Following her tragic and untimely death last week, we re-publish a 2003 interview with the talented South African R&B Diva Tsakani Mhinga, better known as the fabulous TK.
TK is a woman that makes an impact. With the voice of an angel, she is stunning, sexy and has a presence about her that hits you like a ton of bricks. Graceful one moment, energetic the next and always alluring. With the recent release of Black Butterfly she unquestionably continues to occupy South Africa’s R&B throne. We pop into Moyo at Melrose Arch for the photo shoot before retreating to a nearby bookstore cafÃ© for the interview.
TK, a 25-year-old single mother, grew up in Soweto as Tsakani Mhinga. Her father is Chief of the baTsonga tribe, making her tribal royalty. “Yes, but it doesn’t really mean anything’ says TK or her status as ‘princess’, “There are no perks.”
Her family was initially unhappy about her following a career in music. “My father was very against it. It was the whole ‘No child of mine is going to be a singer’ attitude.” TK eventually ‘came out’ by recording her first album behind her father’s back. This was TKO.
The first album seems to have been a struggle for TK. In the cover of TKO she wrote, ‘I am holding my breath whilst writing my thank yous’. I ask her why. “I think firstly because I was not doing the vernacular, kwaito or Afro-pop thing and I was criticized and ridiculed. And I’m still fighting.”
Of her debut single off the TKO album, Mind Yo’ Business, TK once said that it teaches young girls to throw away the fairytale books because there is no prince charming. I ask her about this cynical approach and enquire if she still has such a pragmatic outlook on life? “I still do! There is no prince charming – he just does not exist. So the sooner we get that the better. I’m not looking. I’m a single mom. The father of my child just up and left me!”
And so in lies the reality of one of the recent traumas that TK has had to endure. But it was certainly not the first. The singer has also had her fair share of legal battles and contractual wrangling. The first surrounded the similar sounding names of TK and the kwaito group TKZee. The second occurred when TK was offered a seven album recording deal in the UK, only to have it revoked after threats from the local company that had produced the debut album. “I wanted to quit so many times. I never thought I’d bounce back. So the second album, Tsakani – which means ‘to be happy’ and is my real name – was like, Okay cool, they may have taken this (seven album deal) away from me, but it does not mean that I am going to stop singing.”
It is in strikingly strong contrast then that the beautiful singer has chosen to write a considerably more upbeat message on her latest album cover for Black Butterfly. An enthusiastic TK writes that the “past two years have been life changing”.
TK attributes much of these changes to her son Oratile. “You change when you have a child – everything about you. It’s not even something you think about – it just happens. In a very good, positive way.”
“People are still talking about me, so I must be doing something right!”
On the new album she covers a variety of styles from upbeat Hip-hop to R&B ballads, but which most embodies TK? “I’d say the ballads more. But Black Butterfly is a good summation of who I am today. It’s all the different colours and moods that you go through.”
Black Butterfly is the title track of the new album, and was remarkably written and recorded in a single day. On the track TK sounds remarkably like Mariah Carey – good Mariah Carey, mind you – but I ask her to comment on this similarity. “I think it’s great, personally. She is one of the people who inspired me to get into the game and the plan was to make music that appeals to the world. If people are comparing me to a person who was it for an entire decade then I’m doing something right!”
Black Butterfly is a celebration of life and showcases the abundant music styles that TK excels in. If you don’t get goose bumps when listening to TK’s remarkable rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow then you’re probably not human. I ask her why she chose this time-honoured classic. “It was the very first song that I ever performed – ever! I was in standard 5. There was a choir competition and (Somewhere over the Rainbow) was the solo. I thought I was really good, but I lost the competition,” she says with a laugh. About her rendition TK enthuses, “It’s a beautiful song and I was very scared to do it because it is an old classic. You don’t want to be known as the person who tried to sing Somewhere over the Rainbow and messed it up!”
TK had the image of a butterfly tattooed on her arm in celebration of the new album. She says it was the record company boss’ idea. “I made him phone my mother and ask her permission. She was fine with it. I’m very happy with it… I think it’s beautiful.”
Does being a celebrity affect her private life? Her answer is clear. “It doesn’t!” she says, “I draw clear lines. There is TK, the performer and Tsakani who is an everyday person and mother. You can drive yourself crazy if you don’t mark the boundaries. Especially when people write negative stuff about you. They are talking about TK – not me.”
On a lighter note, I ask about her guest appearance on the controversial adult variety show Below the Belt hosted by the Baroness. “I had so much fun on that interview!” she says with trademark enthusiasm. “People remember that interview the most – including my priest! I was trying to baptise my child and I had to go to the priest to make the appointment. And he was looking at me and he said, ‘I know you from somewhere’. I said, ‘Of course you know me. I come to the church.’ He said, ‘No, no, I’ve seen you on TV. You were on that show on SABC 3 with that man/woman/person.’ And I thought, ‘Father what are you watching?’ I was so embarrassed!” she giggles.
TK seems aware of her gay following and is grateful to be appreciated by this powerful market. “A lot of gay people have come up to me and said that they love my music. I think the music is fun and very cheeky and I think they like that.”
I ask her if, hypothetically, she was to pursue a lesbian relationship with a woman – and she could get to choose any woman in the world – whom would she choose? “Oh, wow! That’s an interesting question.” After much thought, TK decides. “Alyssa Milano, the chick from Charmed. She is beautiful for one. Two, she looks like she is a lot of fun.”
Just then TK gasps and tries to hide behind my sheet of questions. “You won’t believe who has just walked in!” she whispers in her softest voice. I look around and notice that Nick Nolte, who is in Johannesburg shooting a new movie, has just entered the store.
It makes a perfect opening to my next question – has she ever considered acting? “Yes, of course I would love to. In fact I almost did. I went for auditions for the pantomime; Sleeping Beauty and I actually got the part, except for the fact that I was pregnant at the time so I couldn’t do it!”
So what is TK’s focus now? As the expression goes, where to from here? “The sky is the limit. I want to get my music heard by as many people in the world as possible. Just taking everything step by step. The one thing that the UK deal taught me was – don’t count your chickens before they hatch!”
As my final question, I ask TK if she considers herself to be a Diva. “I’m not quite sure what Diva means! It’s just that it’s been thrown around so much and I’m certa