It was on a beautiful spring evening at a church camp, 22 years ago, when a young man from Kwa-Themba met a young woman from Boksburg. From the time he laid his eyes on her, he knew that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. “It definitely was love at first sight”, he says. More that two decades later the couple is happily married with two children. This music couple which is the pride of Ekurhuleni still behave like boyfriend and girlfriend.
Pianist, composer, arranger, musical director and producer Mduduzi Mtshali (popularly known as Mdu) describes his vocalist, composer, lyricist and tutor wife Mimi Mtshali (nee Ntenjwa) as a beautiful woman inside and out, a great human being, who is career driven and ambitious. She is a very gifted artist, who is passionate about music, and not afraid to take risks. “Mimi is also a sensitive person and an introvert who gives her all when on stage”, he told Jazz It Out.
Mduduzi and Mimi Mtshali
Mimi describes Mduduzi as her best friend and confidant. “We have a very beautiful and strong relationship. We are very close and we enjoy spending a lot of time together”, she told Jazz It Out. Mduduzi is a passionate artist, full of life and not afraid of challenges. He is always looking for opportunities to grow as a person and likes to share his knowledge and experience with others. They are parents to son Lihle and daughter Maisha. “My children are my heart and soul, my everything, and the highest blessing as a mother”, Mimi said. “My children have shown me how to be a father and their love is unconditional”, Mduduzi added.
The couple has an almost similar background and childhood. Mimi started singing at church. Gospel and RnB were the first genres she was exposed to. She also learnt other styles like jazz as time went on. “I was into Yolanda Adams and Aretha Franklin really stood out for me”, she recalls. Mduduzi who started as a singer was into RnB, Gospel, Hip Hop, and African Jazz. Artists like Brian McKnight, Stevie Wonder, Boys II Men,2 Pac and Biggy are still his favourites to this day. “Here at home groups like Stimela, Sankomota, and Sakhile were my favourites”, with vivid memories.
After competing high school, Mduduzi was offered several bursaries to study but turned them down because he knew how much he wanted to pursue music as a career, something that did not sit well with his parents. They both enrolled at the University of Cape Town where Mimi obtained a B Music while Mduduzi obtained a Diploma in Jazz Diploma. Mduduzi also arranged songs for the UCT Big Band and got a chance to perform with the UCT Philharmonic Orchestra. He has graduated with a BA Honours from Wits University and is currently studying towards a Master’s Degree.
The Mtshali family including Maisha and Lihle
Mimi’s astonishing vocal abilities paved way for her and she found herself sharing the stage with artists Sibongile Khumalo, Judith Sephuma, Jimmy Dludlu, Themba Mkhize, Khadja Nin, Rita Marley, Joe McBride and Lauryn Hill. Mduduzi has shared the stage with the likes of Sibongile Khumalo, Selaelo Selota, Bheki Khoza, Themba Mkhize, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Richard Bona, Rahsaan Patterson and Phil Perry. “I was honoured to be part of Sibongile Khumalo’s band for 10 years as her pianist and musical director”, he said. He produced Sibongile’s last studio album “Breath of Life” which was released in 2016.
“Essence Of My Soul” is the title of Mimi’s debut album which was produced her husband. The album has songs such as “Uthando Luphelile”, “Africa Hlanganani/Unido” which is partly written in Portuguese and possess deep African sounds, as well as “Goodbye Loneliness” which still gets played regularly on many radio stations across the country. The album won the Best Jazz Album and was nominated for the Best Female and Best Newcomer at the Metro FM Awards in 2008.
Her second album titled “Your Love” was also produced by Mduduzi. They recorded the album while expecting their second child Maisha. Mimi’s loving husband brought a surprise guest, US saxophonist Kirk Whalum to the studio who played the horn on the title track. “It came as a complete surprise. I never expected this”, recalls Mimi. The recording also features Moreira Chonguica on “Siz’nqobile”, Pamela Myburgh on “Let your light shine”, Jankie Makopa on “Joko Ea Hao”. The album won the Best Female Jazz Award at the inaugural Mzantsi Jazz Awards in 2017.
Mimi’s second album titled “Your Love”
Her latest single “Thatha Konke” is very well received by her adoring fans. Mimi’s musical delivery and artistic excellence are an impressive combination that will grip any gathered crowd. “In my interactions with respected artists and musicians, I have garnered a comprehensive understanding of music and this always comes through in all my live performances”, she acknowledges. She was once a vocalist for the Standard Bank National Jazz band and a leader of a four-voice a cappella women’s group called Mamavox.
Some of the artists Mduduzi has worked with as a producer include Tshepo Tshola, Theo Kgosinkwe and Simphiwe Dana. He was part of the Live DVD that Sibongile Khumalo recorded at the SABC in 2007. He also worked with Sibongile Khumalo at the Shanghai Festival, China in 2010, Luanda Jazz Festival and the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival in 2011. “I also performed with her at the opening and closing ceremonies of the AFCON in 2013”, he said. The accomplished pianist is often seen on big stages playing assorted jazz-incredible selection of songs, classics from the repertoire of the most highly acclaimed pianists of the 20th century such as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.
With such a hectic schedule as professional musicians, how do they manage to perform multiple roles of committed husband and wife, father and mother? “It’s not easy and can be overwhelming at times. But it helps to have a very supportive and very involved partner like Mdu”, Mimi said. “I always try to manage my time and give them undivided attention whenever I can. It’s not easy to perform all these roles but I always do my best to be a husband to my wife and a father to my children”, Mduduzi added.
Masquenada – Mduduzi & Mimi Mtshali
The Mtshali family is very close and always makes time for precious moments. They spend a lot of time together at home and go on holidays as a from time to time. Mduduzi and Mimi are a very exemplary couple who remain committed to their parental responsibilities while they remain professional musicians. “We do almost everything together. Trials and tribulations will always be there, but love conquers all”, Mduduzi said. “We come from very grounded and loving families. We are always clear that it’s love that brought us together”, Mimi added.
The couple is not big on celebrating Valentine’s Day because according to them, everyday should be Valentine’s Day. They have an advice to those recently married couples in the music industry on how to remain happy in their marriages. “Every marriage is different but without putting God first, good communication, supporting each other in our dreams, giving total commitment, we wouldn’t be here”, Mimi advised. “Always plan things together and put your love first, stay committed to each other and never allow the music industry to determine how you should love each other. Integrity is everything”, Mduduzi showing the years of experience.
Mimi’s list of her current favourite artists include Letta Mbulu, Busi Mhlongo, Sibongile Khumalo, Anita Baker, Bobby McFerrin and Lalah Hathaway. Mduduzi says he can write an entire book about his favourite musicians. He appreciates every music genre even though jazz is his first love. His hobbies are soccer, gym and watching movies. Mimi enjoys cooking, movies, reading, jogging and taking long evening walks. Her Facebook Page is Mimi Mtshali. Follow her on Twitter @Mimi_Mtshali and @mimimtshali on Instagram. Mduduzi is also on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @Mduduzi_Mtshali and Mdumtshali1 on Instagram.