Nandi Madida is making it in Africa on her own terms
The TV host talks about the dangers celebs face by constantly trying to stay in the spotlight and the #MeToo movement that's brewing in SA's entertainment industry
Nandi Madida is big on ownership. And yes, she bought her son a piece of land for his first birthday, but it's ownership that goes beyond the material or physical.
Madida believes in owning your narrative, your career, your image and your path as much as possible. That's how she's approached her multidisciplinary career over the past few years.
Take the BET reality series Made in Africa, for instance. She is the fashion reality show's host, but she is also its executive producer. That last little fact is part of why she said yes to the project.
"I was offered other similar fashion reality shows. But the main difference was that because I'm at the stage that I am - being a mom - it's not enough for me to be a host. I've been hosting since I was 15, so there had to be some kind of change. Unless it was me hosting abroad, but if it's local and it's something I've done ... it has to be more than [hosting]. I said if I can be executive producer then cool, I'll be on board."
Her path, she says, is "all about growing in an intense manner".
It's a surprisingly sunny Monday morning in the middle of winter. Madida is draped across a plush couch in the restaurant of a posh northern Joburg hotel. Her trench coat is off, she's rocking a crop top, three-quarter pants and a wide-brimmed hat. The sun is intense, yet there is a slight chill in the air, so an outfit that might sound counterintuitive (a crop and a trench?) is actually rather fitting for the confused Joburg weather.
The first thing we do, upon meeting, is bond over our shameful manicures (my gelish is horribly chipped, some of her tips are missing). As someone used to being on both ends of an interview, she relaxes almost as soon as we meet. Big hug, bigger smile, boisterous, chatty - the best kind of interviewee.
Madida prefers being in the driving seat of projects she is involved in, rather than being the passenger on someone else's bus.
You just wanna make sure you're secure because depending on someone is very scaryNandi Madida
"That's because of motherhood. You just wanna make sure you're secure because depending on someone is very scary. As much as you can - of course you can't be completely independent but it's ideal - that's the reason for these side projects. Just to ensure that my kids are fine."
Madida is an interesting paradox: she's pretty famous and has been for years (she started TV presenting aged 15 and is now 30), but she's also low-key (as low-key as someone with 1.4 million Instagram followers can be). Occasionally she and her husband, award-winning musician Zakes Bantwini, will be in the tabloids or some gossip blog, but generally when Madida (nee Mngoma) is in the public eye, it's because of her work. She doesn't care about hype.
NOT ALWAYS THE TALK OF THE TOWN
"If you position yourself in hype, you put yourself under pressure to constantly maintain that hype. You're doing [things] to be out there, to make noise, so you start indirectly compromising yourself. Because naturally you're not always going to be the talk of the town. It needs to happen organically, where you are doing amazing things and people talk about you ... Where you're still working but you're not necessarily the buzz of the moment. A lot of people in the industry feel like you need to be in people's faces constantly," she says.
"That's why I love Sade. She drops [an album] every 100 years. But somehow we all can't wait until she drops, because she's created that for her career. And that's the career I'd love, where when there is something I'm doing, people are excited. But I don't have to be in their faces constantly. It also gives you a sense of loyalty, so you know who your people are. Instead of having a frivolous crowd that is more into the hype, and the minute it's not working, they all go away."
Another woman whose enigma she is fascinated by is Project Runway SA judge Noni Gasa.
"She'll go to Mars for a good 10 years and come back and people are still as excited that she's back. It just shows, in terms of her fan base, how loyal they are to her. There's something to learn from people like that and I respect people like that a lot, where, no matter what, they have connected with their people in a deep and meaningful way."
Madida also points out that no one is irreplaceable, and she remembers that in order to keep her ego in check. There are still No 1 hits and records being broken even after Michael Jackson's death, for instance. "Life just goes. It's a train."
One of the things she loves about Made in Africa is working with young designers, but she also loves that the show is about the continent and its creativity.
"I hope it's not a fad, [but] there's a sense of this rise, once again, where everyone's looking to the continent in terms of fashion. With music, people still want to appropriate more than use us as artists. And we still don't have - I don't care what anyone says - an African superstar, who can chart alongside Bruno Mars ... Our sound is big and being used, but there's no star that's coming out of that from a commercial perspective."
'THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS SOCIAL FREEDOM'
The conversation shifts to SA's sociopolitics.
"We're in a state where black people are still frustrated ... So you're free but you're not fully free. You're not free where it really matters. Are you economically free? No. We're not even politically free, because I think of political freedom as a state where the interests of the people come first. And there's no such thing as social freedom, especially for a young black female.
We're in a state where black people are still frustratedNandi Madida on SA's sociopolitics
"There's an SA narrative that worries me, which is 'by luck' ... There's a lot of people who come out of poverty by luck. That's a problem ... My case is also by luck where I had a father who came from extreme poverty and a mother from rural KZN. But because they were so focused and driven I got to live a better life. By just luck I was born into a family that had us in a great environment where we could have quite a lot 'for a black family'. That that's a rare case is a problem to me."
Madida is a woman of many talents: in addition to TV hosting and producing, she is a singer (she's working on new music), an actor and a fashion designer (her label, Colour, has shown at New York Fashion Week) and will branch into decor in future.
Why restrict your creativity, she asks? "If you want to restrict yourself to one thing, that's fine. But don't do so because of society. You can't live for society, or it will be an injustice to all of your passions."
Having been in the industry for half her life, Madida knows its good and shady parts. The SA entertainment industry needs its own #MeToo movement (though judging by stories that have slowly been coming out, that is happening).
"A lot of these male execs are using their positions of power to subject women to doing things they wouldn't want to do or shouldn't have to do. I've been very fortunate because I've never had to do such, but I have actually seen cases where it's almost like 'the reason you will not get this job is because, Honey, you have principles'. And I say that without judgment, do what you have to do. But I guarantee you if more women knew they could get successful from their sheer hard work, they would not want to go through something like that."
Referencing the fall of a man as powerful as Harvey Weinstein, Madida says she's waiting for the same to happen here, although she cannot be the one to start it because there are stories that aren't hers to tell.
There's something Madida says in the middle of our interview that seems to be her ethos, at least to someone from the outside looking in. It's important to remember that there is often a team that helps you succeed and a machine that backs you.
But also "it's important to remain independent of that machine, whoever you are. You need to make sure that you are also succeeding on your terms and by yourself."