In her Facebook profile, Lindi Ngonelo describes herself as a pianist, lover of life, kind spirited, dog fanatic, serious jazz head, Jesus lover who enjoys a good laughter. The tall pianist almost became a vet because of her love for animals. She also considered becoming a chef. But in the end, it was music that got the nod.
“I am a shy person, friendly, level headed. I am also quite an introvert, but open up once I get to know someone. I love being around people, but I also love my space. I think that a balance between the two is imperative.”, she tells Jazz It Out. She was on her way to perform at a gig in the KZN North Coast, but made time to speak about her journey as a person and artist.
She was born in the Vaal 32 years ago and partly raised in Gauteng. At the age of 10, her family relocated to Durban because of the work her father did as a pastor. “I was doing Grade 5 at the time”, she recalls. At the age of 12, in 1998, her parents formed a church of their own and wanted her to play the piano for congregants. “At that time, I didn’t know much about music and they got a friend of theirs to give me piano lessons. Then I got exposed to gospel and jazz and fell in love with the music”, going down memory lane.
Despite getting her precious daughter to take piano lessons, her father was surprised to see Lindi choosing music as a career. “Initially, my father was not very impressed. He was worried that I was not going to get a stable salary through music”, she said. She told him she would prove him wrong about the decision. Mom on the other hand was very supportive.
Ngonelo went to University of KwaZulu-Natal where she enrolled for a diploma in Jazz & Popular Music. She furthered her studies and obtained a Bachelor of Practical Music Degree. Last year she obtained a Bachelor of Music Honours Degree from the University of Pretoria which was a proud moment for her family.
The insightful thesis that she submitted as part of her honours degree was about something that she had been observing for a long time, that female musicians are treated with less respect compared to their male counterparts. There’s still a perception that female artists are only limited to being vocalists and cannot play instruments which is very unfortunate. She often gets asked “are you really a pianist” because of her gender yet male pianists never get asked that question. “As female musicians, we always feel we need to be more assertive to be taken seriously”, she added.
It was while studying at UKZN that she joined the all-female jazz group Heels Over Head. She knew the band members from a distance. It was their bass player Sindi Nene that approached Ngonelo to join the group which is something she saw as a good exposure at a practical level. Through Heels Over Head, she struck a balance between the theory she learned at varsity and the reality of studio recording and live performance.
Asked what it was like to be part of recording the debut album with the group, she said it was exciting. “We were told to be creative and encouraged to be ourselves. This also gave me an opportunity to explore and stretch my creativity levels to the fullest”, she added. The album which was released in November 2010 received a South African Music Award (SAMA) nomination in the jazz category the following year but unfortunately did not win.
Performing the tune On the 7th day. Video by Zamindlela Zama
In 2013, she decided to move back to the province of her birth. She felt she had grown and reached the peak of her career while in Durban, and it was time to go to the next level of her career as a musician. “I am currently a music teacher at the East Rand School of the Arts in Benoni. I teach music theory to Grade 11 and 12 learners”, she tells Jazz It Out. Some of her students struggle a bit with music theory but always end up getting it right. She is always pleased to observe their growth.
As a seasoned pianist, Ngonelo gets to work with different musicians, often big names in the industry, which is something that has stretched her versality. “I’ve also learnt a great deal about the importance of a good work ethic, accountability as well as a good attitude”, showing no regrets for making the decision to relocate.
She still performs with Heels Over Head when they have gigs in Gauteng. As a matter of fact, she travelled with the group where they performed at the Essence Music Festivals that was held in New Orleans in July last year. “It was an amazing experience. My first-time overseas”, she recalls. The festival also gave her an opportunity to interact with other musicians and the experience will go down in history as that of a lifetime. Even though she wishes to record her own solo album, she wants to do a proper planning before going to the studio.
For Lindi’s next next live performances, please see our gig guide. Lindi is also active on social media. She is Lindi Ngonelo on Facebook, @lindingonelo on Twitter and Instagram.