By BRUCE DENNILL
Johannesburg singer-songwriter Sya Zwide recently released his debut Afro-pop EP, Isiqubulo. These five songs dig into personal experiences of life, love and heartbreak. The EP includes previously released singles Akusiy’owakho and Thembalami, as well as Amapolo, which is highly requested by his fanbase.
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different from their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era, or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
The artist that mapped out the road for me was Sifiso Ncwane, with his debut song Umkhuleko. I would envision myself singing on stage with him. I saw myself with a fanbase as big as his. His music created an amazing feeling that I couldn’t describe. It saw through me – that’s when I decided that I wanted to create that exact feeling in other people who listened to my music.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
Yes. I was exposed to different musical genres growing up, and I learned to enjoy all genres – they shaped me to become the versatile artist that I am today. I can write and sing almost every genre, but I have decided to settle with an infusion of Afro-pop and Afro-soul.
Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?
The song I wish wrote is Linda, by Sjava ka Jama Indlalifa. It’s important to me because it encouraged me not to give up on my dream when I reached a point where I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere. It has given me so much hope – to the point where I see myself collaborating with him in the future.
In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?
I would say what is crucially important it to be personal and authentic. I steer as far away as possible from trying to mimic someone else.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritize? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the most memorable parts of your songs?
I prioritise everything in my music. Everything has to be perfect. Everything has to be memorable. But if I had to choose, I would choose the lyrics – the lyrics have to be relatable.
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
I love Zulu traditional clothing. If I could, I would wear it every day.
What is the story behind Isiqubulo – the genesis of the songs, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
I used to sing isicathamiya [Zulu a capella music], and we used to have a short, catchy, powerful intro that we had to sing on stage before we sang the main song to announce that we had arrived and people must pay attention. That is what I’m trying to achieve with this project, I am trying to tell everyone that I have arrived and they must pay attention to me. I worked with my favorite producer, Ruff Kay, on production, mixing and mastering and with the Omgiiegh Group on management and PR. Most songs on this project are inspired by my previous relationships and things that happened to me in my life.