Johannesburg - Lately life has been a roller coaster ride for Unathi Nkayi, but she has found healing through her music.
“I had to be honest on my latest album about everything I’ve been through. It’s not about me or him, [referring to her ex-husband, Thomas Msengana]. I had to protect and put my children first,” said an emotional Nkayi, the mother of two – a boy and girl.
By the time she publicly confirmed the separation in October last year, rumours had been doing the rounds for several months that the couple’s marriage was on the rocks. Breaking her silence for the first time since then, she admitted that going through a divorce from the man she had been with for 14 years was hard.
“He was my best friend. Once you are married it’s not a decision you make overnight, to separate from your partner. It’s always something you’ve considered for years,” she revealed.
However, she said she was over it and living a happy life. By the time the media found out about her divorce she had already dealt with it, she said.
She told City Press that it has been proven scientifically that it takes between three and five years to get over a divorce. She refused to divulge the reasons behind hers.
She pointed out that in life “you get to a point where you know that [you have now reached breaking] point, but you both need to decide whether you stay or let it go”.
The songstress said she didn’t tell her story through the mass media because she wanted to own it herself.
“My latest album, Brave, True and Strong, is the culmination of everything that is happening in my life. If you listen carefully you will hear me speak about parts of my life I have never shared before,” she said.
She explained that despite her pain, she had to put on a brave face and go to the studio to share her journey through music.
“I had to choose whether to fake it or to be truthful. I opted to be honest.”
She described her new offering as “joyful, emotional and a breath of fresh air”.
She chose the title Brave, True and Strong because the past few years had been “both beautiful and challenging”, she said. “I have taken control of my life and that’s why this is an honest and brave album.”
It is the most emotional album she has composed in her 15 years in the music industry. This is evident from songs like Nguwe, in which she sings about how she cannot live without her lover, and Hlala Nami, which is about a couple going through a break-up.
Another single, Hallo Sana, speaks of the plight of a working mother and the pain of having to leave her kids at home while she goes to work to put food on the table.
“This is a song about sacrifice and the joy that comes from giving up a lot just to make sure that your kids are happy, as well as the challenges a lot of women face daily,” she said. “I have lived this and I have seen the joy on my children’s faces when I get back home.”
Although she has several albums under her belt, some feel that she is not a great artist and question why she sits as one of the judges on Idols.
“I respect and I am real about criticism. It has inspired me to grow. I enjoy and need criticism.”
If you look at the progress she has made from her first single, Thembisile, to her present work, it is clear that she has “grown vocally as an artist”, she said with a smile.
She wrote 60% of the songs on Brave, True and Strong.
Her first tour, also titled Brave, True and Strong, kicks off on August 18 at Gold Reef City’s Lyric Theatre and ends at the Playhouse in Durban in September.
The five-city tour is self-funded, but she is lucky to have two confirmed sponsors on board – Mzansi Magic and Volvo Cars.
“I am so nervous, but excited at the same time. I was too scared to do it before, but now I am brave, strong and more confident,” she said, adding that the tour was a celebration of women, perseverance and the beauty of life.
And what about the rumours that she might make her return to radio?
“No! No! I won’t go back to radio any time soon. In fact, I had another offer this week, but I turned it down. There are things that drive me besides radio. If I was on radio I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to summit Kilimanjaro or plan my album tour. Radio made me forget about my other dreams and be too comfortable,” she said.
Nkayi is now happy and content. “I am in control of my emotions and feelings. I feel like a 22-year-old who just arrived in Joburg – everything is new to me all over again,” she laughed.
When asked if she was in a relationship, she smiled. “I am single and loving it. I am enjoying being a woman. I am having a great time. I am not in the right space to fall in love again.”
TALK TO US
Do stories like Unathi’s inspire women to be open about their struggles as single working mothers and creatives?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword UNATHI and tell us what you think. Include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50