With a stellar but slept-on album under her belt, LeAnne Dlamini continues to enjoy every waking moment, writes Helen Herimbi
It’s a tiny nod to Kendrick Lamar. It’s also a part of her T-shirt line. But when a fresh-faced LeAnne Dlamini takes a seat in the booth opposite me, scrawled across the front of her tee is a statement about her work ethic: Be Humble, Sit Down.
Humility was instilled in LeAnne – as she is professionally known – from a young age. She started singing in her church choir at 13 years old and, three years later, she was leading praise and worship. It was that year, while studying music at the National School of the Arts, that Loyiso Bala heard her sing during a service and recruited her to become his backing vocalist.
“It was the time when TKZee Family was really huge and Loyiso had just come out with, I think it was Musuk’ukhala, and he was just the hottest thing ever, right,” LeAnne laughs. “So yes, I did completely lose my mind. Then things happened very naturally. I think it was just God-ordained.”
“They had to ask permission from my parents for me to go to studio because I was 16,” she says of an era where she sang with the likes of Danny K and Kabelo Mabalane. Back then, producer-extraordinaire, Alexis Faku started booking her for other sessions. He has been her producer ever since.
The flame that is LeAnne’s latest album, Warrior, was prematurely extinguished because she put it out under Mabala Noise when the now defunct record company was signing everyone and their aunts. But out of those ashes, her latest single, Patch It Up, has become her phoenix.
While most songs on Warrior are produced by Faku, Patch It Up was originally written by Antonio Dixon for Toni Braxton, living legend. The mid-tempo ditty sees LeAnne sing about Saturday being the worst day to fight and being willing to fix a relationship that is going awry. I ask her what her remedy is for a relationship in bad shape.
“I’m still trying to work on how to really patch things up because I’m that girl who can really hold a grudge,” she sinks into the booth and laughs.
She recorded this song while she was in Los Angeles. She also recorded a stand-out on the album, Message To Your Heart, with Jonathan Butler, who has a studio in his basement. The sweet song is nostalgic about a romance and the sincerity makes Warrior one of the most authentically r&b albums to come out of Mzansi in recent times.
Another stand-out track is Up Close & Personal featuring Mariechan. The duet has a bop-worthy drumkick and the singers harmonise beautifully. But it wasn’t originally meant to be their song.
“It was at a point where The Voice SA was on,” LeAnne recalls. “I think Universal reached out to Alexis and told him ‘we need songs for our finalists so can you submit a song and we’ll have our artists listen to it.’”
“This was not written for me,” she continues. “[Mariechan and I] wrote this song together for Zoe. We brought Mariechan in and we played around with ideas about what we would want this singer to sing. We submitted the song, the artist didn’t like it and I said: ‘I’m working on an album, this is a good song, I’m not going to let it go to waste.’”
LeAnne is great at repurposing. This is evident in About The Money, which takes a break from traditional and modern r&b to put her in a nu-r&b category with a twist. That’s, of course, because she interpolates TKZee’s Mambotjie to ask why people are hating on her because the things people are jealous of – how she flies first class and has cars all up in the driveway – are not what make her special.
“It aint all about the money,” she sings over the classic ooh-ooh vocal and pulsating beat. “So I had recorded All About Money on a different beat and that beat was final,” LeAnne shares.
“Sipho – who is my husband and used to manage TKZee – and Alexis went into studio. I know Sipho has always wanted to do something TKZee-ish, he just can’t let it go,” she laughs. “They just played around and put Mambotjie in the song and I came into studio the next day and it was just there. I think it’s genius. I love how it just works.”
About The Money is the most “diss track” this r&b star is going to go. After all, a few years ago, LeAnne started a campaign called End Girl Hate, which, as the name suggests, aims to promote girl power. Soon after, women in Canada and Botswana approached her to open branches in their countries. She also plans to go wherever the music leads her.
Now, LeAnne is busy with her music – now distributed by Universal Music Group Africa (which her husband is the head of) – and her businesses. But, as someone who made a conscious effort to stay away from companies run by her husband for fear of seeming like she is treated differently to other artists, I get why she initially thought signing to Mabala Noise would be good for her career.
She tells me: “The reason I joined with Mabala was because I had already been with majors like Gallo and Sony and felt they weren’t giving me my needs. I felt Mabala was new, young and understood artists. Right now, I’m independent once again and I’ll still push and promote and make sure 2018 is focused on my music.”