Sometimes, unleashing a debut album that’s at once musically groundbreaking, critically-acclaimed, and award-winning and goes on to sell more than 80 000 copies gives an artist’s performing career such momentum turning her into such a star, that it becomes a Herculean challenge to make the space needed to record a second.
So it has been with NEW BEGINNINGS, Judith Sephuma’s hugely-anticipated follow-up to A CRY, A SMILE, A DANCE - an album that is released a full four years after her 2001 debut album. Now considered a contemporary classic, A CRY, A SMILE, A DANCE proved to be a magnificent calling card for Sephuma, ensuring this daughter of the soil has become one of South Africa’s premier artists, performing extensively both across the globe and here at home, earning two South African Music Awards, two Kora Awards, two Metro FM awards, as well as exceeding platinum album sales in the process.
For Sephuma, NEW BEGINNINGS has come at just the right time. “I’m glad that I waited. There has been a lot of growth in the four years in terms of my music and personality and being a celebrated person,"she says. “I wouldn’t change anything about the time it has taken to record a new album."
jazz, gospel / spiritual, African Jazz, African
And, in spite of the anticipation of a new Sephuma recording, it seems neither would her thousands and thousands of fans who have turned out in their droves at her many live performances over the years - and still spur on sales of A CRY, A SMILE, A DANCE so many years after its release.
For those fans, now found in many other places in the world (Sephuma’s performing career has seen her play in several countries as diverse as The Netherlands, Mexico and Senegal), letting their favourite South Africa singer create an album that transcends the incandescent beauty of Sephuma’s debut, is all they have required of this gifted individual.
In this, NEW BEGINNINGS delivers magnificently, transcending the second-album jitters (what the Americans call the “sophomore jinx" that often slam the brakes on the music careers of many artists. A mix of English and vernacular songs (sePedi, Xhosa, Tswana), NEW BEGINNINGS manages that rare feat, and that is to be respectful of Sephuma’s roots and the time in which she lives, by intertwining deeply-rooted traditional music with contemporary tones (mostly jazz, at times R&B), the elegant and earthy “Mme Motswadi" being the most perfect example of this.
In keeping with the exceptional vocal delivery that drives NEW BEGINNINGS forward, and the depth and range of songs on the album, the production, by longtime Sephuma favourite, Lawrence Matshiza is top-notch, restrained when required and bold at other times. The musicality of the album is also a feature of this standout recording and musicians on the album includes the likes of Marcus Wyatt (Trumpet), Bez Roberts (Trombone), Adam Howard (Flugel Horn), Sam Mataure (Drums), Herbie Tsoaeli (Bass), Randal Skippers (Keyboard) and Tlale Makhene (Percussion).
NEW BEGINNINGS was recorded from April to July 2005, in a Johannesburg studio, with Sephuma in the co-producer’s chair. “I decided to really scale down my live shows and other commitments during that period because in my experience, it’s hard to really focus on both," Sephuma confides.
And looking at the credits on NEW BEGINNINGS, it’s crystal clear to see just why Sephuma required her focus to be so steadily on her second album: the singer and performer is now a major songwriting talent, co-composing more than half the repertoire on NEW BEGINNINGS. “Melodies come to me in dreams during the night and many of the lyrics on the album were also brought to me in dreams," she says of this additional part of her creativity.
Another striking aspect of NEW BEGINNINGS is Sephuma’s ease with the collaborative experience, both in her songwriting (she wrote with the likes of Randal Skippers, and producer Matshiza) and the performances captured on the album. The latter sees Sephuma team up with iconic Zimbabwean musician, Oliver Mtukudzi on the entrancing duet, “Kupedza Nguva" which was penned by Tuku for Sephuma.
Also joining her are Afro-Pop singer and songwriter, Ringo Madlingozi and Bongo Maffin’s Stoan Seate. And whilst the matching of Ringo and Sephuma’s voices on “Kwazi Bani" is terrific and a thing of real beauty, the inclusion of Seate on “A Call" and “Re A Lotsha" injects a contemporary urban feel into NEW BEGINNINGS. In fact “A Call" would not be out of place on an album by any one of today’s chart-toppers (Alicia Keys among them) and Seate’s rolling, spoken word contribution to the captivating “Re A Lotsha" elevates the song into fresh and exciting territory.
“I love collaborating," Sephuma confides. “But you can’t just pick anybody to work with" it’s not an easy thing and I had to think about what I wanted for this album. Of course, working with Ringo was incredible. I’ve always loved his voice and the emotion that comes through in everything he sings is amazing. Even when he was in the recording booth, it was easy to hear how he felt ‘Kwazi Bani' which is really a love song.
“Tuku is a legend and it was such a blessing to work with him. And Stoan, what can I say! I think this is the one collaboration that will surprise people but we connected during an overseas trip and I knew that I wanted to work with this very special talent."
One song that isn’t strictly an original is Sephuma’s version of Winston Mankunku’s “Give Peace A Chance" “I wanted to write lyrics to this song, words that talk about people in this country living in peace, in Winston’s honour. I believe that he is a great musician, and he’s so emotional in everything he does. I’ve never before seen someone playing saxophone and crying at the same time. Winston brings so much into his music, and he’s so humble with it."
For Sephuma, who was a judge on the 2004 Project Fame talent search series, New Beginning’s “x-factor" is easy to pinpoint. “I’m singing songs that I love,"she says simply.
“And I love them because I have either written the songs or chosen them because of how deeply I feel about them. I am so connected to the music on NEW BEGINNINGS, it is incredible even to me, and I think that people listening to the album will feel that too."
NEW BEGINNINGS comes out of the starting gate as one of the top contenders for album of 2005. In this, it’s just what we expected from this rare individual; one of the few capable of invigorating our hearts, our ears, and our souls with her true artistry.
Judith Sephuma - In Brief
Growing up in Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) in South Africa's Limpopo Province, Judith knew that she wanted to be a singer from an early age. After matriculating at Khagiso High School, she attended Johannesburg's legendary FUBA Academy music school in 1993, where she received her Grade 5 Music Diploma. One of her fellow students was an ambitious young guitarist who she knew from Polokwane, one Selaelo Selota, a man who would play a major role in her career. Other achievements included reaching the finals of the Shell Road to Fame contest in 1994, and the finals in SABC's Jam Alley Search For Talent that year. In 1994 she made a significant move to Cape Town to study music at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1997 with a Performer's Diploma in Jazz. Judith then gained her Honours Degree in Jazz Performance, majoring in Jazz Singing, under the supervision of Prof. Mike Campbell, in 1999. While studying Jazz singing, she was also classically trained by Virginia Davids for five years.
During her years in the Cape, Judith's reputation as a vocalist blossomed, and she had the opportunity to work in bands like (fellow UCT music student) Selaelo Selota's Taola, Meropa, UCT's Big Band, The C-Base Collective and The Cape Symphonic Orchestra. She also performed with Jimmy Dludlu, Loading Zone and Ian Smith's Virtual Jazz Reality, as well as alongside musicians such as Jack van Poll and Gerry Spencer, and sang at many a cocktail party and private functions.
In 1996 JUDITH SEPHUMA was invited by Spencer to travel on the Symphony cruise ship for two months, visiting exotic places like Bazaruto, Mauritious, Zanzibar, Mombasa, and Reunion. Later the same year she performed, with the band Meropa, in Nantes, France at the Fin de Siecle Festival - her first overseas visit 1998/1999 with the assistance of pianist van Poll, Judith gained much experience performing in Europe, and among her gigs was being invited by the South African government to perform in Holland for the Mandela's Children Trust Fund.
Judith was invited by Jimmy Dludlu to perform at Thabo Mbeki's presidential inauguration in Pretoria, June 1999. In that year she also had the honour of meeting former president Nelson Mandela and sang a special song to him and his wife, Graca Machel, at the Cape Sun hotel. Another highlight of that year was singing at the Miss SA beauty pageant in Sun City. The young singer was certainly paying her music industry dues, developing skills like confidence, versatility, patience and professionalism, and all the while laying the secure foundations for her future success.
Having previously entered a number of music competitions, a pivotal moment came when Judith was awarded first prize for Best Jazz Vocalist at the Old Mutual Jazz Into The Future competition in June 1999 and she was signed to (then) BMG Africa’s imprint, Giant Steps, shortly afterwards. At the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town in 2000, Judith formed her own backing band and performed under her own name and in 2001 she recorded her debut, A Smile, A Cry, A Dance.
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