Sane by Brenda Mtambo

Over thirteen years ago, Brenda Mtambo had a clear vision of who she would be as a musician and that vision birthed the anthem, Themba Njalo. After listening to Sane, more times than I can remember, I am convinced that the version of herself she saw in that vision, all those years ago, is the version of Brenda Mtambo that has brought this awe-inspiring album to life.

Sane marks ten years of Brenda Mtambo as a soloist, and whether this was by design or pure coincidence it’s a great way to celebrate this milestone. This 12-track album, I think, is her best work yet, and I didn’t think that was even possible given the great quality of her previous album. Her range and runs send shivers down your spine. The soul songstress has honed into the traditional Zulu sound and elements, given it a contemporary feel and incorporated it so well into this album, it’s a pleasure to listen to. Her long-standing relationship with producer Siyanqoba Mthethwa is another notable given how it has contributed positively to the growth and refinement of her music; she can be quoted as once speaking on how Siyanqoba has been instrumental in her success as a soloist by being able to understand her ideas and transpose them from her mind to music. As simple as that may sound, it actually requires a level of synergy between both parties, I can imagine they don’t always agree on the progression but eventually they get there and we as the audience reap the benefits.

This album feels like you are reading through classified information in Brenda’s diary and you’re not sure whether you should keep reading or not but you also don’t want to stop reading. It offers a slight push in the right direction, the encouragement you didn’t know you needed, and the comfort you’ve been yearning for. Brenda Mtambo makes music for all ages, as in timeless music. It’s always relevant, thought-provoking and yet ever so kind. Even when she’s telling you to get your act together and make things happen for yourself as she does in Enza Kwenzeke, she does so with so much empathy.

The soul songstress has always sung from an honest and authentic place which means she sings about experiences lived or perceived at close range, and this is what makes her music so heartfelt. You cannot listen to Brenda Mtambo and not be moved. Her music is not made timeless by the soulful chord progressions but rather by the familiarity of the stories she tells. It’s timeless because at any time within your human journey, you will find yourself going through an experience that links to her music. In fact, with time, you may get to understand her music better, peeling off one layer at a time.

Do you remember Santiago from So Much More, the partner that took your love for granted and left you hanging? Well it seems like that pandemic hasn’t been fully remedied because the current potential is blowing hot and cold. It’s really hard to place them or bet on their intentions. They seem serious about this relationship one minute and absolutely unbothered the next. Good people, we are too grown for the games of Bhaluyacima.

If you have listened to the album then I know you have Hamba Nathi on repeat. Hamba Nathi is an earnest prayer asking God for protection and intervention. The song was inspired by the tragic passing of Uyinene Mrwetyana and the rise in gender-based violence in South Africa. Living in a country where your very being makes you prey is unsettling and the constant state of fear can be paralyzing but in the midst of it all, Brenda Mtambo put pen to paper and documented her plea to God. This song encompasses the struggles we face and our need for God to show up. This song gives our feelings, a voice and our tears, meaning. One thing about Brenda Mtambo, she is a formidable performer. She lives in the moment, bringing to the song what it needs but also allowing the music to do its own work through her. And when she performs this song you can see how deeply rooted it is in her. As she lifts her arms, staff in hand and drops her shoulders to the rhythmic stomping of her feet, you can’t help but be moved.

Navigating grief is one of the hardest things we have to do as people and it doesn’t get better, we just get better at living with it. I imagine that Brenda was sitting by a window on a rainy day when she wrote Longs For You. This may seem a bit over the top but that’s the imagery I have in my mind, you can insert your own background if you don’t like mine. I imagine Brenda journaling her conversation with her departed mother as she fills her in on the events of the day and how life is now that she is navigating it without her mother. Where does all that love go? What does she do with all the unfulfilled plans? What does she do with her arching heart, the longing for her mother? There’s no definite answer, but there is Longs For You. In the words of Maya Angelou…love liberates and I believe that’s why Brenda is able to let go and say fly with the angels my love to her beloved mother.

Brenda Mtambo is known for wearing her heart on her sleeve and this album is no different. She digs into deep and delicate parts of herself to bring this music to life and that’s why it touches the listeners so deeply. Her vulnerability is the permission her listeners have been waiting for to dig deep into themselves. Having lived with anxiety and experienced life’s unpleasantries Brenda tells of how knowing that she wasn’t the only one going through such difficulties gave her courage and strength to keep going and that’s the reminder she wants to put out into the world. She wants you to know that you are not the only one and you’re never truly alone, and if you cannot reach out to anyone, hold on to Awuwedwa & Don’t be Afraid until you regain your strength.

Sane is an album that carries reflections of the past and hopes for the future. It is a bumpy road to healing and a call to action. It is a comma that reminds you to take a breath in the now for what lies ahead in the next. It is a reminder that though you journey alone, you are not the only one. Sane is Brenda Mtambo in the wake of her virtuosity.