Proud South African born and raised Zulu singer-songwriter, Nathi Gcabashe witnessed his father’s gruesome murder at age 9. His dad was assassinated during the political unrest leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. As a young adult, he lost his beloved sister to an AIDS-related illness and true to the saying “death comes in threes,” Nathi also had to bury his mother. Through all the pain and loss, music has been his salvation.
These days, the Orlando, Florida-based artist is a Grammy-nominated songwriter who spreads a message of hope and unity globally with his solo material. Now, he releases his highly anticipated studio album—his first US official release—Strength, out June 16, 2020 on Goin’ Native® Records. A companion documentary called The Voice of Strength will be released in conjunction with the album and will feature commentary from the late legendary Hugh Masekela, Bakithi Kumalo, and Vusi Mahlasela, among others.
The album’s release date, June 16, 2020 is significant because it is known as “Youth Day” in South Africa. This date commemorates the Soweto Uprising where thousands of students were ambushed, injured, and killed by the police serving under the apartheid regime in 1976.
“I wanted to release an album with a positive message of unity, self-awareness, and self-development,” Nathi shares. “The title of the album was inspired by the realization that with strength nothing can take you down. Strength in numbers is what we need to deal with the pain and unrest the world is feeling right now.”
Nathi was born in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. He first became enamored with music when he was just 5 years of age, and he would watch the gospel group his mother managed and rehearsed every Saturday. The glorious voices, the warm spirituality, and the songs of devotion penetrated his soul. After experiencing his father’s senseless murder firsthand, music became a healthy escape from the graphic nature of the killing and the pain of the loss. From then on, Nathi pursued music with a singular passion, and eventually became a prominent fixture in the South African music scene. To date, he has performed with South Africa’s best and internationally recognized world music legends.
His music is an exhilarating blend of traditional and contemporary Afropop and World Music that speaks to the soul through his heartfelt lyrics. In 2006, Nathi released his debut album, Soze, on the world-renowned Hugh Masekela’s label Chissa Records. Hugh would later cover Nathi’s hit single, “Makoti,”on his album Jabulani, which was nominated for the 2013 Grammy Award for “Best World Music,” earning Nathi a Grammy nomination as a songwriter.
Nathi has performed internationally at some of the world’s most recognized festivals and ceremonies, including the 2006 Soccer World Cup Celebration in Germany; 2010 Soccer World Cup Celebration in South Africa; South Africa’s 10th Year of Freedom Celebration with Miriam Makeba; Montego Bay Jazz Festival; and Trinidad’s Emancipation Festival with Lebo M. In 2008, he was billed as part of the performing artists lineup of the U.S. Tour with Hugh Masekela and The Chissa All-Stars, which featured performances in 30 U.S. cities, sharing the stage with Jill Scott, Billy Ocean, Diana Ross, and Gospel Duo Mary Mary.
In addition to his work as a vocalist and songwriter, Nathi has been featured in multiple other projects and collaborations over the past few years. He has performed in a number of musical theatre productions, including Africa Child U Can at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, Beauty in Our Diversity at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre, and Diamonds and Dust at the Johannesburg’s Barnyard Theatre. Nathi has also worked with the best talents in theatre, TV, and movies for the Walt Disney World Resort special event "Harambe Nights" as part of the theatre production called "The Lion King - Concert in The Wild.” These epic performances featured such icons as Viola Davis, Joe Morton, Alfre Woodard, Michael Beach, Harry Lennix, and David Alan Grier.
For the past decade, Nathi has had the distinction of appearing on the daily operation schedule of Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Harambe Village. There, under the auspices of IBA Music®, he has performed in the Wassalou Band, which appeared as Burudika Band where Nathi contributed his talents as lead singer and songwriter to their world-renowned performances. Nathi’s work as a writer and music producer has also been featured on South Africa’s Sesame Street television series, and in jingles for South African local and national radio stations.
Nathi wrote, arranged, and produced Strength. The 11-song album is a richly textured world-pop release, brimming with lilting acoustic grooves, soothing melodies, sweetly soulful vocals, dreamy harmonies, and purposeful and positive messaging. On the album’s first single, “We All The Same,” Nathi tucks poignant political and social commentary into an irresistible dose of lushly textured acoustic Afropop. “The feeling here is that all human beings are the same. What divides us is the fact that we grow up in different environments, religions, and cultures, but at our core, we are spiritual beings going through human life experiences,” Nathi shares. Here, his lyrics manage to be both direct and mystical, he sings: Never mind the color of your skin/It’s actually a privilege, not an excuse to be judgmental, yeah/Kudala thina besicwasa/Besibiza lokhu nalokhu/But we refused to go down/My duty is not to discriminate/But more to conscientise reminding you that, yes/We all the same.
Among other tracks, the catchy world-pop of “uNomalanga” takes us on a heroine’s journey tale of a young girl who, after many years, returns as a woman and is welcomed back to her village with love and support. Nathi explores R&B territory with “Impossible” which boasts horns, a sleek hook and an intriguing narrative about love, trust and ultimately, betrayal. The breezy “Childhood” is a nostalgic and evocative mid-tempo track that snapshots the breathtaking legendary African Great Plains, the beautiful mountains and river valleys, and the warmth and beauty of an African upbringing. The powerful “Webakithi” pays homage to Nathi’s father who was assassinated during the political unrest leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela. The track is a stirring acapella performance featuring gorgeous vocal harmony overlays.
Strength and music are what have helped Nathi heal through many losses. Through opening his heart, and being boldly vulnerable, he has become an acclaimed international artist. Strength is a culmination of a triumphant journey in love and positivity.