In today’s episode of Your Ears Are About to Thank Us, we introduce you to independent, African-Australian R&B singer/songwriter, Ms. Thandi. Raised on a steady diet of soul, the true talent made her grand entrance onto Australia’s music scene with her debut single ‘On the Table’ in 2019 and has followed it up with other similarly nostalgic and groove-inducing songs like ‘HUNNY’ and ‘The Eyes’.
Ms. Thandi’s music is characterised by heart-on-sleeve lyrics and syrupy smooth vocals that bounce atop slick bass lines, funky jazz guitars, and shimmering keys, with whispers of old-school R&B heroes like Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Erykah Badu imbued throughout. Made for all occasions—from pyjama-clad dances around your bedroom to upping the vibes of your next candle-lit dinners by a million—her music has one underlying mission: to make people, including herself, feel good.
A ‘reach for the stars, land on the moon’ kind of person, no dream is too big for Ms Thandi. We chat with the true talent about the need for accountability and humility, keeping the joy alive through creativity and her hopes for a world led by love and not fear.
Where do you live now and where do you consider home?
I’ve lived in Sydney my whole life, and in the Inner West for most of it. I really do call Sydney home. It has everything I love in it. For now, anyway.
How do you think your upbringing helped to shape your worldview?
I’ve grown up with a really loving family. They’ve always encouraged me to put my heart into everything I do and to work hard to make things happen; to fight for what I believe to be right. Through everything, my parents have really instilled in me the power of forgiveness and living with a heart full of love. They’ve also given me my passion for people and justice, which is why I’m doing my degree in Social Work.
What music did you grow up listening to? Has that changed?
I grew up listening to a lot of old soul music, African music, old school R&B, jazz, reggae… but mostly soul! I definitely always go back to soul, but these days I’m heavy on more modern stuff as well. I love the new waves of alternative R&B and hip-hop. But tbvh, I’m always that person at the party who doesn’t know a lot of what the DJ plays. Embarrassing. I’m an old soul at heart, what can I say?
If you could only listen to one genre of music for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I guess I’d have to say soul, thanks to my upbringing. Plus, soul music is a huge umbrella—there are so many sub-genres to delve into. I’d have variety for decades.
In your opinion, who is the most important voice of our generation?
I think each and every one of us holds an important voice. I think this era is about rejecting celebrity status and the idolising of people, and more about taking responsibility for our own selves. We are all deeply flawed and to hold one person (or group of people) responsible for dictating morality is old news. I think our growing collective consciousness and lack of faith in governments highlights that. Holding ourselves accountable and learning from each other with humility, particularly learning from those that are most vulnerable, is the most important in my opinion.
What’s your creative process like?
I have a pretty spontaneous creative process. I get inspired by my connections with people in my life and am always writing random notes in my phone of one-liner ideas I have. In a session, I’ll come up with some melodies and either dive through my notes to find some feeling that suits the music that I can work off, or I’ll come up with something totally new. I have a short attention span so when I’m working by myself I don’t like to work on one thing for too long, but will jump between different projects. I like to keep it chaotic. The visual side of music is so integral to me so I often start dreaming up ideas for music videos when I start writing a song. I’m a big believer in dreaming big—bigger than what you think you can conceive, and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Reach for the stars, land on the moon, that kinda thing. At the end of the day, music and art is the greatest joy in my life so I try to keep it fun and energetic.
What subjects or themes do you find yourself returning to in your music, and why do you think this is?
My favourite thing to write is all types of love songs. As I mentioned, I’m very inspired by the soul music era, the essence of which has carried into R&B. What I love most about that era of music is the bleeding heart desire, the honest pining for, and confession of, love in the lyrics. It was simple and succinct but just so feel-good. Like doesn’t everyone want to be in a 90s R&B type love! The best. So yeah, I just love to desire and to be desired. Writing love songs makes me feel gooood. And free.
Do you create music with your audience in mind?
Not really. I feel like my writing doesn’t flow when I try to do that. I write music to make me feel good and it’s my hope that it has the same impact for my listeners. I just try to keep it authentically me.
When do you feel most ‘you’?
When I’m with the people I love, when I’m spending time in nature, and when I’m immersed in music, whether that’s listening, playing or creating.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I think to just always be true to myself, to never compromise my values just because of what’s going on around me. To honour what I know to be true in my heart, and to trust that when I do that, I’ll have the right people around me and I’ll lead the life meant for me. And that’s on trusting your truth! I thank my parents for teaching me to embrace my individuality.
What’s the coolest or most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
What I’m about to tell you will upset you because you’ll never be able to un-know it BUT apparently your brain automatically knows what it would feel like to lick anything.
What books are you reading at the moment?
Truthfully while I LOVE reading, I really don’t do it enough. There’s one book I’ve been reading for a minute now is called Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. It’s one of those books that you pick up when you need it. Super inspiring for women seeking to heal and become their greatest versions. I highly recommend it.
The last book I read that blew my mind was Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a novel set in the time of the Nigerian Civil War. Simply incredible.
I love Sister Act 2.
‘Appletree’ by Erykah Badu till the day I die!!! I first heard it when I was in primary school and I always say this song (and the album Baduizm) gave birth to me creatively and as a free-spirited human.
Are there any social or cultural shifts you hope will happen in the next 10 years?
I hope to see an end to the prison and criminal justice system as we know it. I think it’s the most inhumane thing humans have created. I hope to see an Australia where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices are fore-fronted, and where us non-Indigenous folk respect the original custodians en masse and in practice. I hope to see a creative industry that is truly diverse, both at the forefront and behind the scenes. I hope for many more things but mostly a world led by love and not fear.