“Despite what she has seen and experienced as a jazz vocalist and music student so far, curiosity drives this young artist to learn more about the role players in the field of jazz. She is considerate, resilient, hopeful, caring, passionate and wants to be a young woman of purpose. For her jazz reflects the times of society, the source of pain and enduring hope”
Musician, singer, songwriter and composer Bokang Ramatlapeng is full of life and extremely passionate about the arts industry. The 23-year-old vocalist who has a twin sister by the name of Poko was born in Mapetla, Soweto and spent most of her childhood in Naturena. She hopes to be a young woman who lives a life that is inspiring to many young women coming after her. Her mother passed away when was just 6-years-old and was raised by her two elder sisters Kamohelo and Mannuku.
Kamohelo had always been an avid appreciator of jazz and arts as a whole. “I grew up listening to Busi Mhlongo, Abdullah Ibrahim, Pat Metheny, Nina Simone, Sibongile Khumalo, Lizz Wright, Zim Ngqawana and many more amazing jazz musicians”, she told Jazz It Out. At school Bokang played netball, volleyball, athletics and cross country. She and her twin sister participated in Gauteng provincial sport tournaments. “I am told my late mom was a great athlete in her youth”, she added.
She joined the choir and her passion to pursue music as a career was ignited in Grade 7 when she was given the opportunity to feature as a soloist. The realization that she could sing was somewhat of a surprise for Bokang as well. “I actually did not know I could sing until my choir teacher made everyone try out for leading in a song. He was so impressed with my ability and told me to pursue it further”, recalling the discovery of her hidden talent. Besides, singing was mandatory in her primary school.
Bokang also fell in love with the music of Lauryn Hill, Thandiswa Mazwai, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu while still at school. Her elder sisters were not surprised when she told them she wanted to pursue music as a career. They were extremely receptive and acknowledged that music was a profession not just a hobby. The teenager enrolled at National School of the Arts where Omagugu Makhathini taught her to embrace the African technique of singing and articulate herself correctly. From Njabulo Nele she learned to be extremely confident in her abilities.
While studying at the National School of Arts, she landed a role in the main school production and also sang in the choir at Hugh Masekela’s “Songs of Migration” production. Her close friends were drummer Ontlametse Putu and actress Khomotso Manyaka. This was the beginning of what was going to be many performances and collaborations for the young woman with an amazing voice. Being surrounded by love of her elder siblings, the support of her teachers and peers gave Bokang lots of encouragement to pursue her love for music to greater heights.
The Joburg creative artist is currently residing in Pretoria where she is pursuing a B Tech Degree in Music and Jazz Studies at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) under the tutelage of Dr Roland Moses and Ms Nthabiseng Motsepe-Notyesi. “Dr Moses is very adamant that everyone should further their studies and Aus Nthabiseng has taught me the importance of vocal health and technique”, she said. Motsepe-Notyesi always tells Bokang to practice her scales daily to improve her singing, something she is very grateful for.
In 2018 she worked with saxophonist Khaya Mahlangu as part of a camp known as the South African Health and Jazz Alliance which was held in December. She was extremely excited to be taught by Lwanda Gogwana, Lindiwe Maxolo and Sphelelo Mazibuko. In 2019 she shared the stage with Marcus Wyatt, Sphelelo Mazibuko, Romy Brauteseth, Thabiso Mfana and Ntando Ngcapu. This made her grow from music student to a young professional. Bokang is also of the lead vocalists for a band Treamdeam which is made up of friends studying music at TUT.
The very outspoken vocalist believes musicians still need to study music theory despite having the natural talent. “It helps musicians to maintain a conducive lifestyle in the arts industry and differentiate between natural talent and skill”, she told Jazz It Out. Bokang has seen herself transforming from a singer to a professional artist and financial rewards that come with the process. But she is very adamant she wants to live a normal life as a young woman and be her ordinary self when not on stage.
She is very happy to see more female jazz artists taking up their space in the jazz industry but feels more can be done. “We can be academics too. We can play our roles in the jazz world without only being on stage. But I am loving the progress so far”, she said. The lockdown which has been imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has taught Bokang self-awareness and to believe in herself and capabilities as a young woman with many comparisons in this world.
Bokang has performed at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival, TUT Arts Festival, State Theatre, African Freedom Station, Alexander Theatre and Joburg Theatre. Her Instagram account is @her_own_skin. Her Own Skin is more that just an Instagram account. She is making a statement that she is a young woman who is comfortable in “her own skin” despite the pressures to define or box her. “So, it is up to me to look into the power that abounds in me to become a young woman of purpose and hopefully that translates into my music and how I live my life”, she said with confidence.
Obtaining the B Tech Degree in one of her primary objectives. Upon graduation, she intends studying all the way towards a PhD. Recently she has developed an interest to write and her first book will be about African vocal techniques and styles and the second will be about “Her Own Skin”. She also wishes to travel abroad showcasing her music and making the African continent proud. Her message to students at high school is that becoming a musician is a process not an event.
Furthermore, young women must educate themselves in whatever career path they wish to pursue because it is through education that they can truly captivate the world. “Do not be afraid to be different. You were destined to shake the world”, the vocalist whose list of favourite vocalist conclude Zoë Modiga, Jazzmeia Horn and Gregory Porter concluded. Her Facebook account is Bokang Makhotso Ramatlapeng and follow her on Instagram @her_own_skin