Soul sister

Soul sister

R&B singer and MC LeAnne Dlamini proves fortune favours the bold … and the humble. By Eulogi Rheeder

I have a confession to make: I have a serious celebrity girl crush on LeAnne Dlamini. Not just because she has a sense of style that most women would envy and the voice of an angel (although, considering that I was once asked to leave a karaoke stage because my ‘tone-deaf pitch was pushing the mic to its full potential’, her incredible vocal range has certainly influenced my fondness of her), but rather because she’s one of those rare stars who simply has it all together. In the 10 years that Dlamini’s been working in the music industry, she’s managed to steer clear of Kardashian-type scandals and never once displayed Mariah Carey-esque diva behaviour. At the same time, she’s risen to fame with three critically acclaimed albums, winning numerous awards for her singing and songwriting, and performing on the same stage as international superstars such as Kanye West, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.

It’s destiny

Early on during our interview, I realise it’s not only her kind, friendly and humble demeanour that gives Dlamini that cool factor, but also the iconic story of how she was discovered. Much like Charlize Theron’s tale of being noticed in a bank, hers too could become the stuff of legend.

‘It’s 100% true,’ she says when I ask her about it. ‘I joined my church’s choir when I was 13 years old, and by 16 I was a worship leader. Then, one serendipitous Sunday, while I was leading devotion, Loyiso Bala and his manager attended our service. They were so taken by my musical talent that they scouted me out from the crowd after the meeting. They asked me to sing a song and then spoke to my parents about whether they would give consent for me to help them with backing vocals for some of the artists they were working with.’

Thankfully, her parents saw the same talent in Dlamini that Bala and his manager did, and gave their blessing. ‘I think we left church that day with them more excited about the opportunity than I was!’ she laughs.

Over the next five years, Dlamini became a regular vocal fixture on Bala, Danny K and the late TK’s songs – the real beginning of a journey that would one day lead to her becoming a SAMA-winning artist.

 The road to success

Dlamini’s parents knew from a young age that their daughter, now 32, would have a career on the stage. As a little girl, growing up in Joburg’s Eldorado Park, she arranged a host of song-and-dance productions when friends and family came over. Despite her natural aptitude for singing, it was the acting bug that bit her first. ‘My parents somehow always knew that I would end up in music. But they allowed me the freedom to define my own journey, while still gently guiding me along the way,’ she explains.

Their guidance came in the shape of encouraging her to enrol at the National School of the Arts. ‘I initially auditioned and was accepted for drama. But, halfway through my grade 10 year, about the same time I started working with Loyiso, I realised that singing and songwriting ignited a passion in my core.’ Dlamini changed her major to music, and matriculated with a musical diploma.

Even though she had a foot in the door with Bala and Danny K, Dlamini knew she would have to pay her dues before she would be able to release her own music. With this in mind, she began working as an intern at Creative Kingdom Records – the record label to which Bala was signed.

As an intern, Dlamini continued to work on her singing and songwriting – among plenty of more mundane tasks. Soon enough, the Creative Kingdom Records team noticed her incredible talent, and offered her a record deal. ‘As much as I was discovered at the age of 16, it took another eight years before I was able to release my own work. It was frustrating at times, but also taught me that it takes lots of hard work, effort and patience to make a name for yourself in the industry.’

A big debut

In 2010, Dlamini finally released her debut album Simply Luvlee. The album received significant recognition, including a SAMA nomination and a Metro FM award for Best Female R&B album.
‘I was and still am deeply humbled to be acknowledged by my peers and the public so early on in my career,’ she says.

The release of her first album also opened the door for Dlamini to work in Dubai – it was during her tenure there that she got to share the stage with Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams and the one and only Kanye West. ‘The Kanye West concert stands out to me most, as I was onstage just before his performance. The arena was packed with South African expats; they were all chanting my name with pride when they heard that a South African artist was performing. I still get goosebumps thinking back to that day.’

It was also during this time that Dlamini collaborated with Antonio Dixon, a music producer who has worked with stars such as Ariana Grande, Toni Braxton and Beyoncé. ‘Queen B is my biggest musical inspiration – her vocal range, her creative executions and all her performances are awe-inspiring. It’s an absolute honour to know that I’ve worked with someone who’s worked with the best.’

Girl power

Dlamini’s third album, titled Warrior, hit the shelves in 2016. ‘This is a very personal album, because it’s dedicated to all my female friends and family. In fact, it’s made with all women in mind. Life often knocks us down with hard, difficult and incomprehensible blows, but I’ve learnt, experienced and seen that we’re survivors and fighters. Women are warriors. I hope that this album will inspire all the warriors of the world to keep fighting the good fight.’

More than just using her music to encourage women, Dlamini also founded the End Girl Hate initiative in 2015. ‘For a number of years, I noticed that women tend to be intolerant of one another. We break each other down and, often, despise those who achieve success before us. I wanted to do something that would help women see that we need to rely on, love and support each other – there’s enough going against us in this world.’

The initiative began with Dlamini posting inspirational and encouraging messages on her social-media pages with the hashtag #EndGirlHate. Nowadays, it’s grown to hosting brunches with inspirational speakers. ‘My aim is to make this movement relevant to everyone, so our speakers range from well-known personalities to ordinary women doing something extraordinary.’

Family values

Even though Dlamini has seen thousands of women rally behind her cause, it’s the impact that the End Girl Hate project’s had on her daughters – seven-year-old Zani-Lee and three-year-old Zaya-Rose – that is her biggest motivator. ‘My oldest girl will often ask me for advice when a friend is treated unjustly at school. Other times, I’ll catch her celebrating girl classmates who may have got something she wanted. It’s all about teaching our daughters to back their female counterparts.’

She adds that she would not be where she is today without her husband, music executive Sipho Dlamini, to whom she’s been married for 10 years – a lifetime for anyone in the public eye. ‘Sipho is my rock and my mirror: he helps me stay grounded, and encourages me to keep focus on the important things in life: family and God.’

Dlamini continues that, even though she has big dreams of making a name throughout Africa and the US, her family is her daily reminder that God has blessed her this far and that he will take her wherever she needs to go next. Whether that’s global domination or not, she’s happy and content with life as it is at the moment. Honestly, how can you not have a celebrity crush on this amazing woman?

Stylist: Jodi Cohen; Photography: Andreas Eiselen/Hsmimages.co.za, Kist Photography, Courtesy Image

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