Singer Simphiwe Dana opens up after going through surgery and completely losing her voice

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Singer Simphiwe Dana opens up about her vocal cord surgery, battling anxiety and depression and using music to heal her pain.
“My voice was completely gone. But my doctor said the voice is there, I was just scared to use it.”
When she performed at Mama’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial at Bassline in 2018, singer Simphiwe Dana struggled with her voice: however, for many, she wasn’t singing out of tune, but her voice wasn’t going where she wanted it to.
She managed to thrill the gathering, but she was worried: for Simphiwe, when her disobedient voice couldn’t yield to her command, she knew something was terribly wrong and wasted no time getting professional medical advice.
As fate may have it, Simphiwe (39) was left shell shocked when doctors diagnosed her with vocal dysphonia, a disorder in which the muscles that generate a person’s voice go into periods of spasm.
“I thought I was going to lose my voice forever,” she told DRUM magazine.
The doctors, told her that vocal dysphonia, is caused by voice misuse, straining the voice by failing to prepare it well; like not warming up the voice properly before singing. According to doctors it was like jumping into a football pitch to play soccer without warming the muscles up.
“I’d been straining my voice for years and ended up with holes in my vocal muscles,” said
Simphiwe who has always been used to singing her heart out.
“When I perform my spirit takes over and I’m in a different space, I don’t even see people,” she said.
She had crashed her musical instrument, but fortunate enough it was not damaged beyond repair. The singer has since fully recovered after vocal cord surgery and will perform her second Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience this month.
To correct the damage, Simphiwe needed to go under the knife in a medical surgery, but she was worried about how it would affect her vocal range afterwards.
“It wasn’t nodules like Whitney Houston and Brenda Fassie had. Once you have nodules your voice will never be the same again, even after surgery. But it was quite an intense surgery. I was freaked out,” she said.
She added that she thought she wasn’t going to come out of the two-hour surgical operation alive. “I even sent my friends instructions on what to do in case I don’t make it out alive,” she said with a laugh.
After the procedure, she was happy to learn that the operation had went out well, the surgery was a success.
Simphiwe spent some time in recovery nursing her voice so that it would be back on track once again, she was still frightened, fearing to damage her 'fragile' voice box again when she performed with an orchestra in Italy just weeks afterwards.
“I was scared to sing or even open my vocal cords,” Simphiwe recalled.
“My voice was completely gone. But my doctor said the voice is there, I was just scared to use it.”

It has been just over twelve months since the Ndiredi singer went under the knife. The good thing is not only that she has healed, but she has also regained her confidence and composure behind the microphone. “I still have to nurse my voice and use tricks to avoid cracking,” she revealed.

The songstress, prides eight albums, and three live albums, under her belt. As far as she is concerned, she will sing her heart out during the second instalment of the Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience. Happening at the State Theatre in Pretoria on 7 December, the event will feature a 60-piece orchestra, 30-piece choir and 10-piece dance ensemble.

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“Its core values are very Pan-African and very pro-women and young people,” said Simphiwe, who has also invited Rwandan- American singer Somi and Afro-Cuban jazz singer Daymé Arocena to share the stage with her.
“It’s an appreciation of blackness because we tend to not appreciate black excellence,” she revealed.
Simphiwe came across Somi in the United States of America while she was performing alongside Bra Hugh Masekela back in 2012.
“They were singing at this small club in Harlem [New York City] and her soft voice blew me away,” she recalled.

She happened to know Daymé’s music while surfing the internet in search of good music. “She is so young but she’s doing such complex, old music," she said.
Known for speaking her mind on every aspect of life from women’s rights to colonialism and Simphiwe said her yearly event is all about uniting Africans. “We isolate ourselves and speak of Africa as if we are not part of it. We have to open our minds’ borders to see how similar we are culturally,” she said.

She’s currently working on her fifth studio album, and often goes beyond SA’s borders in search of musical talent. “I even went to Mali for a different musical element,” she said.

She didn't want to pre-empty her forthcoming works, but assured the nation that her music will be as soulful as the chart-topping hits she’s belted out over the past 15 years. “That will never change,” Simphiwe said.

Music has always been a cure to her, in the years gone-by, she’s been vocal about her struggles with depression and anxiety. She found out about it at a very young age. “I always knew I was different from the other kids,” she said. Simphiwe also opened up that both her children, Zazi (16) and Phalo (14), suffer from depression and anxiety.

“It’s a chemical imbalance, it was not caused by any circumstances. It’s genetic and my kids also have it,” she shared.

To help her cope, she turned to song and dance. “I use music as a form of healing,” said the songstress who still finds her battle with anxiety so frustrating. “I don’t like driving because panic attacks happen anytime," she added.

According to her, suffering from anxiety and depression is a horrible experience. “It feels like there are things crawling in my head and then I can’t breathe,” she said.

Though some efforts have been made in recent years to educate people about depression, still not everyone understands her condition.

“One friend said I must snap out of it and claimed I was seeking attention,” Simphiwe said.

“Just because it’s a mental condition people don’t take it seriously,” she added.

She draws strength from, and count on the support of her inner circle friends and relatives, but “I feel better when I am writing songs. The pain comes out in my music,” she said.

The actor and singer has used her time away from the spotlight to renovate her house in Orange Grove.

“It has been a very strenuous exercise. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone,” she said with a laugh.
It’s times like these the single mom wishes she had a man in her life.

“If you don’t have a man, they [builders] take chances, they steal from you and cut corners,” she added.
There are no doubts that Simphiwe will build the house of her dreams and enjoy living in it, with her family, happily ever after.


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