her music and social commentary. She shares that the concept of the Symphony Experience came through her need to move away from the confines of  pan-African rhetoric and towards actively participating in it. “It came about because I started feeling like I did more pan-African talk, rather than actively practising pan-Africanism. Yes, ideas build and raise our collective consciousness, but we have been doing a lot of talk, we have hardly practised what we preach. Plus, I wanted to hang out with my peers – my tribe, so to speak. Asa and Buika are one of a select few artists and African women with whom I identify.”

On working with Asa and Buika, Simphiwe shares that the collaboration had been in the making for years, ever since she and Asa met close to a decade ago. Dana was then introduced to Buika while touring Germany, and the bond was immediately cemented. Seeing the project through to fruition did, however, come with its challenges, to the point that on the day of the show, Dana’s voice come close succumbing to exhaustion. “The experience was very challenging and overwhelming, as it was my first time overseeing such a big project. The good thing is I don’t know how to give up and I’m a perfectionist. On the day of the show, my voice was completely worn out from exhaustion, but somehow, I managed a miracle. I also had a very passionate team of young over-achievers. I will forever be indebted to Themba Gwejela and the Mahusiano team, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to make my dream come true.”

Dana, who gave us albums such as Zandisile, The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street and Kulture Noir, says her biggest inspiration is drawn from the human condition and her personal lived experience. “How I relate to my emotions, what triggers them. How I relate to my society. How I can make that society better for myself, my loved ones, and humanity as a whole.”

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – who was one of the guests at the Symphony Experience – is another source of inspiration, with Dana having addressed the struggle icon who inspired her composition, Nokunyamezdla. “You might have been the first strong black woman we knew… you may have taught us how to be ‘black girl magic’,” she said.

Travel has influenced Dana’s perspective on the world and her place in it. She has travelled extensively through Europe and hopes to one day say the same about Africa. “I first started travelling the world through my love of reading. And as with reading, physical travel has opened up my eyes to so many possibilities, showing me how the world is big but I am not small and making me understand that there’s a place somewhere in the world for your passion to thrive. Travelling has given me the grand opportunity to dream bigger than my forebears.”

The Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience was just the start. Dana concluded: “I’m working on an even bigger symphony, making this tribe bigger. I’m also working on more collaborations with like-minded artists who might even go beyond music alone.”

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