Mothers In Jazz (67): Spha Mdlalose

Spha Mdlalose, the latest artist to be featured in the Mothers in Jazz (*) series, is a South African singer and songwriter. A graduate of the University of Cape Town’s College of Music, she has been steadily making her mark in the music industry collaborating with musicians including Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Oliver Mtukudzi. In 2020, Spha’s debut album “Indlel’eyekhaya” received 3 SAMA (South African Music Awards) nominations, including Best Jazz Album and Newcomer of the Year. The album also won two Mzantsi Jazz Awards. Performance highlights include the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Josh Groban’s ‘Straight to You’ Tour, the Oslo Jazz Festival, and joining Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for their “South African Songbook” performance at the 2019 Joy of Jazz Festival. Spha lives in Johannesburg with her two children, five year-old Zanokuhle and five month-old Mihle.

Spha Mdlalose. Photo credit Andile Phewa

London Jazz News: What is the best advice you received about balancing/juggling motherhood and career?

Spha Mdlalose: Oh Lord. I think 4 things – 1) It’s a constant struggle, so be kind to yourself.  2) There is a season for everything. There will be times when you can fully concentrate on your career and there will be times when you’re pouring more energy into being a mom. What I’m constantly reminding myself is, to be present in all the seasons. 3) It’s okay to ask for help. 4) Make time for self care!

LJN: What information or advice do you wish you’d received but didn’t (and had to learn through trial and error or on the go)?

SM: This is a personal one, but nobody told me how hard breastfeeding would be and that sometimes you don’t have milk. It was the most shocking thing to have my son and have little to no milk supply – I was so confused. It made me feel so guilty that I couldn’t give him that. It also made me feel like my story was incomplete (because breastfeeding is such an important part of the child birth story). I wish someone had told me how normal this is and that I wasn’t a bad mother for feeding my baby formula.

LJN: Your top tip(s) for other mothers in jazz:

SM: I’ve enjoyed bringing Zano to gigs, just so that he can see what mommy does. Sometimes if we’re rehearsing at the house, he sits in. So my advice is, bring them (the kids) into your world. The exposure to live music, to your work, to instruments – it’s all making such an incredible impact on them.

LJN: Baby/child gear tips for travel/touring/gigging:

SM: I haven’t embarked on this yet but I would love to get to a point where I’m traveling with the kids on tour.

LJN: Best general travel/gigging/tour-with-child advice:

SM: Bring snacks!! I think I’ve also been intentional about bringing little activities that we can do on the road. Now that Zano is learning how to read, it’s been helpful to bring some books when we’re traveling.

LJN: What has surprised you about becoming a parent and remaining engaged with your professional activities and ambitions?

SM: I don’t think much has surprised me because I’ve had two kids and in a lot of ways, I learnt many of the hard lessons when I had my son. My general experience is that having children has made me more ambitious. I feel like I owe it to them to make a success of my career- whatever that looks like. Now that I’ve had my daughter, this feeling has almost intensified.

LJN: What boundaries have you set for yourself as a mother in jazz (could be related to travel/touring, riders, personal parameters, child care decisions, etc.)?

SM: I’ve just had a baby girl  and so the biggest boundary has been with my time just because I can’t (and don’t want to be) away from her for too long. So in this period, I haven’t been traveling for long stints of time or taking work that requires a lot of me from an energy perspective too. I also feel like as I’ve gotten older, I am so comfortable to say no to some work if I don’t feel like it’s beneficial to me. I’m no longer interested in taking everything that’s on offer so I can look ‘busy’.

(*) NOTE: “Mothers In Jazz” is a series started by vocalist Nicky Schrire. The initiative aims to create an online resource for working jazz musicians with children, those contemplating parenthood, and jazz industry figures who work with and hire musicians who are parents. The insight of the musicians interviewed for this series provides valuable emotional, philosophical and logistical information and support that is easily accessible to all. “Mothers In Jazz” shines a light on the very specific role of being both a mother and a performing jazz musician.

LINKS: Artist website
The complete archive of Nicky Schrire’s Mothers in Jazz series

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