Singer Feli Nandi speaks on the pressure that made her a diamond
Singer and songwriter, Felistus “Feli Nandi” Chipendo landed in England for the Zimfest Festival 2022 this past Saturday.
This is a significant moment for an Artist whose career rose like a whirlwind from backing Asthon “Mbeu” Nyahora, of Mbeu and the Mhodzi tribe, before the 2020 lockdown to launching a solo career in the 2 years since. Within that time, she has compiled a band that complements her very well.
It’s her first trip overseas as a solo artist but indications are it won’t be the last. To celebrate this milestone moment, I reflected on an interview she did with Sublime Studios Africa YouTube channel during the lockdowns.
Felistus Chipendo is a unique artist with powerful voice and who composes honest lyrics that help women be in touch with their femininity. She doesn’t shy away from a sad love song.
Comedian Nigel “The Slick Pastor” Maritinyu explains: “It’s amazing. We are so excited for her and the great things she is achieving. Her large audience in the diaspora is a testament of how hard she has worked, how gifted she is and how far she can go. I am so excited for her.”
On a lighter note Nigel said: “Nandi is an amazing artist. I like her music though most of the songs are sad songs. There are people in the background stressing her. The day we find those people…” He leaves the threat hanging.
“She is a powerful vocalist. Great writer. Her words make you believe she lived the experiences. My favourite song is “Handidi nemashoko angu. l love the video. Of course, I will always answer back if provoked like that.” Nigel adds: “I am her biggest fan after Comik Pastor and her children.”
She has already added to the shona vocabulary by popularizing the phrase: ‘Handidi nemashoko angu.’ (Silence is golden).
Feli Nandi explains: “I am a positive person. I have found peace in letting things go and choose to keep quiet especially when dealing with family. It’s not worth it to commit to words because words are irreversible. As an orphan people hurt me with words. Whether I am angry or not I choose the peace route, to forgive and move on. Even when I want to say things (in relation).”
“I am a blessed girl with two handsome boys. My friends say: ‘You never get angry.’ But if you want to see me angry then touch my children. I make sure I am there for them. They want to cuddle. It’s a beautiful experience. I had them when I was really young.”
“I was a naughty child. My mum always said I started singing when I was 2 years old. Even in labour. Mum loved gazing at me singing in public when I was in the zone. I loved that look. She would make me sing at funerals and at church.”
“She was a single mum. She made sure we had everything. We had a good family. Form 1, I went to QE and joined the choir. I was made choir captain from Form 2 to Form 4. I lost my mother in a road traffic accident. She walked with me in the last hours before. Her words haunted me. She mentioned: ‘Don’t stop singing.’ I stopped singing because I would instinctively Search for mum in the crowd. I couldn’t stop singing, as abruptly, at school since I was the choir captain. But I would make the whole school cry with my singing. The journey stopped at 15 when mum died.”
“We had a girl group called ‘Queens of Echo’ at Queen Elizabeth. We had great harmony. Assembly was always full on Mondays and Fridays whenever we sang. We sang all the time. We lived and ate music. Everybody knew us.”
Feli is married and a mother of two boys. “I do Afro soul music. I love singing soul music and expressing my feelings in song. Everything I have written has happened to me. I am a terribly emotional writer. I pretty much write my life.”
“Nigel the Slick Pastor was an MC for Barnabas Marambire’s book launch and asked me to perform. Marambire reached out and asked me to perform at the book launch. ‘I would love a song inspired by my story. I will link you with Trevor Dongo and Macdonald Macdee Chidavaenzi will produce it.”
“Macdee called 2 days before the launch with a track. I only had a verse. We got into the studio and I sang my verse and they wrote their own. Everything was done in an hour and finished at 11pm. I left the studio at midnight.” It was fun to work with (one of Zim’s most sort after producers) MacDee on the hit song “Mufudzi we Mombe.” “Trevor didn’t make it feel like work. He jokes a lot. We laughed throughout the studio time. It was a fun, easy experienced.”
They still had to perform the song at the launch. The duo fumbled their way through it. “Trevor told me to do ad libs if I forgot my lines. We did exactly that and it came out nice.”
Prosper “Comik Pastor” Ngomashi says: “I met Nandi in 2018. My guys were saying they would shoot a cover of Steve Makoni’s song “Kana Usipo.” We listened to the song. I advised we re-do it. That’s how we started working together.”
Feli reflects: “A few years ago I got a call from Comic Pastor. He invited me to his studio. In 30 minutes I was there. I had never seen him before. I was star-struck. He had been following my work. He asked me to sing. There was Muzimba, Terry we Africa and Taurayi Mandebvu and he asked me to sing a cover song in front of them.
“I played my recording of Steve Makoni’s song from my phone. Comic asked me to own the song, make it more emotional. I did one take of “Kana Usipo” and that’s how the journey started. They became my official managers when I went solo.
“The experience has been amazing. We have a father and daughter relationship. We have a strict and irritating relationship. He is frank like that with all the associates.”
Comic responds: “When you need her, she is in the studio at 5 am or 8am. There is a gap for female musicians in our industry and our message to them is: ‘You can be successful as a female artist. That’s our passion.’ We want to see her on those big platforms.”
Feli says: “He has taught me a lot of things. I feel incredibly blessed to work with such people. Comic Pastor and Associates is a group of different artists including Studio Arts Pictures, Cyprian VFX, Alicious the Producer, Nigel the Slick pastor and others.”
Comic Pastor says: We are trying to give her all we can. We pray by God’s grace that she can go as far as she can.”
Zezuru from Studio Art Pictures says: “Nandi is one of most beautiful souls that I have worked with. She is hardworking and puts so much work into her music and career. She is going to make it onto the international scene.”
Feli describes the process: “After we record a song with Alicious the song goes to 15 other people who say what they think. There is no filtering if it is rubbish. Comic comes as the CEO and Director.”
“My first love song began with Alicious giving me a beat. I got the mood. I wrote the song. We called the associates for a listening. Comic said; ‘Let’s change it and make it slower.’ It became “Munhu wangu.” It’s very special for me because I had never written a love song before.”
“I love Nutty O, Soldier Love, Ex-Q, Gemma Griffiths.” Feli adds: “Musicians are different. I listen to everyone. I think everyone is a king and queen in his own space. My mum and my eldest brother were great Thomas Mapfumo fans, I love Oliver Mtukudzi, Chiwoniso and Steve Makoni.”
“Working with Mbeu and the Mhodzi Tribe was a life changing experience. They made me stand on a mic in a studio. My ability to write was discovered by Mbeu and his team. They taught me to be a stubborn girl in a boy band. I was one of the boys. It was a beautiful experience.
“Mbeu was on my side saying; “You can do it!” Every story has an end. I am sure we had our amazing time. I look back and I am very grateful I salute my mentor. I would not be here if it wasn’t for the boys. All of them. The whole team”
She remembers a collaboration with Batsirai Shasha an upcoming Afro Jazz Artist. Batsi’s mum had to come and say: “Guys tone it down.” The creative juices were flowing at loud volume. She is excited about the new generation. She feels she adds presence to her music by personalizing songs.
“The new generation is embracing that. I get into character, like an actor. Patricia one of the associates is also very emotional in her acting. She featured in my video ‘Mangoromera.’ She just cried in the video. Very touching.”
“I asked Steve Makoni for permission to sing “Kana Usipo.”
“He said: ‘I trust you to do a good job.’ He gave me permission to do it. What a legend he is. He paved the way for us upcoming artists. You seat down and listen to the songs for inspiration and you get direction. I am really grateful to Steve Makoni.
“I honor and celebrate him for making magic. My prayer is to meet hi one day, shake hands and tell him he is a legend. That was my first hit. I owe him that recognition.”
Overseas trips have helped Zimbabwean artists to invest in their music and careers with the proceeds when done wisely. The growing Zimbabwean diaspora is also happy to get an occasional taste of home.
Producer Clive Mono Mukundu commented: “She has a bright future. Overseas trips are an eye opener” he says reflecting on how exposure to international musicians can also be very helpful. “She has a very unique voice and stage presence. Success will depend on how she manages her career and if she can stick to Zimbabwean music.” Hopefully she can build on her first overseas’ trip.
Feli is a very intelligent person who has deliberately planned her career. She made steady progress despite challenges.
She is also a fashion designer. She has designed Ankara dresses that have been worn by Mokoomba band, Jah Prayzah and many other local artists. The colourful Ankara dresses are so popular they are threatening to become the much-desired Zimbabwean national dress. She also does backing vocals for Jah Prayzah from time to time.