FEATURE: Musician Shade on life as an independent artist

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Creatives Under Lockdown is a SABC News feature, which focuses on issues affecting artists. This week musician Ntokozo Mahlangu, AKA Shade, sheds light on the challenges of being an independent artist.

Musician Shade says image is everything. Instagram@shade_worldwide

After being a backing vocalist for several gospel artists, musician Ntokozo Mahlangu, also known as Shade, decided to take a leap of faith and become an independent solo artist. He says it had always been part of the plan.

“Going solo has always been a plan for me. I have always seen myself as the frontman, the main entertainer. So for me, that phase (being a backing vocalist) was a building block to learn about the business, to learn about the art of performing.”  

Winning Joy of Jazz competition 

With the experience gained from being a backup singer, he then focussed his energy towards conceptualising the brand, Shade, which was launched on social media in 2017. This was also the same year he decided to enter the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Discover Competition, which he won. “Winning the competition is and will always remain one of my career highlights. I got to perform at the festival, one of the greatest experiences of my life and it did so much for me. “ 

Going solo

Although winning the competition was a stepping stone, going solo was a test of character. Shade admits that although he had conceptualised everything, he did not have the confidence that it will all work out. “We (independent artists) don’t have any backing at all, from the finances to the resources, to the management. We don’t have that luxury at all. I often say I wear 150 hats. Some people that I have spoken to find it mind-blowing that I am responsible for the direction of my music, the writing of my music, the production, coming to the stage, I have conceptualised everything. “ 

Platform for artists 

Shade says being young, Black, and gay presented an additional layer of limitations. “They (promoters) decide on your behalf if you will appeal to the target market of a specific festival or whatever it is. They make those decisions without consulting you, or the consumers. “ 

To mitigate the problems he encountered, Shade set up a platform for artists in Pretoria. The Chilling Songs sessions saw young creators gather every month to share their craft. The sessions ran for two and a half years. However, because of lack of funding they could not continue. Shade has not given up. 

“I know a lot of beautiful things that stem from that. I have seen musical groups form on that stage. I have seen people starting their businesses. I have seen people making contact with relevant people within that space. My plan is really to revive that because it added so much value.” 

Youth Month

This month South Africa is honouring the youth of 1976 and those that died in the Soweto uprisings. Shade says while the youth is dealing with pressing issues including unemployment and crime, the main issue is identity. “We still can’t position ourselves in society. I think that stems from being constantly compared to the youth of 1976. We have been made to feel like we have nothing to offer and I think it scars most of us because we know how powerful we are, we know that we have got strong voices. We know that we can do amazing things as a united front. We know we have vigour, however, the struggle is positioning.” 

Pride Month

June is also Pride Month, which puts a spotlight on issues affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQI) community. In South Africa, homosexuals are still killed for their sexuality. Western Cape police last week arrested five suspects for the murder of 16-year-old Liyabona Mabishi. He was stabbed 13 times in what is suspected to be a hate crime. Shade says although progress has been made in dealing with issues affecting the community, more needs to be done. “It is heartwarming to see every year how this day grows. How we see more and more people coming in support of our struggles and recognising that we matter, recognising that we are functional members of society. South Africa is making progress. We have seen in the last couple of months the ruling party in Gauteng launching the LGBTQI desk. Our Constitution is also something that we have to always celebrate for accepting and promoting the rights of everybody who is part of society, but there is still so much that needs to be done.” 


Artists were dealt a blow earlier this year when gatherings were banned to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Currently, there are 87 715 coronavirus cases with 1 831 coronavirus-related deaths. “I bleed for my fellow artists because most of us depend on performing, doing gigs, and all of that has been closed right now. We are left to fend for ourselves. My EP was supposed to come out in March; we were in the final stages of the recording when the lockdown happened. I am still not done with that project. I had a lot of projects on the pipeline and all of that has been affected by the lockdown restrictions.” 

He says the situation has, however, presented opportunities for artists. “We are now forced to sit down and think of innovative ways to conduct our business and still make a living out of this and hence you have seen a lot of digital-based concerts happening, people buying tickets online to stream concerts in the comforts of their homes and I think that is great.” 

Power of social media

Shade has urged fellow artists to use social media effectively to grow their careers. “I am very passionate about social media, especially using social media to enhance, advance your career as an independent artist. I have seen social media do wonders for me. I often say that my career is social media-based than anything else. That is where it all started.” 

He plans to complete his eight tracks EP after his two singles, Wena and One night stand were received “remarkably.” 

Interesting facts about Shade 

Q: What is currently on your playlist?

A: I’m listening to the new Zoe Modiga, I know that only three songs are out. Another artist I love is Tribute Mboweni, who has just released a single with DJ Ganyani. I think it is one of the most beautiful commercial house songs that we haven’t had in a long time. I am an old soul, so I am going back to a lot of Anita Baker, Jill Scott. 

Q: What is your favourite meal?

A: My favourite meal is anything that has fries (laughs). I love fries, there was a time I was on a diet and even in my salad I would sprinkle some fries. 

Q: If you had the power to change anything about the world, what would it be? 

A: I would just turn everybody’s heart to be more accepting, to be more open, and realise that there is room for everybody. There are differences, but our differences should be looked at as a way to celebrate God’s creativity. 

Below is a podcast of the interview with Shade: 



Related: Part 1Starving artist’ a more meaningful phrase amid lockdown

Related: Part 2: ‘I don’t know myself outside my world of acting’

Related: Part 3:  Letshego Zulu on fitness under lockdown 

Related: Part 4: Uzalo’s Wiseman Mncube shares his journey

Related: Part 5: Artists advised to spend prudently in order to survive rainy days

Related:  Part 6: Thabo Malema on the new enemy, his dream and COVID-19

Related: Part 7: Musician Tribute Mboweni on her collaboration with DJ Ganyani