“Picture her as a young girl singing Khanya by Winston Mankunku Ngozi on her graduation day at creche. Her childhood memories include watching her mother rehearse with the band in their Port Elizabeth home. She would sing to every jingle on radio and TV. Titi’s parents knew she would be a musician one day and her father was a huge fan of John Coltrane. Her decision to purse music as a career did not come as a surprise”
She is a lover of art, an activist, a firm believer in social cohesion and the complete eradication of femicide. Spending time with family and close friends having a good laugh are some of the things she enjoys and loves cooking. This avid reader who is always looking for ways to liberate herself allocates most of her time to yoga meditating. Home is undoubtedly the best part of her childhood. Home is filled with all the vivid memories of watching random people watching her mother Vuyelwa Qwesha rehearsing with the band in their family garage.
Titi Luzipo is a singer, songwriter and recording artist who has become a household name in the afro jazz circles in the country. The 28-year-old and last born of 5 siblings comes from a musically gifted family. She and her brother Barlo who is a gifted keyboard player are the only two that pursued music as a career. “The rest of my siblings can sing but have ventured into other careers”, she told Jazz It Out. As a child Titi was very outgoing, never shy to tell people she could sing like her mother and one day she was going to be a star.
Renowned composer and musical genius CB Qwesha was her grandfather. His greatest work “Ndisindise O Jehova, Save me Oh Though Jehova” became one of the world’s greatest hymns. Besides being a composer, he was also a ward councilor in the community. Titi was 10 years old when her grandfather passed away. She remembers him as a quiet person who loved to listen to old vinyl records from chambers choirs while smoking his pipe. Despite composing such great hymns, he could not sing. “He would whistle and got his children to sing his compositions”, she recalls.
Her mother left the entertainment industry in the 80’s to pursue teaching. Soon thereafter, she completed a degree in psychology. By the time Titi was born, she had moved slightly from the limelight but was still a respected musician who took gigs every now and then. She still remembers the dress she was wearing at her graduation where she sang “Khanya” by the late Winston Mankunku Ngozi. The great saxophonist was friends with her mom. That was her first time to stand in front of an audience with tons of confidence.
At school Titi was an A student. She also picked up the flute from primary school which she played until she matriculated. “I still play the instrument. I just need the courage to play it in front of an audience”, with a chuckle. Titi obtained a Grade 8 Royal School Examination with distinction. The ambitious young woman also joined the debating team at school and the toastmasters programme. She loved challenges and public speaking. While at school, she also composed a song “Nkululeko” where she was not celebrating freedom but rather arguing through the lyrics that “we were never free”.
As a teenager going to high school, she listened to different types of music genres such as country, pop, hip hop, jazz and reggae. Her ear stretched more to jazz though, falling in love with acapella groups such as The Singers Unlimited, New York Voices and The Manhattan Transfer. She also developed love for the African sounds of Letta Mbulu, Dorothy Masuka, Miriam Makeba, Tshepo Tshola, Themba Mkhize and many others. Titi also spent a lot of her intervals in the music department. The music teacher who was also her brother’s teacher was a lover of jazz despite teaching classical piano. She gave the young learner a book with over 500 jazz standards.
Despite being a former professional musician, her mother was hoping she would choose something else to study. The concerned mother never saw music as a sustainable career for her youngest child. Not wanting to stand in the way of what Titi had chosen, she told her daughter about the new life she was venturing into. New friends, new endeavors but did not caution her about the industry or music itself. Titi enrolled for a B Music in Jazz Performance at the University of Cape Town (UCT) making good friends with Sandile Gontsana, Vuyo Sotashe, Zoë Modiga, Spha Mdlalose, Thandi Ntuli and many others.
She did not have a lot of gigs while studying at UCT but would attend lots of performances to support her fellow students which was an experience on its own. The 4 years she spent at the tertiary institution made her to appreciate music even more. “I also realized that sometimes it’s the experience that sometimes expresses itself through music. A lot of my musical expressions are based on my experiences”, she told Jazz It Out. After graduating at UCT, she enrolled for a course in Performing Arts at the University of the Western Cape where she was both student and tutor but was compelled to quit as her professional career as a musician was demanding more of her time.
The pride of PE has shared the stage and worked closely with local and international music stars including Caiphus Semenya, McCoy Mrubata, Gloria Bosman, Judith Sephuma, Thandiswa Mazwai, Caiphus Semenya, Lawrence Matshikiza, Khaya Mahlangu, Bheki Khoza and Siphiwe Dana. These artists have since become her extended family. She is quite ecstatic about the recent encounter she had with Rwandan born songstress Somi. “Working with her was an absolute bliss. She has a beautiful character and honours her craft in a respectful manner”, she said. Cuban artist Daymé Arocena is another artist she had the honour of working with. Her love and passion for her creativity is engraved in Titi’s mind.
Another artist and producer that she rates very highly is Luyanda Madope. In fact, Titi has been featured in the albums Madope has produced for McCoy Mrubata, Luyanda Madope and H3, Zarcia and Dumza Maswana. Madope has expanded her thought process and creativity. “He challenged me in many ways and made sure that the lesson at the end is that of a lifetime. For that, I will forever cherish him”, she added. Titi identified Madope as a producer she could work with on her future projects as a vocalist.
Through the project #SongsMyMotherTaughtMe, Titi got to perform the songs she learnt from her mother. This project which was funded by Concerts SA saw Titi on a tour which included Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Durban. She featured her mother and brother Barlo in these shows that were sold out. “We received standing ovations in every city and this is a project I want to grow bigger”, she said. Another project that is very close to her heart as it addresses issues affecting women is #BeingWoman. When she launched the project, Titi was hoping that it would heal the many wounds of women who have suffered at the hands of those they love. “I wanted to evoke my emotion through my music. I wanted to play a role in the eradication of femicide and patriarchy”, she added. The project feautured her friend Thandi Ntuli and mother Vuyelwa Qwesha.
By the time she went to record her debut album, she already gained enough experience and did not hesitate to work with the experienced producer Luyanda Madope. When asked what makes Luyanda the producer he is, Titi’s response was: “Luyanda is special. I have always wanted him to produce my album and he went beyond my expectations. He really wanted to know the essence of my core creativity. Dope would push my vocal abilities to lengths I never imagined”. The hardworking producer even understood the emotions she was going through and helped to reflect them in an artistic manner that would be understood by those listening the album.
That self titled was released in 2019. First to be released was the popular track track “Being Woman” in March which charted as number 24 in The Google Play Charts globally. She chose her hometown of Port Elizabeth as the venue for its launch where she featured legends Ringo Madlingozi and McCoy Mrubata. Within a week of its release, “Being Woman” received a nomination for Best Jazz Song while Titi received Best Female Jazz Artist at the Mzantsi Jazz Awards. Six months later, Titi had over 1200 streams on Spotify and her single has been listed in the Mzansi Jazz Essentials on Apple making it an outstanding recording.
“Nomazotsho” is a song written by her brother Barlo featuring McCoy Mrubata about her sister who was the first of her siblings to get married and leave home. It felt so surreal not having her around and only seeing her on special occasions. The song is a letter to Nomazotsho hence the opening line is “Ndifikelwe yincwadi”. Her own composition “Moya Oyingcwele” came in a form of a dream. She remembers waking up the following morning with the piano line which haunted her the whole day until she sat down and played it. Playing the tune felt like reliving the dream she had the night before and the lyrics flowed so easily. “Moya Oyingcwele” was a gift from the Holy Spirit.
The sibling bond she enjoys with Barlo is reflected in the tune “Inyathi” which the brother wrote for the sister. This is just one of the many songs he wrote for her. “I was 17 when Barlo wrote this song for me. He said it would be my introductory song and he was right”, she told Jazz It Out. The song has evolved so much over the years and the audience goes crazy whenever they hear its intro. “Inyathi” has really humbled me. Perhaps more compositions should be expected from her brother in her future recordings which will without a doubt make the entire family very proud.
Being Woman – Titi Luzipo
Her debut album was well received by critics and Titi thinks the reason for this is because “Being Woman” is more than just a single or an album title. “It’s a movement that propagates the eradication of femicide, misogyny and patriarchy. Critics have said its typical of a woman to form such a movement. My response was its typical for a critic to comment in that way”, she said. Titi’s concern is that the state of gender-based violence in our country has reached alarming proportions. She does not think this is something that should be taken lightly. “Before the music, I am an active member of society and for as long as I have a voice to speak or sing about the injustices women and children endure, I will”, she added.
Titi’s other concern is with regards to the field of arts and culture, which she is part of. She feels the arts industry is at the bottom of the government’s priorities, recalling how many albums were supposed to have been launched by now and tours artists were supposed to embark on, which prompted her to write an open letter to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture to raise these concerns. As a result, she thinks the industry will take a very long time to recover. She completely acknowledges all the precautionary measure that were taken to prevent the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Some of the festivals she is grateful to have performed at are The Pfäffikon Acapella Festival in Switzerland, The Mittel Festival in Italy, The Ghana Cultural Festival in Accra, Grahamstown Festival and Frankfurt International Theater in Germany. When asked who her favourite artists are, she took a deep sigh and mentioned Buika, Indie Arie, Erykah Badu, Langa Mavuso, Daymé Arocena, Thandiswa Mazwai, Somi, Khaja Nin, Anita Baker, Regina Belle, Caiphus Semenya, Tshepo Tshola and Carmen Lundy. Titi has recently ventured into TV production and has worked as a content creator and production assistant in many productions. Her FaceBook Page is Titi Luzipo – Official. Follow her on Instagram @titi_luzipo and @TitiLuzipo on Twitter