Walking past the graffiti-covered walls and broken windows to the Randlords building in Braamfontein, I’m accompanied by a cool youngin’ who looks fresh out of the late 90s. She rocked up in a beige trench coat, skinny jeans and Ray Bans, complimented with black lipstick, box braids and a duffle bag.
“I’m an awkward person… Please don’t do this,” she giggles after I said her shades are the sh*t.
Thandi Ntshinga – better known to her fans as Amara Fleur – is a singer and songwriter who is originally from Umtata but currently resides in Johannesburg. Actually, she just landed from New Zealand earlier this year and recently settled in Pretoria. She’s still getting a hang of things around here and sometimes feels out of place.
“Everything feels so new now. I feel like I was never born here. Everyone has grown and things have changed so quick,” she says while flicking her hair.
“I don’t know anyone, I’m not even lying to you. I just get here and I look like a f**cken tourist, it’s irritating at times.”
In the music business, not knowing anyone can be a disadvantage. She doesn’t let it become an obstacle though; she goes out of her way to find people she can link with and create music with who are based locally.
“I’ve been heavy on my SoundCloud expedition. There is quite a few producers from different parts of the world who have also shown interest,” explains Amara.
She recently collaborated with a Netherlands-based producer, Flying Peanut, on a very vibey yet soulful song called “Let Me Have You”. The song is a sheer example of what the talented singer is about – nothing like we’ve heard in SA.
Outside of her international work, she would also like to collaborate with local producers. She works more with friends who are also artists but says,
“I’d like it to be no longer a friend thing now, and I’m working on meeting more people and collaborating with more people… There’s a guy I found who I started speaking too who’s actually from Pretoria! So yeah, we’ll see how that goes,” she says with a smile of relief.
Life as a nomad has exposed Amara to different types of music and has certainly played a role in her direction as an artist.
“I’ve lived in Tanzania, India, New Zealand but I’d come back into SA from time to time for like 10 or 12 months – then I’d be gone again,” she explains.
“Because of travelling I’ve been able to hear all these different types of sounds and come across different types of musicians and different musical circuits. It has had an effect on how I’d like my music to sound and how I’d like to interact with certain groups or genres.”
The type of music she does is not easily discernable when listening to her songs. There is such a wide variety of influences that you can’t really box her in. In her song-writing, Amara doesn’t want to come off as a morbid person, and tries not too – but can’t really help it neither. If she were in South Africa, she would be considered an R&B artist. Even so, R&B is not a blossoming genre locally. She has a hard time trying to describe the type of sound she creates.
“The sound? Uhm, I like to listen to a lot of indie/psychedelic music and I just really like weird sounds. I’m still working at keeping that going. It’s not that I want to sound weird but it’s just what I like. If I like to listen to it then it’s probably something I want to do. At the end of the day I want to be able to listen to my own sound and like what I hear.”
Indie music has slowly become popular in SA. Artists like Jhene Aiko and Little Dragon are examples of artists who’ve commercialised the sound Amara likes listening too. This shows that there is a market for the sound she chases, but it’s a niche. Amara is willing to play her role in developing the sound until it’s something that is appreciated by more than a small portion of people. She always has encounters with people who say she sounds good, but suggest she try a different genre, like house.
“ I don’t get offended, I understand that it’s probably something they don’t hear all the time,” she says.
“I’d take that into consideration but that doesn’t mean I’d completely scratch my sound and say I’m going to do something that everyone completely understands. Someone out there is going to like it. I think if you develop something enough and it sounds good…” She pauses to take her Ray Bans off, looking to find the right analogy.
“…It’s like riding a bike. You’ll fall a couple of times, someone may laugh at you when they see you fall or that you still have the training wheels on. You’re going to get there, you’re going to get those training wheels off and you’ll be that b*tch on the bike,” she laughs.
Amara Fleur is “that b*tch on the bike.” Her music is attracting producers from different parts of the world such as Germany and the UK while her online buzz has been growing rapidly. Numbers don’t lie. Neither does talent, which is probably why she has been granted the chance to share a stage with Riky Rick. Amara has dropped a video to her debut single “Objects” and it is definitely a visual embodiment of her sound.
Follow Amara: @Amarafleur