“Warrior noun: a brave or experienced soldier or fighter”. We’d soon learn that Thembi Seete is exactly that. A performance queen that rocked stages of thousands in her teen years lived a life that ran faster than her and then slowed down to settle down and fall in love. A warrior because her experience is no secret and she lays it down for us here, showing the weak moments that created the strongest victories.
We fight a lot of battles as women on an everyday basis – which is the toughest battle you’ve overcome?
Making your mark and getting the respect and attention you know your work deserves. When men do something, they aren’t often questioned, but when women do great things, the funding, the way they did, there’s always a lot of question marks instead of appreciation that it was done. We can handle business, we can be consistent like anybody else, and I find it’s something that challenges me even today.
What has your mother taught you about the women you want to be (Even in times when she didn’t know she was teaching)?
Independence. Her way of doing things, waking up in the morning at 4h00am to get things done and I would be thinking “where the hell is she going, why doesn’t she leave at 6?” She taught me that, on days when you don’t feel good and you have R10 in your account, the R10 will still mean something because you worked for it and that’s the feeling that you should be chasing. A feeling of independence.
You more than showed the strength of your frame and physique in the shoot. What does strength of body and mind mean to you?
It means a lot. The looking good/physique thing is because of training. Looking a certain way is a cherry on top for me. It’s nice to wear something and have it just flow and look amazing, but training for me is about stress release and rejuvenation of my mindset everyday. It helps us deal with everyday life and being able to wake up and do things that I love with extra strength. As you get older, your body doesn’t function the same! I remember Lebo and I would sleep 20minutes and that rest would push us until the rest of the night but now? Damn *Laughs* Now I need a solid 6 hours to feel refreshed so going to the gym might change my physique but mentally, it keeps me very sharp. It all comes together you know. Stability, state of mind, clean environment, positivity – that’s what I do it for. The toning and the cut thighs? Cherry on top.
You’re a woman in a long-term relationship, dealing with your life and also supporting a man whose life feeds into yours. What do you do to keep your mind open and receptive to the changes that come in those years, given the amount of time you and Bo have been together?
I’ve been in a relationship for a very long time and a lot of the way I handle it has to do with how I handle me. Once you have your own life and your own definition of happiness, you don’t even see when time goes by and next thing, you’re years into something and you’ve managed to stay true to yourself and the person who loves you has managed to understand exactly what being “Thembi” comes with. I’m not perfect, a lot I had to learn and re-do and learn again from my previous relationships where I felt like “If I leave this guy, where will I go?” I never want to be there again.
Being okay with being alone, with silence, being okay to be at home “nje” and when my partner is around, he’s an addition to that and there’s no stress about having to spend every minute together, we just do what works for us. I love hard, I care hard, but I’ve learnt to do that for me first.
How has that level of commitment changed you, fuelled you, elevated you?
It has brought me a new kind of discipline. Your mind is stable, you aren’t touch-and-go and you’re centred and you’re able to give all of you because “lerato” fuels you. It doesn’t mean you can’t get that piece of mind as a single woman, it just means that it elevates you if you’re sharing the energy with someone who gives you the same thing back.
I feel like Boom Shaka became a case study for us, the generation that experienced it unconsciously and only started learning later about the socio-political pull of the group. You were noted as one of the first bands to own 75% of their master recordings and 100% copyright on their new material. How did you all make such a bold decision at such a tender age in a time where unfair advantage of recording artists was so rife? Where does that audacity in business come from?
You know we were so young but we had so many people around that had already made the mistakes. Junior came out of Prophets of Da City and came with that knowledge and then the links to Kalawa and our peers showed us exactly what we wanted and what we didn’t want. Till this day, you won’t just hear a Boom Shaka song on any kind of advert because nothing gets signed off without us. We don’t do what doesn’t feel natural and authentic to Boom Shaka and we fought in a time where nobody else was fighting so that we can feed our families with that money now and for years to come. This decision will put people through school, support Lebo’s family, build my family. It was necessary and I’m glad we pushed.
How do you go from selling your clothes to put food on the table to where you are now?
Ey babe, things come to an end and you have to have a backup plan. We were 14/15 trying to look for backup plans and there was nobody even teaching us exactly what that means. I kept the right voices around me, I listened to good opinions and I kept my eye on what I wanted to achieve as Thembi the individual. I worked at Who’s Who with Eldo and Kamogelo, pushing for a new direction.
It was a lot. I couldn’t just be uThembi a teenager just going through stuff. It was too much! Going from Boom Shaka to working a job again was a wake up call. Keep honest people around you, ones who will say when you mess up, who will also help you fix it.
We’ve seen a lot of our favourites “fall off” of their initial glory and fame. How did you manage to keep your name in relevant circles and without the drama that others may come with?
I always lead as Thembi. I can’t be anybody else or I’ll forget what I said. You know when you’ve experienced the life that I did as soon as I did, you start to see what is very important and what is not so important and once you know that, you can start fixing from where it went wrong.
We didn’t see the acting thing coming the way it did on Rhythm City. Bongi Diamond feels very personal. Do you often channel your past pain to give as much as you do to the voice of her character?
I definitely stole moments of my personal experience to give Bongi the depth she needed. Her life was like the lives we were living, the lives our friends were living so it was important for me to allow Bongi to be imperfect so she can show the true depth of having everything and then nothing at the click of a finger.
What gap is the industry not filling in terms of teaching financial stability? Whose fault is it that we are watching people on so many gigs but with no assets of their own?
It’s nobody’s fault at all. It’s hard in this industry, everything is on your lap, ready for you take or leave. Latest trends, latest hairstyles, latest anything! Clear access to clubs, alcohol, more than what you every though you would touch. Nobody tells us what it will be like. I was sitting with 50K one week, the next week another 20K, the other week nothing. Imagine that money in those days, as a teenager! I as Thembi had to get smart. I had to spend too much and come back and regret it until I learnt the lesson. I had to put the money into stuff that I couldn’t break up so I bought a house. And you know how it is with our wonderful community – so and so needs this, it’s someone’s funeral, everybody looks to you. I had to start monitoring the movement of my money myself. It’s a personal thing to take ownership of –some of us make the mistake and learn, others do not.
How cool is it for you to see this generation trying to look exactly the way you did over 15 years ago? In Braam right now, there are Boom Shaka references, that’s got to be a good feeling.
Babe! It’s crazy. We were just doing our hair to be out there and to look different and it’s crazy to see it live the way it does or to hear people ask for “Boom Shaka braids” when they are at the salon. It feels like I’m watching someone else’s brand and it’s not one I was a part of, honestly so crazy.
You’ve always had an amazing frame! What’s your favourite hip-hugging item?
For me, I love anything stretch material so it can trace my body nicely and I love a knee length skirt that’s high waisted with a nice crop top to go with it. Simple and cool. And I love the high waist jeans that we get lately – I don’t know what’s with this high waist obsession but I like how the items sit on me.
When Miss Thembi feels her very best, what is she wearing?
I love shoes! A comfortable pair of shoes that I can dance in all night. It’s funny because the shoes that look the most amazing are the hardest to wear all night, but there’s always a pair you find that does both.
If you could swap a wardrobe with one person, who would that person be?
Kim Kardashian. Oh my goodness, baby, I know it’s so predictable but she is always looking ready to do something and I love that! In fact, the whole family. Locally we have so many mamis doing their thing so well. My baby Terry stands out for me. So simple and elegant but the sexy is also there. I love Bonang and how she dresses her body. I have a lot more on Instagram that nobody will know but there are lots of them! SA women are upping their style.
I’m a performer and I portray different characters and I need the fashion to help me get into character. The girl on stage? I don’t know her! I don’t know her name but she knows what she wants and her style helps kick into that person and I love people who do that in every day life.
You and Lebo were able to unleash this explosive desire to disengage from inferiority and quite literally “Be free”. This is years and years before Formation and Kendrik came along. How do you feel about the current movement around oppression that’s running through the world right now?
I sometimes hope that someone else would take over having a strong voice against what is going on and musically, we don’t have that representative and it tends to make me sad. No blame to anybody but I do wish there was more focus on that. People are angry, saying stuff they’ve wanted to say forever and with movements like this, there needs to be music to support it so it lives forever.
There’s also been a recent uproar around inequalities in the awards in America – are people within their right to want more black performers/winners or can they been seen to be impatient with progress?
When you do things expecting something in return, you will struggle. I understand what people are pushing for but it must not take away from what matters.
When is Leonardo DiCaprio getting his Oscar? I’m kidding…
But why are awards that important then? Are we looking at badges of honour? Nice to haves?
Let me speak from what I know. For me, the art was the most important thing. The art moved us and the fans loving the art moved us.
You have to focus on the art and accept what comes with that or what doesn’t. Boom Shaka was the number one selling group, it was the number one performance group. We pushed records! 500K here, a million there. The numbers were for us because we stayed true to the art. Only last year we got our first honorary award and it felt amazing! But it didn’t make what happened before that any less amazing.
Hard to talk Pop culture and not mention Boom Shaka…
Favourite moment of the whole day with you was watching your whole demeanour change when you heard Aus’ Lebo’s song on the player. What did she mean to you and what do you want the generation that missed out on her to know about her brand of “being”?
How did I react Star?
You did! We started playing music and then her song came on. It wasn’t even the time where the beat came in. One note! One note and you looked up and your face changed. For a second, I thought we had shifted your energy by playing her on the playlist but it was such a human moment. Watching you made me feel like she could have passed yesterday and that it feels like she did to you.
Wow. Yeah. It always feels new to me. But I think that hearing that song at the time I did confirmed why I was there. I knew who I was channeling and what I wanted to give you know?
Lebo was bigger than awards. She was bigger than being seen. You could see what she was going through in her music, in what she shared with the fans. She always performed her feelings in the lyrics and the dances. Those who missed her time, listen to the music. Hear her out and you’ll know her because her art was “her”.
A warrior she definitely is. Not in the way I had expected. She’s a mental and spiritual warrior with the physical strength to compliment her and that’s the type of strength that changes a generation. It’s the type of strength that ignites the desire for more. It’s the type of strength that lasts longer years than the body cares to carry you.