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It’s around 2pm on a warm and blustery Wednesday afternoon in Johannesburg. Seated directly in front of me, multi award-winning singer-songwriter Kelly Khumalo smiles from ear to ear. She’s been smiling, laughing and crying in turn during her interview with a few members of the local media since we arrived at Bryanston’s cosy Ukko restaurant an hour ago.
Her smile is warm, her laugh hearty and exuberant, and her tears flow easily when she speaks on spirituality, of which she speaks about a lot. After a lunch of delicious Mediterranean themed tapas and gin cocktails, Kelly is closing off her media junket with me as her final interview. Champagne glass in hand, she begins by regaling me with the story of how she cried when she was surprised with several gold and platinum plaques by her label, Universal Music on Sunday.
“I just couldn’t hold back. It was very genuine and I’m so glad Sipho [Universal Music South Africa’s managing director] was able to catch that moment,” she says. “Dude, whoa! Refiloe [the label’s director of Urban Music] kept saying to me there’s something I need to tell you, but it’s a surprise and I’m like, ‘what surprise?’. […] being the spiritualist that I am, I kept saying, ‘Platinum, more platinum’, [but] he’s not telling me, he’s downplaying it. Meanwhile, it’s exactly what I was feeling.”
This moment was captured on Kelly’s Instagram page.
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Released in 2020, Kelly’s most recent album, The Voice of Africa (TVOA), has been a mainstream juggernaut, spawning plaque after plaque after plaque. “I feel like I’m just getting started,” she says, and what a great start it’s been. Its success left Kelly feeling content. “More than anything, I thought what I got last year was enough, I’m not gonna lie. The other day I looked at my award at home and said, ‘Father, thank you’.”
After describing the makeup of the wall that runs parallel to her staircase at her home, Kelly says that last week she said to her children that she has more plaques to add to this wall hence it’s empty. “I said this not knowing what was about to happen,” she says. “I thought that more plaques were coming on the next album, but they’re coming on the very same album, and there’s like four of them which fill up the space.”
Not ‘a normal Joe’
I ask her about the secret to her explosion as a musician and a brand over the past few years and she tells me: “It’s the spiritual journey. You know when I got into the industry, God showed me how big it can be. Just a glimpse of how big it can be, but I wasn’t ready for it. Had it gotten this big then, it would have killed me. It was dangerous for me hence God said I showed her, let me wait for her to grow and realise who she is.”
It took realising that she is not “a normal Joe”, as she puts it, for her to channel the energy required to get here. Before, she knew she had a singing gift, she says, but it was along the way that she realised that she also had a spiritual gift. “I realised that I see things and they happen. I’d think it’s deja vu, but it’s not deja vu. I’ve always been a different child in the family, the black sheep of the family. That child who they’re like, ‘[…], there she goes again’, and then it happened that my aunt who raised me passed away, but I saw death before it happened. I went to visit and I looked at her and I called my mother and said prepare yourself, your sister’s going.”
Subliminally, Kelly said her goodbyes and the following evening, her aunt died. A few years later, the same thing happened again with another family member. She adds that she foresaw the fatal accident that killed and left several children permanently disabled by Jub Jub, the father to her first born son, Christian. “I hear thoughts, I sleep, I dream, I feel people’s purpose, I feel people’s energies, I touch people and things happen.”
This realisation has had a profound impact in her musical career. The quietness and solitude of lockdown in 2020 was a turning point for Kelly because there was no noise and she was able to figure things out. “You guys need to be aligned more and love God more, there’s beautiful things there. Thank God, I was not created to be jealous of anything or anyone. I celebrate with people who are winning because I know my things are there. It’s like a kettle and you plug it into the electricity circuit, but if it’s not plugged, it’s just a kettle with water – and anyone can get water from a tap, but you can’t make tea from it, you can’t cook, but if you want to be cooking, plug into the source of energy.”
Are you plugged in, I ask? “Me? […] I’m not plugged in, I’m installed,” she says. With this new energy, the music she’s making is on a different level she says. “TVOA was nice, it was successful, but now it’s going to be a movie and it scares me. I think what I’m probably trying to adjust to is accepting the reality of my higher self. I’ve been on the low for so long and I allowed the low to define me, but the low is not who I am. It was just a phase of finding a way to my higher self.”
Kelly Khumalo and friends
It goes without saying that there’s a lot of public noise and scrutiny around Kelly. The first time we met for an interview, some two months ago, it was the eve of the premiere of the new Netflix documentary series titled Senzo: The Murder of a Soccer Star.
The documentary is centred on unpacking the tragic and controversial murder of Kelly’s former partner Senzo Meyiwa. On that particular afternoon, I attempted to ask what she thought about all the public scrutiny around her alleged involvement and her thoughts on the ongoing trial.
“This right now is my platform that I’ve spent 18 years of hard work building so that I can sit here and have a conversation with you, therefore I will not glorify any negative noise by putting it on my platform.” She has publicly stood by that stance and kept mum on the matter.
On Saturday, Kelly hosted her own show, ‘Kelly Khumalo and Friends,’ at Meriting Events Venue in Vanderbijlpark. Lately, she says she has been feeling like she’s reached a ceiling where promoters can no longer afford her, so she’s now focusing on hosting her own shows.
“This month alone I don’t know how many shows I’ve turned down,” she says. In preparation for her shows, Kelly is strict about abstaining from sexual activities, as she puts it, and has cut off alcohol. She says she’s found that the sexual abstinence is particularly rewarding because when she does eventually have sex the deep spiritual connection with her partner results in an otherworldly experience. “Let me tell you, when it’s spiritual and when you finally have it, […] it’s a different level. I’ll be like, ‘Father is this even possible’’”.
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