The Eastern Cape celebrates a rich jazz cultural heritage. Today that heritage has inspired numerous young artists drawing from those traditions and spinning that around towards something fresh.
Singer-songwriter Asanda Mqiki is one of those versatile rising voices. Mqiki has spent the last few years carefully carving out a name for herself around the country. With a style of music that complements her love for jazz and R&B, Mqiki’s soulful voice reflects great maturity and has captivated audiences across the country.
Currently working on her debut solo album, Mqiki’s songwriting draws inspiration from everyday situations and struggles around her. Elements of jazz, soul, hip-hop and kwaito fuse together in her sound, armed with a compelling and unique stage presence. Musically she enjoys scaKng as this allows her to explore improvisation fully. Thus far she already has garnered fans of her compositions such as the soulful lovesong “Squeeze Me” and the high energy afro-rhythms of “Take Six.”
Born in Port Elizabeth in 1987, Mqiki’s earliest introduction to music was through her father. She recalls music being played all day in her home. At a very young age, she was exposed to the music of jazz heavyweights like John Coltrane. “Without realising, my father planted a seed to which now is now is growing and blossoming and I am grateful for that,” she remarks. She started working on compositions during primary school and has been performing since 2002.
Her first musical involvement came as part of the choir at Cowen High School, which instilled in her the rich roots of exploring the choral tradition that she carries into her music today. In 2006 she moved to Johannesburg to pursue studying contemporary music at the National School of Arts. Her time there helped shape her musical talents and provided a pla\orm to performing as well as carving out skills which helped her voice and music direction. It was around this time that she decided to pursue music full time.
Around 2011, she became the lead vocalist in the band Take Note, which was later booked to play the Standard Band Joy of Jazz
Festival. Mqiki has subsequently shared stages with the likes of artists such as The Soil, Sibongile Khumalo and Khaya Mahlangu. She performed for consecutive years at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown since 2014, and was awarded the prestigious Standard Bank Gold Ovation award in 2015. Mqiki describes this as a huge milestone for her and a humbling experience, being the only musician that year that won Gold.
One of her biggest professional highlights was performing in Sweden when she was invited in 2014 and 2015 to play at the Culture Music Club in Gothenburg. “I never thought I’d reach that far with my music and when I did there was no turning back. When I was in Sweden I received so much love it was as if they have been listening to my music for a very long time,” she says.
Last year was another busy one for her and garnered considerable musical milestones. One such was being chosen as the featured African artist in March to perform at the inaugural LoveBusk Festival, a global busking festival hosted in Australia. The performance was done through an online livefeed and expanded her horizons in the way performances can be delivered.
Her Gold Ovation award formed connections that resulted in her performing at the Oppikoppi festival last August for the first time. She relished the opportunity and describes it as a major career highlight for her, especially meeting other artists and being able to bounce energies between each other.
The award also linked her with the Cape Town Fringe festival and she collaborated with jazz singer Maya Spector for a performance there in October. The production, Vocal Explosion, turned out to be a huge success and in November opened at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.
After spending some time collaborating with different musicians and performing some of her favourite jazz renditions from Nina Simone to Leha Mbulu, Mqiki has now made it her focus to work on original material. She already has a few tracks underway that explore afro-soul and jazz roots. She draws great inspiration from vocalists like Sibongile Khumalo and Rachel Ferrell, whose work she looked to for help with understanding breathing techniques and who have both inspired her to be bolder on stage.
In terms of songwriting, Mqiki says she is inspired by everything that’s around her, including love, family and friends. Mqiki is also a firm supporter of the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Intersexual) movement which she forms a part of. “This cause is close to my heart because I am a firm believer in equal rights for all. No one is superior to the other whether is it the colour of your skin, the language you speak, your sexual preference or even the size of your wallet. Many lives have been lost because of people’s ignorance to learn what is different from them. A lihle tolerance and removal of “the fear of the unknown” can go a long way in saving a life in this homophobic world.”