“When Surprise Malanga was a student at the Music Academy of Gauteng, the late trumpeter, conductor and teacher Jonny Mekoa would always tell the student her voice and the way she sang reminded him of Natalie Cole. The mentor would make the mentee sing most of Natalie Cole songs. But it took a lot of convincing her parents about her dream career to finally see her enrolling at the academy”
Surprise Malanga was born and bred in the dusty streets of Daveyton on the East Rand. She is the third born of four siblings, two boys and two girls. Sadly, her elder brother passed away in 2010. The vocalist, songwriter and part – time beautician recalls how her parents did not entertain the idea of her being a musician because of the bad perceptions they had of the industry.
“At school, I was a very neat child and popularly known for my singing capabilities”, with a smile. Her parents were very strict and after school, they would expect her to head straight home. “I am grateful to my parents, especially my dad who protected me from all the bad things children get up to such as drug and alcohol abuse. They would not allow me to go out and explore the streets like other kids would normally do”, she told Jazz It Out.
Despite knowing that her heart was in singing professionally, Surprise went to do a course in beauty therapy. She found herself booked at several hair salons and her clients were impressed with her work. “When more clients got to know about my services as a beautician, I would attend to them from my home”, she said. This was her first – hand experience of earning an income and she was happy to provide for herself financially.
Next thing she did a course in office administration. Upon completion, she joined a commercial bank as one of its admin employees. But she was frustrated by the mundane tasks she was doing at the financial institution. Working in that environment was not something she particularly enjoyed. “It was just not for me”, she added. She knew deep down her heart that music was her calling and had to find a way of convincing her parents about her dream.
When she heard about the Music Academy of Gauteng, Surprise went to the institution to make enquiries about enrolling and the following day she was a student. In her first year of studying, she was the only female student that sang with the band. “That made me feel special”, she recalls. Mekoa, whom she fondly refers to as “Mkhulu” would remind Surprise to take care of that voice of hers.
Through the Academy, she made friends with fellow students whom she shared similar goals, ambitions and aspirations. Listening to the jazz her uncles played and studying jazz were two different but interrelated experiences. But she insists “my uncles influenced me greatly”. One of the things she learnt was how to sing well without straining her voice, something she believes requires a lot of effort. She was also taught to read chats and basics of piano lessons.
Her voice caught the attention of legendary guitarist Selaelo Selota. She has been Selaelo’s backing vocalist for a few years. Selota took over from where Mekoa left in terms of growing the career of the young vocalist from the City of Ekurhuleni. Surprise was Selaelo’s backing vocalist at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in 2017. “He has taught me how to engage with the audience through music. My confidence is renewed every time I perform”, she told Jazz It Out.
In Selota, she has found a musician who is people – centred and treats his audience with utmost respect. She says she can write a book about things she has learnt from the man she addresses as “Ntate Selaelo”. “Besides being an accomplished guitarist, he is always punctual and conducts himself as a professional. He knows the audience expectations from our performances and always want us to give our very best”, she said.
Surprise has also been part of Selaelo’s band that has performed at events such as Kgalagadi Jazz Festival, Nubian Music Festival, Itsoseng Music Festival, Mahika Mahikeng Jazz Festival, Birchwood Jazz comes alive, Tembisa Jazz Festival, Bonbela Jazz Festival, Fransitown Jazz Festival, Musina Annual Show, Mapungubwe Festival and a performance at Kaya FM.
Surprise Malanga singing “My baby just cares for me” at a rehearsal
She has been doing some material in the studio but not in a hurry to release soon. Her wish is to find great musicians to collaborate with in her debut album. Late 2020 or early 2021 is the deadline she has set herself for the release of her project. In the next coming years, Surprise hopes to see herself touring the world and hypnotizing her audiences with her music and working with globally renowned artists.
One of the things she is not ashamed to admit is that “the music industry is not as glamorous as it looks”. “But I strongly believe that when you do something that you love, it is easier to survive the most challenging times”, she added. Since turning professional, she thinks she has had more positive experiences than the opposite. Surprise has no regrets about her career of choice. “In music is where I belong”, with a lot of confidence.
It is very vital for musicians to promote themselves, the music they record and perform. Musicians are also regarded as brands. She believes social media is one of the ways musicians can market themselves to audiences they hope to reach. A well planned and executed marketing plan and budget can work wonders for musicians who wants to grow their popularity. Over and above, artists need funding from the private sector as well as government.
Her Facebook account is Surprise Malanga and her Page is MainLady. She is @MainLady on Twitter and Instagram