The rise of Rorisang Sechele

A skilled vocalist and songwriter who knows exactly how and when to pace and tone her voice and writes songs with intent.

Having made it into the highly coveted Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band in 2021 under the conducting guidance of Nduduzo Makhatini, Rorisang Sechele is definitely a rising star and a name to look out for particularly in jazz spaces for years to come.

The Pretoria based artist who also forms part of the South African State Theatre Youth Choir in her local city is only at the beginning of her career but has also somewhat come a long way from her days as part of the performing collective, Treamdeam, which featured other exciting industry prospects Ofentse Sebola and Bokang Ramatlapeng amongst others.

In an industry that seems to have an influx of young talent taking ground and standing their own, Rorisang Sechele is definitely a standout and a symbol of everything that is right with the current state of our local jazz world and where it is headed.

Below we got to chat with her on what we have titled as ‘The Rise of Rorisang Sechele’ and as captured by the remarkable Lerato Pakade.

Captured by: Lerato Pakade

Until recently I did not realize that your name is actually a call to action, “Rori-sang”. Your parents were on to something, do you think they knew you were a singer from birth?

Most definitely, my mom knew I would be a singer. I once asked her why she decided to name me Rorisang when everyone else in the family has a royal name. I mean my mom is named Queen, my sister Princess, and my dad Henry so why was I Rorisang? you know. I didn’t like my name growing up, I was just like this is such a boy name. So yeah, I asked my mom and she told me she had a revelation as she was preparing to give birth to me. My mom is also a worshiper, she used to sing in the church and was the musical director so for her giving me the name Rorisang was also just her passing me the baton, on some Simba and Mufasa type vibe, she was placing anointing upon my life, giving some of herself to me to carry on with musical ministry.

When did you make the transition to jazz because if I remember correctly you studied classical music in high school?

Yes, I studied classical music and a bit of musical theatre during my time at Pro Arte. But music sort [of] found me because when I left Pro Arte, I did not want to further my studies in music. I was set on trying something new and decided on Somatology at a private institution but it was too expensive; so that fell through and I hadn’t applied anywhere else. As luck would have it my aunt who was working at TUT at the time approached the head of the music department, told them about her niece who got a distinction for music and could sing well but was not registered for tertiary education. I then received a call from the head of music at the time and that is how music chose me. I submitted my application, went for the audition, and got accepted for NSFAS within two weeks or so. It was as though God had already ironed out everything for me and the puzzle pieces just fell into place. At the audition I was asked if I wanted to study vocal art or jazz and I was like well…let’s go with jazz (laughs).

Why didn’t you choose vocal art?

I have always had jazz in the background because of my dad, but I didn’t know that one could study jazz. It was a new discovery for me and I was intrigued by it. So when I was given the two options, jazz was the obvious choice for me.

You are also an incredible songwriter, when did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs in primary school and got more intentional in high school. I wrote The Anchor when I was still in high school. It’s the one song I fear performing the most because I do not know how people are going to receive it; it is very close to my heart. But I also understand that I need to release the songs I write so they can do their work. That’s why it is heartwarming for me to see people enjoying and engaging with my songs.

You are in the early stages of your music career and you have already worked with some musical giants like Nduduzo Makhathini and Yonela Mnana How has that experience been and what have you learnt about yourself and the craft from the exposure?

It has been nothing short of amazing. They have been so generous with their knowledge. From working with them I have learnt the importance of doing the internal work, sitting with myself, questioning things, not being afraid of digging deep within myself. In one conversation with Mr Mnana he said to me there’s no way you can know what’s clean if you haven’t spent enough time in dirt. There’s no way you can know what true light is if you haven’t spent enough time in darkness. And I realized then that that’s how music works too. How can I give you something so good if I hadn’t experienced so much bad in my life? How can I know what’s high if I haven’t been rockbottom? And I believe that’s what Mr Makhathini was teaching me with the whole “fetch” analogy which you may have seen on Instagram. He was teaching me that the music comes from the inside out, and I have learnt to surrender to the music.

Captured by: Lerato Pakade

At your recent show at Jazz in Jozi, your mom danced with you on stage, how did that moment make you feel?

It felt good. It was literally taking what we do at home and putting it out in the open. I am very shy and growing up I wouldn’t sing for my mom even if she asked, and that would upset her. I think it had to do with the significance of my name and the passing on of the baton as I mentioned earlier but I always thought to myself that one day she would get to see me sing. 

So to finally have that moment where she not only witnessed me sing my own compositions but she joined me on stage was heartwarming for me. It felt like I was living out the lyrics of Manana’s ‘Patiently’ where he says I wanna make my parents proud/invite them to shows in front of an actual crowd/people singing my songs out loud. It really was a dream come true.

Speaking of dreams, who would like to work with?

Definitely Zoë Modiga and Manana. They changed the South African music scene for me. They are incredible as solo artists yet they also strike the perfect balance in a band setting with Seba Kaapstad, and make magic.

What do you hope to achieve through your music?

I want to fill someone’s cup and make them feel like they are finally home, which is why my music is both affirming and encouraging. I remember journaling and I wrote ‘I’m not asking for a million to hear, I’m just asking for one person to listen‘ and that continues to be my hope and prayer. For me it’s about touching the heart of that one person because I believe that that will create a ripple effect. I believe that if one person finds a home in my music they will invite someone else into this home and that’s how this family will grow.

Are we likely to get more music from you this year?

I sure hope so (laughs). After I graduated I decided to take a gap year to apply what I’d learnt and experiment with different sounds. I think I have found my sound and I am ready to release my music to the world. I’m thinking about ways to package and distribute my music in a way that makes commercial sense as well because I do not think as artists we can continue to work so hard only for exposure, which is what I think streaming platforms have done. I mean show me a doctor that renders their services and expertise solely for exposure, you get what I mean? Nonetheless, there will be music from me coming out this year. I also plan on doing more live shows in intimate settings.

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