Before her first solo show, Thabsie lets Helen Herimbi in on what it took to make her album, Songs About You

Everyone nurses a broken heart differently. In movies, women are often shown crawling into bed with a tub of ice cream and having a good cry. In real life, singersongwriter Thabsie wrote songs.

The artist, whose real name is Bathabise Biyela, and I land up at a Mexican restaurant on a warm Jozi day to unpack the pain that became her debut album, Songs About You, three years later.

“When I was writing these songs, I didn’t know I was making the album,” she says in what I learnt was her fast-paced signature. “I was just making songs because I was going through heartbreak. All those songs were kind of about one person. But as time went by, I started writing about my experiences with other people, so the album is more or less about two-and-a-half people,” she giggles.

“They are mainly about the person who broke my heart and that in-between space before I was with the person I am with now. That’s reflected in the happier songs. Wait, African Queen (featuring JR) is probably the only happy song on the album.”

Thabsie’s referring to the bougie afropop song that sees her coyly saying her new man wants to take her to Ghana in order to introduce her to his mama. It’s a cute ditty that makes you feel good as you sing along while Thabsie name-drops Tiwa (Savage) and others.

“With African Queen,(rapper) JR was not there,” she says. “I was at the Durban July and was sitting in the car. I was so stressed because that weekend we had like 60 000 gigs. I just needed a moment to woosah. And I was also stressed because I had less than a month to complete my album.”

“I felt like I didn’t have that song that was just going to be…” Thabsie mimics an explosion with her hands. “Then I remembered a friend of mine had sent me some beats a few months ago. I thought: ‘Let me listen to this stuff’. The first beat I played was African Queen. He had titled the beat African Queen. I thought: ‘This is such a jam! Such a vibe.’ And I was inspired to write about an African Queen.”

When Thabsie got back from the Durban July, the creative juices were flowing and she suggested to music producer Psyfo that they record it. “He added the vocals that JR does. I went to Senegal and when I was there, Psyfo said he had a surprise for me. He sent me the song with JR on it. He’d re-recorded those vocals and added his own intro to it. It was so cool. Psyfo always does that. Even with Cry, I didn’t know Kid X would be on it and Psyfo was like: ‘Surprise!’”

Songs About You features Kwesta on a sublime song called Skathi Sam as well as Psyfo on 4AM, a fun, nostalgic song originally written for a DJ Dimplez project. Psyfo also appears on 2AM, a ballad about wondering where your man is at those wee hours of the morning. There’s a bit about having a conversation with the woman your man is spending those hours with.

Of the songs that made it onto this album, 2AM was the first she wrote. “That was supposed to be the first song on the album. The order in which the songs were written is the order I wanted to release them in,” she said. “I wanted it to be a real story. But that original order sounded bipolar. So now it’s like 2AM and Thank You (Intro) flow together.”

“It’s a true story. But I wrote it in a way that makes sense in a song. I got a call from her and I was very cocky when I got that call. Like ‘Who is this woman, why is she calling me?’ We argued over this guy. I was like: ‘I’ve been with this guy for three years and she was like: ‘I’ve been with him close to six or seven (years).’ That’s when I realised that actually, I’m the side chick who thought I was wifey. I put it in the song as if she is the side chick acting like wifey because of pride, I guess.”

Pride and joy, in general, is evident in this stage of Thabsie’s life. She’s in the middle of explaining how she got signed to Psyfo’s Sid Records when Moonchild glides towards us. The alternative artist says hello and Thabsie’s face immediately lights up. She gasps.

“Oh my god! Hello. Hi. I’m such a huge fan of yours.”

She looks genuinely happy. It’s nice to see that she’s not too cool or jaded to say how she feels. The two singers are talking about how they’ve ordered the same meal and I notice a mariachi band is playing through the speakers in the restaurant. She is such an evocative storyteller that I was stuck in the story she was telling.

That pride has transitioned into how she feels about her own work. And yes, the song that catapulted her to stardom, Ngiyaz’fela Ngawe, by Kwesta, is a joy to perform. It will no doubt be a part of her first show as a headliner this weekend.

“This is going to be my first show as a solo artist,” Thabsie gushes. “That’s a big deal. I love that it’s a small venue because I’m all about intimate, intimate, intimate. I’m going to incorporate my influences: Brandy, Aaliyah, Lira. I’m excited.”