Denay Willie Remains True to her Calling


Urban Craft’s own ‘special correspondent’ Godfrey Johnson (GJ) met up with South African superstar, Denay Willie (DW) for a chat recently. Below are excerpts from that conversation in which the celebrated jazz musician whose passion for youth, community development and South African arts, culture and heritage is second to none and someone whose undoubted talents have seen her performing for the likes of Nelson Mandela, Quincy Jones, President Fidel Castro, Yehudi Menuhin and President Jacob Zuma, to mention but a few, shared with us her past accomplishments, present projects and future endevours.



GJ: I had the privilege of working with you on numerous occasions. The thing that struck me the most was the combination of passion and humility. What inspires this? How is it possible to be a humble and gentle diva?

DW: I truly believe that our creativity and talents come from above and that we are purposed to lead, be fulfilled, inspire and change the world with our AMAZING gifts. The belief that my gifts are not "mine"- but rather precious and powerful instruments to be developed; stewarded and given away in love and excellence, inspires me to be the best that I can be and is the force behind my passion and humility.

GJ: Can you name a few career highlights? I know you have had many but which ones stand out as possibly life changing?

DW: I have been blessed to represent my country and travel the world on so many platforms and stages, from Africa and The Middle East - to Europe, China and Cuba, with special performances for Mr Nelson Mandela, Quincy Jones , The Beijing Orchestra and President Fidel Castro etc, to mention but a few.
I think the highlights that stand out most for me, however, was having the opportunity to start the non - for - profit School of Performing Arts and Business- "The Rainbow Academy" in June 2010, Cape Town (2010) and the privilege of being selected to attend the 2018 NELSON MANDELA PEACE SUMMIT at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as both civic leader and ambassador/ representative for The Rainbow Academy.

GJ: What advice would you give to the talented young person who has absolutely no support from parents or anyone else for that matter?

DW: Follow your heart and follow your dreams... BUT, have a plan; set out your vision and be prepared to do "whatever it takes" to achieve your goals and ambitions. Never compromise your values, integrity, self-belief or "who you are"  but remain humble, teachable, open to invaluable criticism and advice.  Following a career in the arts is NOT for the faint- hearted.
You must have perseverance, resilience , commitment, self-belief and tenacity beyond compare, to endure the set-backs and challenges and still rise above to achieve your goals and dreams. "Remain True" and "Be True" to the calling on your life- because a career in the arts, is a calling.

GJ: What are you working on at the moment?

DW: I am currently lecturing in music and doing my Masters in Cultural Policy at The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, whilst serving as a director/ambassador for The Rainbow Academy

GJ: Can we see you perform anywhere soon? If so, what are the details?

DW: My album and performance life has 'taken a back seat" with full time studies and lecturing, however, I am slowly merging back into jazz performances in Jozi- with corporate, university and agency work. I can be booked through 5 Seasons Entertainment and GAPA MODELS. WATCH OUT FOR MY ALBUM IN 2019/ 2020!

GJ: How would you define spirituality? How has belief influenced your artistic choices?

DW: I am a Christian and believe that "spirituality" means to have a real, "living" relationship with God our Father , as our source of Joy, Peace, Wisdom, Inspiration, Healing and Provision. I call Him  “Friend”; “Lover of my Soul” and "Dad".

GJ: Who are your greatest theatrical and musical influences?

DW: AAAH- I have so many! I am a classically trained pianist and jazz singer, with roots in gospel, jazz, pop, funk, contemporary and musical theatre genres - as well as a deep love for dance, drama, the academics, politics, and philosophy. But to answer your question, my musical influences range from Bach, Handel , Brahms and The Jazz Greats, to Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Chaka Khan, Kiri Te Kanawa (Mauri Opera Singer ) and Miriam Makeba.

GJ: Where do you see yourself in twenty years?

DW: Working for UN/ UNESCO as an artists and cultural activist/ ambassador for the Arts in Africa; Thriving as an acclaimed South African Artist all over the world, Flourishing as an entrepreneur in the Creative Industries and being a totally fulfilled mom, wife, woman of Greatness, Generosity and Love for Life!

GJ: Where in the world do you get all that energy?

DW: I am born like this! :-)) But on a serious note- my passion is driven by my love for people, life and both making things happen and making a difference!

GJ: I miss having you closer but you are spreading love, knowledge and joy to so many. When can we expect a CD?

DW: 2019/2020

GJ: Do you have a favourite classical composer?

DW: Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Bach, Haydn, Mozart,

GJ: How would you define “friendship”?

DW: Friendship starts with yourself. You treat others the way you inevitably “treat” and value yourself. Learn to love yourself and accept that you are “perfect “ with all your flaws and imperfection. Such freedom gives you permission to love others regardless of their own short-comings and sets you free to “ stop sweating” the small stuff in order to go after the bigness and greatness of your own life ! Friendship means to be loyal, be honest, be truthful, be compassionate, be generous , “be there” and completely love others for “who they are” as they “do life” and navigate through this this journey – along with you- called “life”.

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