19 February 2016


    21 Icons celebrates Simphiwe Dana

    Simphiwe Dana's music mixes soulful sounds with strong, socially aware messaging that has caught the attention of 21 Icons.

    A reigning queen of South African music, Simphiwe Dana is the subject of the 21st portrait and short film for the third season of 21 Icons. She is also the last for this season of the project, ending on a high note celebrating local culture, diversity and an outspoken generation of leaders.

    Music for the soul

    Simphiwe is known for her nearly unique sound, reintroducing contemporary audiences to the sounds of the 1950s Marabi music, but with a modern edge, that places her in a kind of genre-defining sweet spot. 

    Not content with choosing just one descriptor, Simphiwe says, if pressed, ‘I would say it’s Afro-Soul, because it’s the kind of music that touches you, that makes you feel something and – I’d like to believe – also changes you somehow.’

    Her music is also politically aware and challenging – an aspect of her art that caught the attention of the 21 Icons team. In a statement on her portrait, 21 Icons says she was chosen for ‘using music as a vehicle to address social issues in South Africa’.

    ‘Through the unifying power of music, she voices her opinion on socio-political challenges, increasingly making her black consciousness and feminist views clearly known,’ the statement continues.

    Revolution soundtrack

    Simphiwe’s outspoken nature and values are evident in the short film, featuring a discussion between her and principal photographer Gary van Wyk. She argues that education is the key to ‘getting out of life alive’ and sees it as a tool for equality.

    ‘The student movement is the most exciting thing that has happened in this country after 1994. They are the youth of 1976 reborn. They will change our society in ways that we could never have imagined. I’ve been singing about it and hoping for this for all of my career,’ she says.

    Remembering roots

    Simphiwe performs internationally, but has a dedicated following on SA’s music and arts scene as a regular performer and headliner at festivals include the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Her work has earned her seven South African Music Awards (SAMAs) since her 2004 debut album, Zandisile. Amnesty International also chose Simphiwe as their first African ambassador.

    It’s a heady journey from her childhood in the then-Transkei, but she believes her roots kept her grounded in the face of fame. ‘My formative years were spent in a village in the Eastern Cape so I will never be a city girl at heart. I can be polished in many ways, but I am still that barefooted village girl,’ she says. 

    About 21 Icons

    21 Icons is a photographic and short film project focused on our national icons and leaders. The third season icons are all under the age of 35, and were selected as youth leaders and inspirational stories about the direction South Africa is heading in. Use the hashtag #OurFutureIsNow to engage with 21 Icons on Twitter.

    For more coverage, check out our stories on the third season so far:

    See 21icons.com for more.