“Omagugu recalls that when she first met Nduduzo, she did not like him. She felt he was too charming and liked by too many girls. As they would perform together, the two became friends and she realized how sweet, kind, caring and intelligent he was. Nduduzo describes Omagugu as a magician that he just cannot live without. This year marks their eleventh year as a married couple”
Singer, songwriter, lyricist, vocal coach and choir conductor Omagugu was born in a small town of Nquthu, next to the historical battlefield of Isandlwana. Her love for music began at boarding school where she was in the choir, and was inspired by her mother whom she got to sing with in the church choir. Omagugu would also listen to her mother’s musical collection of Afro jazz and country music. She would dream of a new world where she would perform and lift people’s spirits through her singing and storytelling.
Pianist, composer, producer and lecturer Nduduzo Makhathini was born and raised in emGungundlovu, a peri-urban landscape in which music and ritual practices were symbolically linked. The area is significant historically as the site of the Zulu king Dingane Kingdom between 1828 and 1840. Despite being described as a highly acclaimed jazz pianist through his award-winning albums and brilliant live performances, the idea of “jazz” does not find neat embrace in Makhathini’s arms. “It’s up to the audience to decide, but for me, what I am doing is improvised music. That’s my genre”, he said.
Nduduzo has already released 8 albums which have been received positive reviews from and critics and enthusiasts. This year will see the release of his first album with renowned global label Blue Note titled “Modes of Communication: Letters to the Underworld” with its first single “Beneath the Earth” earning him recognition as a newcomer in the global sphere. Makhathini has worked as a sideman with many artists including Zim Ngqawana, Ayanda Sikade, Thandiswa Mazwai, his wife Omagugu, Herbie Tsoaeli and Talie Monin to mention but a few.
Omagugu studied music at the Durban Institute of Technology where she majored in jazz vocals and went to further her studies at Tshwane University of Technology where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Music. While studying in Durban, she worked at The Bat Centre as jazz vocals and history teacher on a part-time basis. Central Johannesburg College and National School of Arts are some of institutions where she has taught contemporary singing and music theory.
She currently teaches music and conducts three choirs at Stirling Primary School and is a part time lecturer for jazz vocals, performance and conducts the jazz vocal ensemble at Fort Hare University. Omagugu’s wide experience has influenced her style and the extraordinary musicality of her work. She has worked with Linda Sikhakhane, Herbie Tsoaeli, Nathi, and Mbuso Khoza. The mother of three has also featured in her husband’s three albums “Sketches of Tomorrow”, “Mother Tongue”, “Listening to the Ground” and “Ikhambi”.
Nduduzo is an active lecturer and researcher. He is the head of the music department at Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape. He has a master’s degree from Stellenbosch University and currently a PhD candidate. The piano genius has worked with artists such as Azar Lawrence, Michael, Logan Richardson, Billy Harper, Ernest Dawkins, Stefon Harris and Wynton Marsalis. As a self-proclaimed improviser, he has worked with artists outside of what is defined as jazz such as Black Coffee who is house music legend.
“Valentine’s Day to me is honestly just another day that I am grateful to live and celebrate with my family. I believe you should show your loved ones how much you value them all the time, not only on Valentine’s day”, Omagugu told Jazz It Out. “I am not sure if Valentine’s Day means anything to me culturally but I celebrate any effort that acknowledges love as universal idea”, Nduduzo told Jazz It Out. They both believe in spoiling one another as often as they can. “It takes little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness to show your partner that you love, appreciate and think of them all the time”, Omagugu added.
The Makhathini’s are also demystifying the myth that a relationship between two musicians cannot work. Omagugu believes that: “Marriage is a beautiful thing when you have the right partner. It is important to be your own person and not live your whole existence for another person”. She thinks living a normal life is very important, as one needs structure and a routine of some sort, when there are children involved. “I think if you truly love someone, you should also love what makes them free”, Nduduzo added.
Knowing that many couples look up to them as role models for what marriage should be is something they accept with a high degree of humility. “We are really thankful for the observation. It is something we work on improving on a daily basis”, Nduduzo said. “It is encouraging to know that there are young musicians who are inspired by our love and family. Being a married musician is not easy. Marriage is a beautiful thing that needs nurturing” Omagugu added. The couple share a mutual belief that it needs both parties to be committed to each other and show respect, understanding and support.
Nduduzo and Omagugu are also very fortunate that they live together as a couple and work not far from each other. Omagugu emphasized the importance for the children to have their father around, despite the constant travelling he does due to his work. “He always makes point to spend quality time with the kids and me”, she said. Nduduzo has no regrets for choosing Omagugu as the woman to settle down with. “Omagugu is both the inspirer and inspiration. She is a huge pillar of strength. I want to be with her everyday” he said beaming with pride.
The couple have three children. Nailah is their first-born daughter and her Arabic name means “one who attains success”. Their second-born son is uThingo Lwe Nkosana which is Zulu name for “a beautiful rainbow”. Omagugu’s debut album is named after him. Moyo is their last-born son whose name means “heart and soul” in Swahili. The couple’s offspring think it’s cool and unique to have parents who are musicians and are very supportive. They thoroughly enjoy the music their parents are making. “Maybe they don’t have much of a choice”, Nduduzo said with a chuckle.
At times, they travel as a whole family to some festivals and activities which is good for bonding. “It is such a blessing to travel as a family as we create beautiful memories and get to reminisce on the good times. They love the arts”, Omagugu told Jazz It Out. “I can tell you our secret. It is about turning all those moments into a series of honeymoons, Nduduzo added. When not travelling, the couple enjoy their space and silence. Their home is a very quiet and tranquil space. “We enjoy that and we also love to laugh”, Nduduzo emphasized. “We are homebodies”, said Omagugu added.
How do they strike a balance between keeping things professional in the recording studio or a gig and being a couple and parents to their children at home? “Working with your partner is never easy. Over the years, we have come to understand our working relationship and have been able to create a balance”, said Omagugu. “I think we have really mastered this balance. Anyone who works with us will tell you. It also helps that we don’t work with each other because we are married but because we are seeking excellence in the music, and we equally find kindred-ship on the bandstand”, Nduduzo elaborated. He is also proud to say that Omagugu is ‘one of the best singers I know’.
Growth as a couple which stems from growth as individuals, support, patience, honesty, integrity, understanding and respecting each other are just some of the reasons that Omagugu believes their marriage has remained intact. She further attributes this happiness to spending quality time together and not allowing third parties to interfere in their marriage. “These may seem like old clichés but are vital to having a strong and successful marriage”, she said. Patience, patience and more patience is what Nduduzo attributed to the success and happiness of their marriage.
Omagugu’s favourite musicians include Abbey Lincoln, Busi Mhlongo, Jazzmeia Horn, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Cassandra Wilson, Yvonne Sanchez, Dianne Reeves, Maria João and Jen Shyu. Some of her favourite love ballads include “You go to my head” by Bille Holiday and “Time after time” by Cassandra Wilson. The highlight of her career while still studying in Durban was when the late virtuoso pianist Bheki Mseleku invited her to perform one of his famous compositions “Through the Years” which he recorded with extraordinary jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln on his album “Timelessness”. She also recalls with excitement how she met go to meet the late legendary vocalist Busi Mhlongo at the music department where she was studying.
The Other Side – Nduduzo Makhathini featuring Omagugu
Nduduzo also has fond memories of Bheki Mseleku. “I just think Mseleku grew up listening to the same kind of music I grew up listening to. Izangoma and the different rituals that would have come with their repertoires. He was the most natural influence that I first heard”, he said. He believes Moses Molelekwa died very young but his contribution was so big. Makhathini singles out Abdullah Ibrahim’s contribution in defining African jazz piano. “He has written so much music that we grew up listening to”, he added.
The Makhathini’s have good advice for couples in the music industry. “I think marriage needs commitment from both partners, and commitment to each other’s dreams too”, Nduduzo told Jazz It Out. “Commitment, support, work on your vision and know what you want as a couple. Have mutual respect for each other. Respect and protect your relationship. Love each other and spend quality time together. All work and no play make for a dull relationship” Omagugu added.
Omagugu Facebook account is Omagugu Makhathini. Follow her on Twitter @Omagugu and @omagugumakhathini on Instagram. Nduduzo’s Facebook Page is Nduduzo Makhathini. Follow him on Twitter @nduduzo_m and @nduduzomakhathini on Instagram. Subscribe to his YouTube channel Nduduzo Makhathini