21 Icons reveals its 21st icon

Photo: Andy Ellis CHARMING SMILE: Photographer Gary Van Wyk interviews Simphiwe Dana at Platinum Studios in Cape Town as part of the 21 Icons South Africa Project.

The songstress was selected to take part in the 21 Icons project because of her ability to use music to address a number of social issues in South Africa. She voices her opinions on socio-political challenges, increasingly making her black consciousness and feminist views clearly known. She is also the first African ambassador for the human rights initiative, Amnesty International.

See Dana’s short film preview here:

“I don’t shy away from including social messages in my music,” she said.

“I’m an activist at heart. I’m very passionate about the continent and about justice, so my work is very much in that space at all times.”

The daughter of a preacher, she stated that her music drew strongly on her upbringing in the church. She cited the powerful singing of her mother as an inspiration for her and a key motivator in her resolve to pursue her musical career. Dana has performed at a number of events including Arts Alive, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.

In 2004, she released her debut album, Zandisile, which made a huge impact on the South African music scene, achieving platinum status, and claiming the number one spot on the Billboard Chart. “My first album blew up so much that I was thrust into a world of which I had only dreamed. I think what kept me humble and focused is the fact that I’m a village girl. Nothing can ever make me feel outside of who I am,” she said.

Her second recording, The One Love Movement on the Bantu Biko Street, won her numerous South African Music Awards, including Female Artist of the Year. She explained to principal photographer, Gary Van Wyk how she used Steve Biko as an inspiration while working on the album and creating a dialogue for identity politics in South Africa.

“We did not introduce black consciousness, which is what Steve Biko preached a lot. When he said that the first thing that we need to do is to infuse back dignity and life into the empty husk of the black person because over hundreds of years we have been so de-humanised, that even ourselves we are ashamed of being black,” she explained.

Van Wyk spoke about the visual elements behind her portrait titled Royal Performance. “Dressed in Xhosa-inspired garments and draped in traditional beadwork, Dana is imagined as a regal South African queen,” he said.

“A reference to both her culture and her position and success in the South African music industry, she is photographed while seated upright in a wicker chair – her pose strong, her gaze to camera fierce and unwavering.”

Dana’s short film and portrait was revealed on SABC 3 on 14 February at 7.27pm, with a repeat being aired on Monday, 15 February 2016 at 5.57pm.

Details: www.21icons.com

City Reporter

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