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Friday, August 8, 2008

Jazz Diva By Night; Tow Truck Driver By Day

Cool story from South Africa's Daily Dispatch about an award-winning jazz singer who tow cars, too!

THE truck’s engine drowns out her voice as she shifts gears. She loses her cellphone signal and pulls over for the third time just so we can talk.

It’s just another day for award-winning Port Elizabeth jazz singer, Phinda Mtya. While her peers are running around shopping malls looking for outfits to wear for their next concert, Mtya spends the day in oily overalls towing broken-down cars.

She has been driving tow trucks on the streets of Johannesburg for the past eight years and enjoys it.

But on Saturday evening, the Tiki-Tiki star will swop the overalls for a stunning outfit when she performs at East London’s Orient Theatre.

The event, Divas Jazz Evening, which will celebrate Women’s Day, will also feature Oupa Makhubela, Mimmi and Linda.

It’s not often that one sees a woman behind the wheel of a tow truck, especially one that has performed in The Lion King and has recorded CDs.

“Actually, it’s my husband who has an interest in cars,” she says.

“We started a panel-beating business and our clients would have problems bringing their cars in. So we bought one tow truck and it ended up outperforming the actual business.

“Now we have both the panel-beating shop and the tow company. I drive the trucks when we don’t have a driver. L ike today, when there’s a strike, I’m very busy.”

It’s not unusual for her to get wisecracks from passersby when she’s driving the tow truck.

“I get a lot of eyes when I tow a car and some people even come up to me and say: ‘Ha! My sister, such a big truck? Do you have a driver with you?’ I just smile at them.”

She has to stop our telephone interview for a while as there are so many people stopping to greet her.

This is the attention Mtya has been getting since her song, Tiki-Tiki, announced her arrival in the music industry last year. Things have not always been this rosy. Mtya began singing at the Alabama Hotel in Port Elizabeth before touring with a band. In 1991, she moved to Johannesburg and worked with Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, who introduced her to her producer. Soon, she signed a record deal.

She recorded her first album, Into Yam, but it never saw the light of day.

“The company that I signed with was liquidated,” says Mtya.

“I was still very young, only 22. This was all happening within a year of being in Johannesburg.

“I could have moved the material somewhere else. Instead, I really got disappointed and stopped trying. When that didn’t work, I went back to doing what I knew best – singing backup and writing music for other musicians. ”

Things started changing when Lebo M, The Lion King co-producer, spotted Mtya performing in Johannesburg. She joined the cast of the hit musical and, as a result, was based in Canada for almost three years.

“That was the most humbling experience and it taught me many things about the industry,” Mtya says.

On her return to the country she joined Mahube, a collaboration of 12 of southern Africa’s finest musicians, including Oliver Mtukudzi, George Phiri, Suthukazi Arosi, Feya Faku and Andile Yenana, among others.

Her second album, Mbeka Phesheya, won a SA Music Award in 2006.

“When I heard my name I was zoned out and I don’t even remember what happened next,” she says.

Now this diva has her sights set on starting her own recording studio and launching a project to develop upcoming musicians in the Eastern Cape.

“It just goes to show, you can never judge a person by their job or by the clothes they wear,” she laughs.

l Divas Jazz Evening starts at 7.30pm and tickets are R80. They can be bought at Shoprite/Checkers outlets and at Computicket.


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