She has participated in several domestic and global tournaments which began while she was at high school, receiving the Honours Award for Music (highest award in high school).  Her musical journey began at the tender age of 7 years.  The number of festivals where she has performed at and the number of artists she has worked with is an indication of how focused and determined this multi-instrumentalist is. Women’s rights are something she is extremely passionate about.

Ntlantla Yaze (nee Swana) is an introverted soul and go-getter who can be stubborn at times.  The East London born and bred Ntlantla is family oriented and empathetic towards society.  “I am a procrastinator of note but I am working on that”, she told Jazz It Out.  “In addition to that, I am a sister, friend, daughter, wife, worship leader and yes, a music fanatic”, she said.  Her father is a Pastor at the Full Gospel Church of God.  Both her parents are very good singers who never considered pursuing a career in music.

Ntlantla Yaze. Picture by Bonisile Ozzman Kamana

At the age 7, she was taught how to play the keyboard and the recorder.  She focused on the recorder and later added the alto saxophone to her list of instruments whilst also playing marimba, steel drums and singing in various school groups.  At Clarendon High School for Girls, she led all the music groups, including the chamber choir where she arranged music.  Her hard work and the role she played at school let to receiving the Honours Award for Music.

“I literary cried when I received that award.  As you enter high school in Grade 8, it is everybody’s dream to be awarded Honours.  It took 4 years to finally get it”, she recalls.  The requirements for this award included being at a music practical level of above Grade 7 in Trinity Music or Royal School of Music for more than one instrument and winning a provincial, national or international music competition amongst other things.

What makes Ntlantla to have love for different instruments?  “Curiosity got the better of me.  I was really fascinated by how different instruments can produce different sounds and how they fit in different genres”, she said.  When her father was transferred to a new church in 2004, they soon realized there was no pianist.  Ntlantla’s parents asked her cousin to give her piano lessons and she assumed the role of playing the instrument at church.  “I could only play one key at the time, but that was sufficient”, she added.  Even though she has not played the marimba and steel drums in a couple of years, she still plays the recorder and saxophone at a professional level.

A multi instrumentalist. Picture by Loyiso Mqingwana-Mali

In 2013 she entered the International Teen Talent Competition where she represented South Africa in Cleveland, Tennessee, USA.  “The competition began locally at provincial level, which was held in Port Elizabeth in 2012.  I won in my category and went to the finals which were held in Durban, where I was chosen to represent South Africa in the US”.  Ntlantla found the competition extremely tough and did not fair badly taking second place in the electric keyboard section, while a New Yorker took first place.  She was doing Grade 11 when she entered the stiff competition.

While at high school, she did classical music and enjoyed the music by composer George Frideric Handel.  Outside school, her playlist was filled with jazz standards and Ella Fitzgerald.  “Mama Ella’s made me fall in love with jazz music”, she said.  As she was completing high school, she had a meeting with her parents where an arrangement was made that Ntlantla would enroll for a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and pursue a music qualification afterwards.  A comprehension she wrote as part of IsiXhosa June examination, which was about “doing what you love” gave her the assertiveness to confront her parents where boldly stated that the degree was her first priority.  “They agreed instantly as they saw it coming”, with a chuckle.

She enrolled for a Bachelor of Music Degree at Nelson Mandela University.  “When I got to the university, I realized that there are endless possibilities when it comes to music.  My music theory was stretched to the core when I went into the jazz theory”, which was different from classical harmonies, progressions and style of writing she was exposed to while at high school.  While studying at NMU, she attended a lot of events and jam sessions which helped her built a strong network.  It was the things she learnt outside the lecture room that gave her an idea of how the music industry works.

She enjoys performing live. Picture by Qamisa M

In 2015 she joined a group called Magnify SA where she became its vocalist and administrator, but left to spread her wings and looked for new challenges.  In 2016 she was chosen to have a one on one session with renowned American producer and pianist Kevin Bond.  This session brought a whole new different perspective on her musical delivery.  Ntlantla has since grown and shared the stage with the likes of Ringo Madlingozi, Vusi Nova, Nathi Mankayi and many other artists.  She has also performed at festivals such as Buyel’ekhaya Festival, BCM Summer Festival, Take Me to Church Festival, Ugu Jazz Festival, Port Elizabeth Festival, Joy of Jazz Festival and National Arts Festival.

Ntlantla says the greatest feeling when performing at a festival is when the audience give a positive response to her offering.  “Festivals are scary as there are many artists on the line up, and you always hope you can capture the audience as the famous artists do”, she confessed.  In her debut concerts, she worked with the likes of Lawrence Matshiza and Mthokozisi Mabuza as her musical director.  She had projects planned that involved Matshiza who sadly passed away in July this year and feels the industry lost a ‘knowledge centre’.  She has fond memories of the late Matshiza always carrying a 2-quire hardcover book which he called “The Bible”.

Not so long ago she was offered a job in Turkey to provide entertainment to 5 start hotels which she did for a year.  As a result, the company she worked for won the best entertainment company Quality Management (QM) award.  She also sang in musicals such as “Jersey Boys” and “CRW2020” which were productions by N-tertainment Concepts giving her a brief introduction to musical theatre.  “I had the best time in those productions and learnt a lot.  I had been an independent woman before I left for Turkey”, she said.  Living in another continent taught her to look after herself, but at times she felt homesick. 

Ntlantla Swana ft. Sizwe Yaze – God Bless The Child

She has since been a musical director in projects of Kaunda Kul Concepts such as “Not A Rock” and “S’bane” which are both productions that focus on women in the arts.  “Those that know me will tell you I’m pro-women in everything in life.  I’m an advocate for equal rights and treatment for women in the arts”, she asserted.  “Not A Rock” is a production for women instrumentalists, composers and arrangers and “S’bane” is an all women acapella quartet.  “It is always an honour to direct these productions and work with such talented women in music”, she added.

Ntlantla is hoping to release her debut album which will be out when she feels the timing is right.  “The perfectionist in me is taking her time”, she said.  In her spare time, she plays netball and lots of games.  Her favourite musicians are Afrika Mkhize, Just 6, Xolly Mncwango, Victor Ntoni, Motswedi Modiba, Jarrod Lawson, Amber Bullock, Ella Fitzgerald, Ledisi and Esperanza Spalding.  Her Facebook Page is Ntlantla Yaze.  Follow her on Instagram @ntlantla_yaze.