Kelly Khumalo unleashes the tigress in her
Kelly Khumalo slithers on the leather chair as she settles down for our interview at the posh Rosebank, Johannesburg, studios of Universal Music.
She looks like she has just stepped out of a video shoot with a flawless make-up and a stunning wig in place.
Khumalo has just released her latest album Unleashed and says the tiger has been freed. "I'm not old, but spiritually I think I'm almost 70. It's all because of the experiences that led me to finding my true self. I now live in the moment.
"Life is a journey, not a destination. And what a journey it has been. I've seen so many ups and downs. In the 15 years in the music industry I can say that I have seen it all.
"This album is a marker in my journey. I'm not the same woman I was. My character, perspective on life and spirituality, have changed.
"I know my worth. I won't accept less. I'm confident and I take charge of my life. The music I sing comes from a place of understanding and experience, so my artistry has also benefitted, plus my voice has gone huskier with age," she says.
Surely it has been a challenge to step in the studio without her hit-maker Robbie Malinga, who died last December.
Khumalo recorded classic love songs with Malinga such as Baby Please and Sobabili. She tears up when she reflects on Malinga's contribution to her career.
"I refrain from talking about Robbie. It's hard to accept that he's no more. For me, remembering Robbie is an everyday thing. There's a constant reminder of how much of a blessing he was and continues to be in his absence."
She may feel the sense of loss, but she doesn't have to worry that much. Her dance single Dance Comigo currently enjoys massive airplay.
The kizomba-influenced track is produced by Mondli Ngcobo and is set to be a summer banger.
"The song comes from travels. I love experiencing other cultures when I travel; I love how the Portuguese are sensual and expressive, they are really sexually liberated."
Dance Comigo follows on the success of Jehova, a soaring gospel ballad in which she appreciates God's presence in her life.
She says Jehova is a testimony she had to share after she had been asked countless times about what keeps her going despite the challenges.
Habibi (My Love) is a curious track that has her giggling and being coy. She says it's inspired by a certain mysterious Arab man she met and developed a friendship with. "Ours is a strange love. I often wonder if it's timeless or it will pass."
Khumalo shares a duet with vocal powerhouse Brenda Mntambo on Strength of A Woman. It's two strong voices and personalities that have gone through so much and yet remain hopeful about the future. There is also Thumela Omalume, a collaboration with Vusi Nova. The two are known as His and Her Vocal Highness, and they deliver high-voltage singing.
As a parting shot, Khumalo shares: "The biggest thing is to finally meet yourself and understand your worth, fight for what you believe in and stop being apologetic of it.
"This album symbolises freedom, breathing again, breaking free. We suffocate ourselves too much trying to please others. Just be."
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