Ducking into the shelter of a Birmingham cafe to escape the unusually oppressive UK heat, amapiano singer-songwriter Lady Du, born Duduzile Ngwenya, is preparing for a new season all her own. Striking a balance between the powerhouse that is the unapologetically vocal “Lady Du” and the ambitious, nurturing human being fondly referred to as Dudu by those close to her, has been no small feat. After a tough first half of the year switching management teams and keeping a clear head during social media storms while making the most of motherhood and fame, this Women’s month Lady Du takes a break to speak to Moziak in the wake of the next phase of her career which she has called “The State of Amapiano Address.”
Shiba Melissa Mazaza: I hear you’ve just been booked for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, which is huge. I think we can all agree that congratulations are in order. What has this time travelling between SA and the UK been like for you?
Lady Du: I came here last year in April and I had the best time ever. I’m in a different country but the vibe and energy are the same [as in South Africa]. I think I’m bigger here than I am in my own country. I came here for one show and ended up booking 5 which have all sold out. Everybody wants me to stay here and fill up their clubs, so I’ve been very blessed to be back, but I have to go home at some point and pick things up again.
I suppose homesickness hasn’t shown up for you yet. What has been the biggest difference for you, between the music scene in the UK and the scenes at home in South Africa?
The racism here. My goodness… People of colour here and the way they get treated? It’s disgusting to watch. From the airport to the accommodation… my God. Your usual white person walks in and they get a smile, you know, but a black person walks in and everyone’s faces change.
I think there’s also just an improvement on how artists get paid, this side. Here, you’ll make 3 times what you make at home for one event, so it’s been amazing to really see my worth shown in that way. Even the way they treat artists here is way different. The issue with South Africa is that they don’t realise how big South Africa is about to become. People are so focused on what’s happening within the government that they’re not focused on what’s happening in the country with music – and that we literally have gold in our hands, and that gold is amapiano. Because of that, and growing up with local DJs and promoters, I feel that they don’t have the respect they could have for artists just because we’ve all come up together.
Right, and it seems that even the government hasn’t caught on that music could be a game changer for South Africa’s economy, as well as the way we interact with other African countries if handled in a manner that really serves the people. For example Operation Dudula is in full swing right now, but it’s the same targeted countries that are helping amapiano gain popularity across the world. What are your thoughts on this and our ideas of Africanness in today’s climate?
I feel like you can’t give money to those who already have money. I think that’s why the country is where it is right now. The rich keep eating while the poor keep getting poorer. I have a song coming out on the new project that addresses Africanism. My idea of Africanism is about ubuntu and unity. Our biggest problem is that we allow people to play on top of our heads and we don’t stand our ground as Africans. That’s why things keep getting taken away from us! In the song I’m actually talking about how Africans need to wake up because we have the world in our hands and on our shoulders. Most of the things we consume from the west come from us! We are the ones that teach people how to treat us, so if we don’t stand up, hold each other, walk together, and understand that collectively we have the power, our oppressors will keep winning. So the song says “vukani ‘maAfrika,” meaning “wake up Africans.” It’s time now… With Afrobeats partnering with amapiano you cannot ignore us. So I try to be an ambassador for all points on respecting Africanism and our mental health.
Absolutely, what a huge responsibility to place on yourself, on top of having to handle your personal transitions. A little while ago you posted on social media that you are looking at new management. Can you talk a little bit about how you’re faring in this time of change?
It’s been hectic, I was doing everything myself for a while but I’m happy to say I’ve found new management. With me, I had a manager that was great in the beginning (they always are in the beginning because they see your potential) and he came on when I had already established myself at home in SA. He said he wanted to “make me international” which he could sense was the next step.Then he started creating walls for me in the industry. Management-wise he would try to control everything that I would do. So if I got a deal with a brand and he wasn’t included in it, he’d still want a piece even though that wasn’t the agreement. He was very verbal, to the point where I felt like I was in an abusive relationship. It ended up messing with my mental health as well. I don’t like it when a manager gets between an artist and a promoter in a way that messes with the artist’s reputation. Some managers demand 5 star hotels and private jet experiences and all of that when the same artist they’re representing doesn’t even own a car yet! So for me, I try to live a life of luxury at home, and if I want to sleep in a 5 star hotel when I’m working and the promoter can’t afford that, I’ll upgrade it myself. That’s what I believe should happen. I cannot make a promoter reach a breaking point to have me perform at their club, and they lose money in the process paying for that stuff. I’m a human being before I’m a celebrity. My celebrity status is left on the stage, not on a personal level.
I think that a lot of people see what the bigger artists have embedded in the amapiano lifestyle; they see the Gucci and the Balenciaga, and maybe folks in and out of the industry are perpetuating what they’ve seen. Could it be that that sort of thing finds its way into managers’ riders too?
I think I’m under a lot of pressure. I was there when the genre first started and we brought in that vibe. I think that’s why people have been calling me the “queen of amapiano” so I need to be an example for all the kids that are following. At the moment I’m the highest streaming female in South Africa for people aged 13 to 35. So I can’t live a fake life, I can’t show people what I am not. So I try as much as I can to be an inspiration and an example to them. You’ll never see me totally undressed on my socials. You’ll never see me wearing a lot of luxury things – if I do, it’s usually a gift. I stick to my Nikes and Pumas because my audience is mostly young people. I don’t want a child to tell her mom, “I love Lady Du” and the mom asks, “who the hell is this person influencing whatever my kids are doing?” I take my brand seriously, and all of these big brands who come to tell me to clean up my instagram – I tell them I won’t clean it up for anything. This is who I am. There’s no door that will be closed to me when I own everything I do.
Speaking of representing kids, I understand you have a daughter? Did you ever think at her age that your life would turn out the way it has, and how has that affected your relationship with her?
Yes, Maya is her name. I grew up in a family of men, so everything I have has never been soft. I think because of that, that’s where my strong personality comes from. I have to separate who Lady Du is and who Dudu is. I was DJing at the age of 10 so I already knew my life was set up for this sort of thing back then, but with Maya I try very hard for her not to see what it is that I do. I don’t listen to music at all in the house, unless it’s on TV and it’s something I do with her. When I work on weekends, she’s with my grandmother, and during the week Monday to Thursday my manager knows that that is Maya’s time, so I won’t take any bookings and sacrifice our time together. And when I go overseas, I tell her I’m on holiday and that we’ll come back for her holiday because she needs to go to school. So she understands that. I don’t want to be the one that influences her to become a musician just because it took me so long… I started at age 10 but I only started making money in 2021, and I don’t want that for her.
Lastly, let’s talk about what you do want. Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming album? What are the themes coming through in this new body of work?
What I tried to do is, because of what’s happening around the world, I tried to make this project a lot more personal instead of just being about entertainment. I think I’ve done so many features and people know what I can do, so I think people want to hear purely Lady Du. So it’s going to be emotional; I’ve got a song about mental health called “Anxiety,” I’ve got a song celebrating Africanism, I’m speaking to Yemi Alade who’s going to jump on one of the songs and I’m also trying to reach the international market as well, so it’s going to be personal and fun. It’s also going to be historic, because I want to tell the stories of Nelson Mandela, Brenda Fassie, etc, so more about people who started this and paved the way for me, for us. I want to teach people the history of music through my sound.