written by Gilmore Tee
If she wasn’t an Award-winning Musician, Vuyo Brown would have been an award-winning Human Rights Lawyer/Activist, something she used to be extremely passionate about as a teenager and had envisioned herself studying at Midrand or Freestate University. In her early years of primary school, the Imvana hitmaker wanted to be a teacher, not falling too far away from her late mother who was a teacher and raised both Vuyo and her sister to be well-groomed and outstanding individuals. At the age of 14, the dream completely changed and she saw herself as someone who represented the voiceless, leading to her joining the Human Rights Club.
One thing she remembers the most is that she always had 2 or 3 different groups of friends growing up. She would get along with people who did not get along or were generally misunderstood. This is something she admires about herself, the ability to fit in with different crowds and get to understand their point of view without judgment. This ability contributed immensely to her always being selected by either fellow pupils or teachers to lead at different levels of influence in school.
“POLITE GIRL is the most consistent statement on all my school report cards. I was always neatly dressed and was that kid who always got selected to represent the school or one of the clubs I was in, whenever there was a need. Helping people was also at the core of whatever I was going to do. I have a deep understanding of people and being of service to them, fulfills me. I love feeding souls and nurturing their spirits, I see myself do that with my music now”
Music has always been lingering in the background for Vuyo Brown, born Nokufeza Vuyolethu Ngwenya in Bulawayo and also lived in Harare and Masvingo. The multi-award-winning Singer, Songwriter & Producer was exposed to music at the age of 9 when she used to stay in Harare with her father. While studying at Blakiston Primary School, she reminisces her uncle teaching her about music and how to play instruments. To add the cherry on top of the cake, her music teacher also lived at her uncles’ house, which on its own was a nod in the right direction. She calls that moment, the KNOWING MOMENT, she knew that music was going to be part of the equation.
Growing up in different places across Zimbabwe is something Vuyo holds dearly, as she got exposed to different cultures, experiences and people as a whole. When she stayed with her mother at an Anglican missionary school in Matabeleland, she used to attend musical and theatrical performances the students would put up during weekends. At a later stage, she would mimic everything she would have seen and enjoyed attending the church services, especially the musical segments. She recalls attending the services and performances just to enjoy the hymns and percussions they would gracefully display. This part of her journey has also informed her music which fuses different sounds and doesn’t place her in any specific genre. Vuyo Brown writes and creates from her experiences with God, the way she understands God, heaven and spirituality.
“I write and sing about the experiences of a Christian, the human experiences really. I make music I can listen to because I didn't grow up in the church and didn't grow up listening to gospel music. I met and fell in love with God at 14 and want as many people to experience God the way I do, it's the coolest thing. The music I create is basically what the Holy Spirit pours into me and the way I interpret it. Sometimes it's "Spiritual soul", "Spiritual funk" with a touch of jazz, chinyakare, alternative R&B.”
At the age of 14, Vuyo Brown started singing consistently in front of a crowd and joined the church music team the same year, 2006. When her youth leader discovered that she could sing, they made sure that she was on the microphone every Sunday. At that age, she was introduced to the world of singing with a live band, composing, directing music, understanding crowds, creating and controlling an atmosphere on stage.
Influenced by Lauryn Hill, Mali Music and Marvin Sapp, Vuyo Brown highlights that at the core of it all, every project she works on is meant to introduce someone to a reality outside their own or different from what they’re experiencing at the moment. She does that effortlessly with songs like, Thula Wazi, which spreads hope and healing in a time where the world is in shambles. Vuyo talks of how she wants someone to get off their earphones after listening to her music and think “so that is God’s love, it can be like that? I didn’t know”. Her stage name is derived from her second name Vuyolethu, which she took up and added the Brown to it.
“Vuyo is my second name, it's the one people know me by. In my last year of High School, I changed my name on Facebook to Vuyo Brown. There was nothing deep to it and trust me there were other stage names I have had since I was a child (I shall not share lol) Brown is a calm colour, and "Vuyo Brown" sounded good and stuck and so by the time I launched myself as an artist, I stayed with it.
Vuyo started professionally doing music in 2014 and remembers her first time in the studio being at the late Cal Vin’s studio doing backing vocals for a rapper. She describes that moment as thrilling and home feeling. Her journey then has been nothing, but full of vocal coaches, Pastors, Videographers, Designers, PR Agents and DJs that have aided her to become the superstar she is today.
In 2018, Vuyo Brown released her debut album Grace Fulfilled, which she depicts as "an introduction to Vuyo Brown and highlights of what was to come”, because of its various sounds in mild doses. The album is what propelled her to some of the local, regional and international platforms she is now on, with one of her singles Tichatamba being on rotation in Zimbabwe, Japan and the UK. Vuyo is a 2-timer award winner of the Bulawayo Arts Awards, Outstanding Female Artist of the year for 2020 and 2021, high rotation played artist on ZiFM Stereo, Skyz Metro FM, Trace, One Gospel and Khulumani FM. Up to date, she has collaborated with outstanding musicians such as, Bongo Maffin’s – Speedy, Fish F. Ndaramu, Hwabaraty, Producer – Rayo Beats and eSwatini’s – Sifiso M, something she did during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year 2020 and 2021, surely has been challenging for the creative industries across the continent. However, Vuyo is grateful for the virtual space which saw her work with the UN, Old Mutual, Music in Africa, Tariro NeGitare, Credisi and Simbisa Brands, amongst many others. She indicates lack of adequate resources as one attribute that slows down production in the Zimbabwean music industry.
“I am ambitious and so hopeful it will carry me through the toughest times. Also, having a team that understands, loves and is passionate about you and your vision is a rare blessing. At some point, the work expands and becomes much, as is expected with growth. It is good to have such people. It makes you more efficient and has a wider reach. Every visionary needs vision helpers and pushers to get to their destiny, I am grateful for the people who have partnered with me on my journey.”
Photography: Puzzle Moment Pictures
Styled by: Bakhar
MUA: Briliance Beauty