By Ntsiki Mkhize
It is a breezy winter Friday afternoon and after being stuck in typical Jo’burg traffic, I finally make it to a lovely restaurant at Bedford Gardens that Khabonina picked out. I am nervous, because I ran late and was not sure what to expect, but from my interaction with her over the phone and being called “babe” each time – I knew this was going to be great. We are seated in the new section of the restaurant and it is slowly filling with families and friends who are out for dinner. Khabonina walks in with a refreshing energy, greets me with a warm hug, a smile and a heartfelt “hey babe…”
Ntsiki: First off, I would like to know how you got into the entertainment industry. I think people always see the risen star, but do not get much information of the journey.
Khabonina: I wouldn’t say I got into the industry, I think the industry recognized me and caught up with me. From a very young age I was interested in acting, in dancing and stage work. My mother is a voice coach and when she’d go to her classes in Newtown, she would take me with her and I would always run up and down the stairs while she was teaching. One day I found a dance class right at the top of the stairs and I dragged her, asking her to sign me up. After she saved up for it, the following month I started my dance classes while she taught.
N: Would you say spending time in that space is what got you to love the arts?
K: I think loving the arts happened from my mother’s womb. She used to be a dancer. I would see pictures of her in the magazine all the time. She was in a play called Botsotso and she used to do modelling for beauty shots, she loved singing, as well as travelling. So by the time she was pregnant with me I just absorbed all that love for the arts. Also watching her in the industry and how she carried herself as a woman, it was hard then – I’m not saying it’s not hard now – but it was really hard then, and she persevered. She worked a full time job during the week, would do her thing on the weekend and raised a child by herself. All that really inspired me.
N: And is that what inspired you to teach dance as well?
K: It is really my desire to share my passion with others. When you come to my dance class and tell me that you have two left feet, then I show you a move and thereafter you are able to do the move and you feel amazing about it – for me that’s the ka-ching! Dancing is a journey and I want to be able to take people on it with me. Both my mom and I love people and we do a variety of projects; for instance she runs one in the prisons motivating people and that has definitely rubbed off; to love others and to simply be genuine. Honestly you don’t get far by not being genuine as people can tell when you are not being real. For an artist it frees you to be genuine and allow people to take that journey with you. That also makes it a more worthy journey.
N: It is very obvious that you have a wonderful relationship with your mother and perhaps are part of a few people who can say that. She has also influenced you in a number of ways and inspired your work ethic. How does that influence you as a person and how do you think it changes the game for you, versus other women in the industry who do not have the same relationship with their mothers and might stumble along the way?
K: I think you stumble either way; whether you have your mother or not does not stop you from stumbling. Even if she says try this or don’t try that, it is still your journey and I stumbled a lot and she’ll say to me; “get up and try again” and for some people they do not have that person. It doesn’t have to be your mother; it can be your grandmother, an aunt, someone mature in your neighbourhood. I think I am very blessed that my mom is there to say don’t give up, it adds to my humility and I do feel there aren’t enough female role models, especially for the young upcoming stars. The media also plays a big part in the things they promote, even though it is their job, young people see this and think it is the way to go when it is not. It is very important to have that somebody to keep you in check.
N: Also, even outside of the media, people are afraid to move away from that flock mentality…
K: Yes! There is no freedom in conforming, but the moment you branch out – and yes it can be scary – but when you’re bold enough to say “I am doing it my way”, it is very liberating. You do not need to conform. You are you and you are real! And that is what I like.
N: Has your mom stepped back and let you “do you” or has she led you along the way?
K: She has honestly never been in my face; therefore she has never had to step back. My mother has always said, “This was my journey – you live yours”. Naturally however because she is the only one that I have who is in my circle; I trust her. I will go to her and ask for advice and tell her what I’m thinking and get her opinion on it. I bounce ideas off of her and even when she thinks something might not work, I still try it and see how it goes. For us it works. Some may find it odd, but you see it with Tyra Banks and her mom, Beyonce and her mom, Usher and his mom, it just works. I have tried other people and it did not work. My mom is a brilliant manager, be it in finance, planning; actually everything. The thing with people that are not passionate about you, they do not have your best interests at heart. Even though she has her own things going on, she is always aware of me and my projects and it is very important as an artist to have that middle person. For some reason people lose respect for you when they directly address you, because they feel they can do things and address you however they please.
N: *laughs* So it’s having that ‘soccer mom’…
K: *laughs* Yes, you need someone in your corner, mom, agent, manager whoever, who can handle business for you.
N: Over the years and through different stages, how would you say your relationship with your mom has changed, if at all?
K: It has certainly changed. I think as you get older and become more exposed, the dynamics change, but it is such a wonderful change. It is gaining nice layers. I love the relationship we have and how it is evolving, kind of like a phenomenal metamorphosis.
N: Now, in terms of your work, I think people first stood up and took notice of Khabonina when you got a lead role on Muvhango. You have since done a lot of work in between and most recently, you played Maxine on The Wild. How has that journey been?
K: It is always great to work and do different things and one major thing or change I would say; is going from doing auditions for Muvhango and getting call backs before landing the actual job; versus now when you get a call directly from the producers asking you to take a look at the script. Also you want to be a part of the production and they allow you to be responsible for the character; what they do, what they would say – I like that level of involvement. Similar to a play I performed in at the Market Theatre, called The Table where I was given the responsibility to create the character and that has been the beauty of the journey. If it works it’s my baby, if it flops it’s still my baby and it’s having that sense of entitlement and responsibility that is great.
N: Often people come on the scene and are a hot topic for a while and we seldom hear from them again. In terms of how your career has progressed, how does one stay current and relevant?
K: I get that a lot and its weird; I don’t think you stay relevant. I think people will say you are relevant, just like you can’t label yourself a celebrity or say you have humility, it is people who name you that. For me it is a journey and it is about my work. For example with my dancing, I have a fitness DVD coming out and people want to know about that and your work keeps people interested. I think that is when you become a one hit wonder when people are just focused on that moment, but if you are genuine about ‘the work’ people feel that. People need to decide if they are a celebrity or an artist and when you sort that out and you move forward! Celebrities often become one hit wonders, but if you are an artist, it is in you and you can never run out of being an artist. As an artist you always have this burning sensation within to break barriers and boundaries and to push the envelope. Something about you wants to keep going and trying new things.
N: Would you say that people get comfortable or complacent in their roles?
K: Definitely! And I get that in our country there is that challenge of financial constraints and the size of the industry, but we need to go beyond that, because if it is what you love then you will figure out how to make a living with it. There needs to be more to you and you have to take that extra step.
N: For you, what would you say your boundaries have been and the events in which you have pushed the envelope for yourself?
K: I suppose your whole life is that, as you are constantly growing. For instance when I started travelling, it’s something a lot of people do, but I had never done it before and that was huge for me. I was about 18 and we went to Malaysia, Canada and so forth dancing. The dance school that I have (Kha’bodacious Moves) has been influenced by my travel experiences and growth. It is not your typical dance school and I cater for a number of people; men and women, your corporate people who have never danced before – everybody and it has been around for 8 years. To add to that there is also the DVD and everything together is simply amazing. The things for me that have been big, are the ones that I have created myself, such as the dance school and the Kha’bodacious Dance Gear clothing line, the fitness DVD and one day I will have a fitness book. Being able to do and create is where I find value.
N: Speaking of travelling, where have been some of your favourite places that you have travelled to?
K: Oh wow babe, Palma Majorca (Spain) is amazing; I really enjoyed the people. One of the things about joining the dance industry is that you become used to hearing people say you need to be thin to be a dancer and that killed me, as I am not a small girl. Then when I started travelling to places like Spain, one sees dancers there are voluptuous and it broke all that. I also love Germany, having studied European history I had one opinion of Germany, but it was so different to what I thought – I took some of the most amazing ballet classes there, as well as taught some classes. I fell in love with Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin – all really beautiful places. Though Malaysia is still my favourite, Switzerland is also amazing and their chocolate is really good –laughs- but really, travelling opens your eyes and it has fuelled my love for art. Like in London, there is an entire street that has play after play after play. There is also a dance studio called The Apple, I went there and people dance as if they are rehearsing for a major production or a music video. The one floor is contemporary dance and the next is a theatre; it’s wonderful. My dream is to have such a studio in South Africa for kids where they can come do music, dance and acting and I feel I am much closer to achieving that.
N: With your love for people and sharing, is that something that you always think about when you consciously decide to give back?
K: Yes, I do care and give, but I do not think nor understand why it is called ‘giving back’. I do not feel that one should be told to do so. If you grew up in a community and are in a position in your life as an artist or just a person, you should not be told to help out – it is something you should just do. The same thing with women and children and even men, as a society I feel we do not connect or touch each other in that emotional way, where we are sensitive to one another’s needs and are aware about helping out. As an artist I feel you are that blanket that touches everyone and inspires them. I believe it is that lack of touch that results in issues such as the massive use of Nyope, amongst other things. Young people have all this energy, but nowhere to channel it and I feel there should be centres in communities run by really passionate people who will use the funds for after school projects responsibly. Those projects are very important and I don’t think we have enough of them and even if we do, I don’t think we make them attractive to kids. We need to have a frank conversation and stop lecturing one another. Besides conversing is more fun and engages people and the youth needs to be engaged. Also stop being on our phones so much and communicate personally, as well as in the homes with our families. Children need to talk.
N: That is so true and children as well as the youth have so much to say. Going back to your work, who would you say has been your favourite character to play and the most challenging, both on screen and in theatre?
K: I like the Omoneo character I played in the theatre production The Table, simply because I was a part of creating her. In terms of what most people have seen, there is a character “Faith Diliza” that I played on The Lab; I liked her! She was weird…I like that she wasn’t your typical bad girl, for example; Maxine, I didn’t see many fibres in her, I didn’t see her fall in love or get her heartbroken, whereas Faith was all of that. Then she had to con the guy she was in love with. Playing her was a brilliant challenge.
N: Do you have an all-time favourite TV show or play?
K: Still The Lab, it’s still my favourite.
N: Now a lot of people may not know this about you, I also didn’t until I started digging around. You sang back-up for Lebo Mathosa, how was that?
K: Amazing! She was amazing! Loved sharing that dance floor with her! The thing about her is that she was so humble and she loved people. The manner in which she approached me was something else! It was in Newtown and she came up to me and said; “hi, you are Khabonina right? – I saw you dancing.” For me that was just wow – my year was made. The journey with her was great and every tour wonderful; there was never that ‘there’s them and me’, no! She really loved being on stage and I loved that about her. There is something about an artist that genuinely loves being on stage…she was just on another level and she took you there. She would get bored with a look and she wasn’t scared to change it and we all should not try being the same, it’s great to stand out and Lebo breathed that.
N: I was very young when she was around, but from what I remember she did have a very powerful personality and left quite an impression. Tell us, in terms of dancing, singing, acting and so forth; does one tie into the next?
K: Of course, it’s all a puzzle really, this journey that feeds the next thing. For example Jennifer Lopez who went from being a dancer to singing and acting. It is not that one acts and then decides they want to sing. I believe that you are born with all these different talents and they all get inspired along the way. So you will be acting and think about a song that describes that moment and when writing the song you would think of a dance move that personifies that emotion, and so they all intertwine. I am so grateful that on my journey everything worked out together, for example with the DVD, I do not have to worry about getting rights for music as I have my own and everything is just in line and falls into place.
N: Would you say there is a difference between Khabonina the actress and Khabonina the singer or dancer?
K: Yes, a huge difference! It’s crazy. The dancer goes into some trance. For instance I love the Bushmen, I studied them and learnt that when they dance they would go into this trance of worship, like a godly thing and I respect as well as the stories they are able to tell through dance. The actress goes into this tunnel, to find this character and figure them out and embody them, try think like them and ultimately bring them to life. Then music is a personal thing. You can decide to do what you like based on your mood or the genre you have decided on, but with my dancing I really just go wild – almost like I am crazy. I actually shot a music video the other day for my song entitled “Wax it” (Wax On Wax Off) and when I watched the play back, I thought to myself “who on earth is that”- she is one some ego trip, it’s a statement song, but the way she came out-wow!
N: Do you find yourself surprising yourself a lot?
K: Yes, like on Twitter I will say stuff; in my own K’ lingo, so when someone says “Vithikment in Khabonina’s voice” or the other day someone at the airport said; “wang huuuuurta” and I’m like; “really?!” Even on the dance show when I am judging and some things happen, you just cannot stop yourself, but then when I watch the play back I’ll think “woe tone down”, but I love it all because it’s me.
N: In which art form do you feel most at home?
K: Dancing, because it is an open door. The difference with acting is that there is a character that you have to get into. The difference with singing is that there is a question of what you are saying; where you are taking this song etc. However with dancing, there are no restrictions. That said, you honestly cannot tell me anything when I am in either zone.
N: Speaking of dancing, you had mentioned launching the Kha’bodacious Awards, what is the progress on that?
K: Yes, I do want to have dance awards and I want to make them bigger than the ones I had back in 2011, perhaps next year 2014 as this year has been rather busy. The thing is that there is no one who awards dancers – they are always the “back up” – but we know some of the dancers and crews now. You see them in music videos performing and I feel like they deserve awards. Yes, there are the FNB Dance Umbrella Awards, but you have to enter those and you must know how and where to do so, but there are some dancers out there who are a different breed and have their own vibe. I feel that uniqueness and talent needs to be recognised without one having to enter for an award and it needs to be done on a big scale.
N: I look forward to those, it is always wonderful to see people do what they love and do it well inspiring the rest of us. Now, this fitness DVD that you are so tight-lipped about, what can you tell us about it?
K: Wow, if I start talking about that I might just say stuff that will get me into trouble –laughs.
N: Honestly, what can we expect, because I see you dancing and I have seen a few pictures on your website. You do things with your body that leave me gob smacked and I think; “who is this woman and how is she doing this-seriously?”
K: You know, what women can do is amazing. It is always so beautiful to see a woman who thinks she cannot do something then I show them how to do it and then they try it and it works. They are always so surprised at themselves and that look is priceless. For some women its more than that, sometimes we get so caught up on the surface with work and family and everything else and we forget about ourselves and it is so important to take care of yourself and have fun doing it. You can do the most amazing things with your body; you just need to give your body a chance. My dance classes are about getting out of your comfort zone and stepping into your alter ego.
N: Okay, so will the DVD be like your dance classes? And when can we expect it?
K: Oh wow, you don’t understand! Okay, it will be out end of September and what I can say is that it has different sections. You can dance at your own pace or take the boot camp option. See; when you come to my classes there is no option, you will do boot camp, but the tape will allow you to move along as you feel comfortable. I always say “it’s your body, move at the pace that makes you feel comfortable and do what makes you feel comfortable”. People will definitely discover things about themselves they never thought they could do.
N: Exciting stuff, so tell me with music, acting, the DVD, dancing and everything else, how do you balance it all?
K: -laughs- I don’t, because it all doesn’t happen at the same time. Everything is spaced out and happens when it should. For example you don’t ask a juggler how they juggle, they just do. Same with me. I think God knows what is meant to go where and when and everything just falls into place. It is as if He has this remote and presses stop and play and pause all at the right moments. Also meeting up with amazing people that help me on each of my projects allows for everything to flow smoothly.
N: Earlier on we were talking about your mother being your manager, you also have your own blog, own website and this entire social world dedicated to your work, over and above Facebook and Twitter. Is that a strategic decision that you sit down, think about and plan?
K: Yes, but it is also one of those things that have just happened with time. For instance people come to my dance classes and they are not sure what to wear and they would say ‘I like what you are wearing, make it for me” and so the Kha’bodacious clothing line was born. Having a platform to communicate makes everything so much easier and for people to get to know Khabonina. Facebook and Twitter allow you to interact, but the blog and website facilitate talks and the sharing of my opinion on yoga or how to put together a dance outfit or skin and health tips or why running and swimming, which I love, are good for you.
N: How important is it for you to live a holistic life?
K: I do not know any other form or way of living. If you are not living one then you need to find out what is missing and that will not be the same as the next person. Everyone needs to define their own space.
N: In terms of communicating with your fans, how important is that and do you make a conscious effort to do so every day?
K: It is very important! I’m someone who has to be online every day, but I love talking and I talk a lot and people know this about me. People will actually tweet me and ask where I am or why aren’t I awake, because they are used to me saying “wake up everybody, let’s go; swimming jogging or whatever”. I love conversing with people or starting a topic and seeing where it goes.
N: A few years ago you came out as saying that you were not dating because “men find you intimidating”, has that changed?
K: -laughs- Wow, you are so horrible –laughs- no! Honestly my mom and I still laugh about that today. What had happened was that I did an interview where we spoke about a number of things and the journalist ended it by asking if I was seeing anyone and I honestly don’t want my business out there, and so I made that comment, as a joke! Then media being media went and sold the story on that premise. After that things blew up and people were on my case about how they are not afraid of me –laughs- it is so ridiculous. It’s not even about that, but as a side note, there is some truth in the sense that when a woman knows her story, knows what she stands for and what she is about, it is not just any man who can approach her. I strongly believe that a super woman needs a superman.
Khabonina The Super Woman indeed.
N: Alright, I hear that. And who is Khabo at home?
K: Is she different? –laughs-
N: Probably not –laughs- I do not imagine you “putting on a face”…
K: And I can’t, I am honestly just like this all the time. I read more, I write a lot, and I love yoga.
N: What about when you are purely not working, because your art is who you are all the time.
K: I am a fan of the TV, sometimes I can be a couch potato. I like reality shows and I have my typical girl moments as well.
N: Even though you have accomplished a lot, what would you say is your ultimate dream?
K: : I would love a show, where we can talk about health and life, where people can come and not feel judged or belittled. I would like to create an interactive platform where people are just free to talk about the topics at hand. I think we judge people too much in this country and we need to let people talk, especially the kids.
N: Do you see yourself settling down or planning for a slower life after everything that is right now?
K: Well I mean Tina Turner is 76 and still performing. I don’t see an after, this is it. I want a family one day and I will be a wife and mother and have my dance schools and arts programmes and live.
N: What is the one truth you hold on to?
K: What is the one truth that I hold onto…only one? You know what I believe; I do not know if this is the way the world is or how it came to be, but we are so easily pulled down as people by what other people have to say. Yes, people can say what they want, but you need to believe the facts about you. What sets you free is when you know who you are and what you stand for, which allows you to pull away from that mob mentality and simply be. We are such a brain-washed society, we can sit in front of the TV for hours and it works; everyone ends up wanting the same things. You need to be able to watch whatever, know the truth, know who you are and know your purpose in this world, outside the puppetry and conformist opinions. I’ll make an example; I really respect Sau Paulo which is the exact opposite to New York’s Time Square. In Sau Paulo the buildings are just buildings and the cars have no branding and people are just themselves. They asked a restaurant owner how he gets customers and he said by word of mouth, which is great because it gets people talking; proper conversations. “Hey, where did you eat today…” And if we embrace our own journeys, we can share it with others. It is not easy, but if you genuinely say to yourself this is who I am and this is what I am about, you will love yourself and feel worthy. Especially women, we need to see ourselves and appreciate ourselves and see ourselves in our own eyes and not wait for anyone. You cannot change people’s minds about you, but you can control how you feel about yourself and you need to live your truth and enjoy your journey.