Empowering South African poet and musical artist Busiswa Gqulu is known for her wit and eloquence, as well as her unbreakable spirit - and the recent collaboration with Beyoncé on her curated collection album “The Lion King - The Gift”. In this interview, our very first artist of the week and all-time favorite shows why she represents the uprising generation of strong and unapologetic black women.
What is music to you?
Music, to me, is a form of expression, right now it's my livelihood, it's where I get to live out my dreams.
Why is music your passion?
Music is my passion because I can be the best version of myself when I am involved in making music.
What do poetry and music have in common for you?
Poetry and music are pretty much the same things to me, I am my best self, I get to express myself, I learn to articulate my feelings so that I can let my emotions out. Poetry and music are both outlets for me.
What can music do better than poetry?
The melodies and beats can connect anybody across the world, any race, creed, age, gender, whoever you are, you can like the same song. Whereas poetry is a little bit tricky because of the language barrier.
How would you describe Kwaito to someone who has never heard of it?
I would describe Kwaito as a mid-tempo, sound, born in the townships of South African the nineties among the ghetto youth culture. It's edgy and rough, yet it's melodic, one can say it's protest music but also party music, it's the voice of the youth from a time of struggle in South Africa and therefore it's something that influences the youth up until today.
Working with Beyoncé - a dream come true.
Which female artists have inspired and influenced you the most?
Female musicians which have inspired and influenced me the most is local musician Thandiswa Moswai, she is the first woman I watched who was really into Kwaito but she was also into Afro-pop, she was doing it looking Xhosa, sounding cool but still being brilliant and amazing vocally and technically and lyrically. Internationally, of course, Beyoncé, because she is constantly pushing herself and reaching new levels of excellence within her artistry and I aspire to the levels that she operates on.
You have worked with such great artists as Beyoncé, was this a dream collaboration for you?
Yes, working with Beyoncé was definitely a dream come true, it's something that every artist wants but I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. I get very emotional when I think about it because I realize that anything is possible and my dreams have become much greater and more unlimited.
What are the biggest challenges in your everyday life?
As a single mother, finding the balance between being a good mother and being a great artist is one of the biggest challenges in my everyday life. I would like to be good at both.
How do you feel about gender and cultural relations in your working environment?
My working environment is a male dominated industry, you have to fight all the time, draw boundaries, you have to claim your space constantly otherwise you will be buried. And I think that is why it's a male dominated industry because females tend to shy away from being the fighters, being savage about who you are, what you stand for and the things you will not tolerate, it's hard but somebody has to do it.
"Women are made to feel like there can only be one successful woman at a time - when we move away from that, we will know that equality is closer."
What is Equality Empowerment for you?
Equality empowerment is when you get to a place where men and women are treated the same. In the music industry, for example, that would be when women make it and they are not compared to each other, like men aren't. I think then we'll be a little bit more empowered. When record labels are run by women, we'll be a little bit more empowered. Because, at the end of the day, you know - women, when they are strong, empower whole communities. When men are strong, it's just business as usual. So I think when women are at the executive positions just like men are; when they are headlining and getting paid just like men are - I mean, when a woman headlines and a man headlines... the disparity in pay is different. An artist who is a male doesn't get paid like the top female artist. And the way that women treated and are compared to each other and made to feel like there can only be one successful woman at a time - when we move away from that, we will know that equality is closer.
Why is it important to stand up for equal rights? Do artists have a special responsibility for this?
It's because when women are empowered, they tend to empower other young women and girls. In a male-dominated industry, we need more women - and we need more women who do it for the community, and the for the purpose of upliftment, rather than just for money.
"The more women make it in the industry, the more young girls will believe that it's possible."
Why are women relevant in music?
Women are relevant in music because we add a voice that otherwise wouldn't be there if we were not present in music. There are even very few women engineers, producers, and people behind the scenes - mixers, people who do especially the technical side of music. If there were more women that would encourage other young women to do it. You don't have to be that glam, you don't have to be the front, you don't have to be that red carpet queen! You know, there are so many other things that you can do in music. And the more women make it in the industry, the more young girls will believe that it's possible.
How would you say that race and gender affects people in the music industry?
It affects people just as in any other industry. You know, being black is tough - being a black woman is tough. The amounts we are paid, white artists vs. black artists... even in [South Africa], you know. Female artists vs. male artists: the men get paid more, they get more respect. And also, this age-old tradition that if you say what you want as a woman, you're seen as a diva. But if you say what you want as a man, you're seen as a boss. So hopefully one day, you know, being a black woman, it can be okay to be a boss. I think as soon as that changes in the music industry, many other young black women will enter into the industry and know that it's okay to be the boss. Similar to what Beyoncé has been able to build for herself and her own company. You know, she's been able to teach people how to treat her, and it's important that other young people see that it's possible to be a boss - and not have to apologize for knowing what you want.
'"If you say what you want as a woman, you're seen as a diva. But if you say what you want as a man, you're seen as a boss."
Do you think there will be a time where there is rational, cultural and gender equality?
Yes, I do believe there will be a time when there will be equality. Over the years, people have realized that inequality is actually hurting us more rather than building us.