AVANT-GARDE ELAINE COVER STORY

Okay let’s be honest for a sec, if you haven’t heard, come across or even seen the name Elaine before then you really need to update yourself and come into the light because new R&B artist, Elaine, has been making her mark within the music industry not just from a local level but an international one too. Having already made history by becoming the first independent female artist in South Africa to reach number 1 on the Apple Music Album Charts and solely because of her debut self-released EP called Elements, Elaine is probably one of the most sought after artists operating in our industry right now at the age of mere 20. Look it might be said that Elements can as well be considered a soulful masterpiece because its reach has garnered a massive following of fans & artistic appreciation. And with no single external or major label backing, but rather with the help of her friend & family, at such a young age, Elaine has catapulted herself to play in the big leagues. Her creative ability as a singer and songwriter is enough to convince any listener that she is something special. Having been exposed to music from a tender age, Elaine’s journey feels like it just began for us but at the same time, it’s a new chapter in her dreamlike life for her. The continuing success of her debut EP (Elements) is opening unexpected doors for her and with over a million streams already in the bag!? We can’t help but stan! With that said if you already read our first interview with Elaine then you’ll surely have a good time with this one because we ask her a lot of things ranging from her fast success gain, artist comparisons, the South African music industry, the hate (of course) and how she has been preparing for everything coming her way.

IN COLLABORATION WITH ASICS SPORTSTYLE

STORY BY RUDZANI “ROO” NETSHIHENI

PHOTOGRAPHY BY @theexpressionist

CREATIVE ASSISTANCE BY @uno.gondo

MAKE UP BY @enhlenyembe_

CREATIVE DIRECTION/STYLING BY @studiobila

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I think just to kick things off… Things seem to be moving super fast with your career like damn! which is crazy… And I’m trying to imagine how you’re absorbing the rate of success that’s been coming your way. And the recognition… The fact that the likes of Joe Budden have heard your music too is crazy. Apple Music giving you that spotlight is crazy… Your EP (Elements) reaching certain levels on charts etc… It seems like Elements has done more than I guess other emerging RnB artists in SA have been trying to do for years. And you just came through and just like boom! How are you processing this?

I think for me it’s planning… It’s all about planning you know? Like I said I think in our first interview; I’m a very strategic person… I’m a person that visualizes a lot, I’m a person that puts myself in every possible situation and that’s exactly what I did before I dropped. I thought to myself okay if this doesn’t go well what am I going to do? How am I going to do it? And how do I move forward? And if it does do well, what am I going to do? How am I going to do it? And what is my plan going to be? So I’m a very strategic person and I don’t like being caught off guard so I prepare for every possible scenario which is sometimes kind of bad because it leads to overthinking. So when this happened I was like OMG! This is great! This is what we’ll do now, this is what we have to do so I just never wanted to find myself in a place where I was like okay all these great things are happening what now? Or finding myself in positions where I get comfortable because it’s going well you know? So I’m just like going with it, doing what I have to do. I’m putting in that shift, I’m working so hard, I’m working harder than I’ve ever had at this point in my career and people are like “why, why are you doing so much? The EP has already done so well, you’re number 1 on the charts… you can chill girl and just enjoy this moment” and I’m like yeah I’m definitely enjoying it and I’m so grateful but at the same time, I need to work hard to keep this momentum. I need to work hard to remain consistent, you know? And those are values that I instilled in myself, I’m very disciplined, very focused and I enjoy planning my life. So that’s where it comes in because when anything happens in this industry, which is so fickle and that is so unpredictable, you just have to be ready. That’s how I’ve really been dealing with it, that’s how I’ve been going about it. I’ve been praying, I’ve been fasting, I’ve been doing everything that I can to get myself in the right space mentally, physically and spiritually as well. And the other thing is that I have the best people around me. My family is so supportive, my friends are so supportive, my team is so supportive and those are the things that you need to not only succeed but to not feel pressured or overwhelmed through the whole process.

The fact that you’re the first independent female artist to reach the top of the charts on Apple Music is quite crazy. And I can tell that you are a prepared person but in which way though? Are you saying prepared in terms of being an artist that has dropped this amazing body of work but needs to be prepared in terms of feeding fans with more music? Are you saying that you’re preparing yourself musically? Or are you preparing yourself business-wise? Because I can imagine that the attention or the eyes on you right now are like crazy… and you’re right, the game is fickle and artists need to take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves. 

Yeah, so I’m a very theoretical and practical person when it comes to music. So, what I do first is write everything down that I want to achieve in the next month, what I want to achieve in the next two months, what I want to achieve in the next six months and what I want to achieve by next year. So that’ll be in terms of music, in terms of business, in terms of, you know, the commercial side of things in terms of the PR side of things, you know? And I plan that and we worked towards it and that’s what we did with radio play as well. And we’ve got our first radio play on Metro FM yesterday. And what we did is off the Elements drop. We were like two months down the line we have to be on the radio. And we were praying, fighting, emailing, calling and you know, there was a point where we were like, damn, I don’t think it’s going to happen within two months.

And we just sort of like not set back, but we’re like, you know what, we’ve done what we had to do. Let’s just let this thing play out the way it has to. And you know, that’s when you sort of let God take control. You put in your shift and you just let God take control from there. And that’s something that my team and I have learned. As long as we’ve done our part, God will do the rest and we’ve got our first radio play and that was amazing. And so that’s how we plan for everything. Like we don’t like to be spontaneous and just be like “yo man, maybe we should do this, maybe we should do that…” So I have planned shows for next year. I have planned a few events for this year. I have gigs as well for next year and this year, actually the end of this month…

And so that’s what the backing vocalists are for, you know? You just have to be ahead of schedule and ahead of time. And even with the music that I’m releasing this year, it’s already been planned. It’s already been finalized. We have days that we’re looking at, we’ve already started recording and we’re 50% there. So we really love to work ahead so that if things don’t work out, when it’s time for us to act upon whatever it is that needs to be done, we have space and room to just do damage control and be like, okay, that’s not going to work and we have a month left, let’s find something else to do, you know? Okay, this is not sounding how it’s supposed to sound… And there’s a whole lot of, um, business as well.

You won’t believe it. So we’re working on proposals because obviously I’m an independent artist and I work with an independent team. Nobody is signed and nobody is a professional. We’re all just really passionate and very invested in this business. So, we’re busy with proposals, we’re busy with business plans. We’ve registered our company already, we work ahead and we keep it professional and I treat everyone in my team as a professional. And everybody, my team treats me as a professional. We learn from each other. I already have a band of four, a guitarist, a pianist… We’ve got, um, what else do we get? A saxophone. So we’re moving and it’s all about strategizing and that’s what I’m doing on my side. It’s all practical. It’s all theoretical. I’m putting in the work where I have to, and yeah, I’m excited and I’m proud of myself and my team as well.

From what you’re telling me right now it seems like you have been preparing for success. Personally, I truly appreciate the fact that you’re very spiritually led in terms of you letting faith literally move you up. And it’s something I truly praise. But as I was saying at the beginning it seems like you’re preparing more for success but do you also prepare for failure too? And I’m not saying failure like “ah I’ve failed and can’t move forward”, but in terms of like setbacks. Have you experienced setbacks before? Is that something that you guys as a team have also been preparing for? 

Yeah. So like you said, I am very spiritually led and those are some of the values that my parents have instilled in me, especially my mom. And she’s just taught me that there’s no such thing as failure. It’s always just a lesson. It’s always just part of the process. And it took a lot for me to understand that because releasing this project on itself, it failed so many times, so many times… Everybody knows it took me over a year to put it up because each time I thought we were getting some way, it just wouldn’t work out. Each time I thought we were ready to drop, it just wouldn’t show. Otherwise each time I would just be ready to release or anything, it just wouldn’t work. And you know, I think that’s where I learned a lot about setbacks & disappointments, and sometimes things not going according to plan.

That’s how it started. It took a lot for me. It took a lot to the point where I was like, you know what? Maybe I don’t want to release this and that’s where I just learned how to deal with the negative things that can come my way because life is… It was about balance. You know, good things happen, bad things happen and I know how to go about dealing with losses. It’s never a failure, it’s just always a lesson and it’s just how I see it as… That it wasn’t my time or it wasn’t, you know, the right person or it wasn’t at the right place. There’s just something that wasn’t aligning for it not to happen, but it is going to happen even if it takes forever. And that’s sort of the mindset that I’m trying to get my team into.

We’re just learning. We’re all learning. We’re doing better. The most important thing is to keep trying, keep trying your best and keep praying. Keep supporting yourself and keep supporting others, you know? But as for failure, I don’t believe in that. And I don’t prepare for it. Preparing for things to not go our way. I definitely understand that sometimes things won’t go the way we want them to go. Sometimes things won’t even take off, you know? And that’s part of life and it takes a certain type of maturity to understand that, try again, do better and be better.

“I think music is universal, you know? It’s music is music and I’m a strong believer of that” – ELAINE

Talk to me about the team that you are currently working with because it seems as though you’re career is very family orientated at the same time as it is business orientated. You keep on mentioning the team that you have. Could you shed some light on the people around you that are also behind the Elaine brand, the team that is also at the front line of cheering for you and making sure that you are equipped to move forward?

So I don’t exactly have like an “established team” because I sort of do everything myself. The only person that’s really likes a formal team member is my manager Josh. Yeah. We basically delegate duties between the two of us. You know, we deal with everything we do with PR. We deal with gigs, we deal with everything. And Josh is a great person to work with. He’s very patient, he’s very smart, he knows the industry from the outside and the inside. He does a whole lot of research. He reads a whole lot of books and he’s more theoretical about it when it comes to this industry. Myself, I like to be more practical about it. I like to experiment. I like to see things, I like to hear things. I like to watch things. So that’s pretty much how our relationship works.

With my family, they don’t exactly work with me, but they support the mission, you know? I regard them as part of my team. Same as my friends, they’re the ones that are like, “dude, I’m proud of you. Keep going. Are you okay? Um, what do you need? You know, um, when is the next gig? What can we do to help?”. And you know, most of the time I don’t even need to ask them for anything. You know, they just go ahead and do it from the goodness of their hearts. My friends promoted Elements to where it is right now. Not once did I have to ask them to like “yo please can you promote for me, whatever, whatever…” They were just like, yo do it. This is good. Like people deserve to hear this. They posted, they reposted, they tweeted, they shared and they liked everything. And that plays a great role when you’re sort of alone in this whole thing because you feel like, okay, at least my family and my friends are there for me. It means a lot because even when things don’t go okay, you have a place to go back to and they embrace you and just support you with a clean heart, with open arms and that means everything for me.

Oh, that’s dope… Since you’ve been in the spotlight have you come across like negative interactions? Are people hating on you? Are people going against you? Has your perception of the music industry… I guess it’s quite early for you to describe because you’re still discovering the industry. But have you come across that? And I don’t know if I’ve asked you this before but creatively the new music that you’re working on right now, mentally are you still on Elements mode, or is your narrative changing as time goes?

Yeah. Like the first week I dropped, there was a whole thing on Twitter, like I was trending, you know, I was the topic of the Twitter streets and one girl was just like, “yeah your project sucks. Like you, you’re not that great. You’re below average. The only thing that pops is that your, um, lyrics are relatable, otherwise, you ain’t it”. So I have been exposed to that. And what made the situation better was just to see people support me and be like, “girl, you are lying”. I know you lying. And not in a way that sort of like makes me come across it when people fight other people, their opinions and whatever. But no, what made me sort of get over it is that they are people that actually disagree and some people actually liked my music and that’s what matters.

The people that like it and the people that enjoy it and the people that appreciate it outweigh the people that just don’t enjoy it. And the people that just say, “Nah, it ain’t that good. You’re trying to be someone else”… Not that anybody has said that. They just said that “you know what, now you’re not that good” and say things like “you can’t even sing that well”… So it’s stuff like that and again, it just comes down to having a good support structure. And I mean I’m so surprised by the response that I’ve been getting from people. It’s unbelievable. People really show me so much, love. You should see my DMs…

And that for me is what it’s all about. Like for people that don’t even know me to be like, “we’re praying for you. God bless you, you saved me”. “Do you know saved me from so much?” And “you opened up my heart” and you know, “you shine some lights upon like something that I’m going through right now and I thank you for that, I thank God for you”. And I’m like, whoa! You know, this is bigger than people’s negative comments. Like it’s bigger than that. Like it’s a calling. It’s a blessing. It’s a talent, it’s a gift and there are these people that you inspire. And I’m so glad that I realized that so quickly.

And the narrative too (of the music) of it is pretty much, I wouldn’t say the same, but um, along those lines, you know? I’m sort of still bringing a chapter in my life, that I want to speak about and want to reflect on before I can move on to a different narrative. I go with the flow, it’s about where I am… And the notable change, obviously as I mature, as I grow, as I experience more than things will change, but in a very honest and open way too. As long as I’m feeling this way, for as long as this is what I’m going through, I must think about it, make music about it, you know? So, yeah.

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Wow… and when you see your phone start buzzing and you’re seeing yourself trend all over the place, how does that feel like? I feel like I would take a nap first before I open my social media accounts [laughs] But I’ve seen people compare you to other artists such as H.E.R, Summer Walker & others. Do you find that insulting when people compare you to artists that are also sort of killing it in the RnB/soul game?

Yeah. I’m a very anxious person, so I still get a bit anxious. Like when I go into social media, when I see notifications, I’m just like, ah, what now? But, um, yeah, it’s all just about finding the good and the bad, you know, there’s always going to be the bad. And I’ve just trained my mind to understand that nothing is always 100% good. You know, there are always ups and downs. People love comparing me to these like international RnB singers and it’s like, to an extent, it’s like, okay, I appreciate that because you see me on an international scale and you see me as good as they are. The other day there was an argument on Twitter again that debated how I’m better than H.E.R, you know? And people were just like, I love her, but I don’t think she’s better than H.E.R.

So the fact that the conversation is within international standards really makes me happy. I’m doing something right not only for myself but for the music industry, but to an extent, it’s like, it’s the broader picture. And the deeper message behind it is sort of sad… Like for us to consider something good, it has to be weighed against an international song or international people. It’s like that’s the standard, the bar, you know, to the point where the only way that people will appreciate your music or the only way that you’ll do really well is if people find your sound of an international standard. And it’s like we don’t see ourselves as international. We don’t get compared to one another. And I just also really hate the idea of being compared. I’m not the “South African” H.E.R, I’m not the South African Snoh Aalegra & I’m not the South African Summer Walker. I’m Elaine and that’s something that I wish people would start to embrace and understand like I’m not trying to be them and I’m never going to be them. And this is not me trying to mimic somebody else. You know who I am, I’m the South African Elaine, you know, I’m Elaine. It’s just something that I hope that people can learn over time.

I like what you saying and now I’m thinking with regards to… it feels as though a lot of young emerging artists, majority female artists have sort of like put you at the forefront of RnB/soul in SA. It’s like you’ve sort of like become this spear that will usher in an international standard appreciation and I’m wondering if you feel that sense of responsibility because you’re still young but you get so much praise every day to a point where it’s like you represent and have become the ideal representation of young emerging artists from SA. Here there’s always been this element of no appreciation for good artists and you find that the international markets appreciate certain unique artist from SA first before their own people appreciate them, so if the international markets are pulling you in would you consider going over that side to take over and then coming home to finish off what you started or do you want to conquer SA first and then go to rest of the world?

I think music is universal, you know? Music is music and I’m a strong believer of that and I feel when the whole Joe Budden thing popped up, I was like, whoa! Music is universal. People from anywhere can listen to music. You know, it doesn’t specifically have to be in a specific location for it to do well, although that’s how the system has been sort of like constructed, you know? Or that’s how our minds are trained. So I don’t pay attention to any of these things.

And if it means like going to America, I’ll go to the US but I’ll keep staying in South Africa. It doesn’t matter for me because at the end of the day I’m South African and that’s what matters. Whether I’m here or whether I’m there, at the end of the day I’m still the pioneer and I’m still trying my best for our industry. Whether it’s here or not, I’ll still be representing my country. That’ll never change. So obviously the goal is to be a household name all over the world. That’s the goal. I think that’s what every musician wants. They mean for their music to be heard all over the world and once I have conquered or I feel like I’ve got the market in South Africa, then it’s often the next phase.

You know, we’ve already started like connecting with the US and after the US we want to go to the UK and Germany and so on… It’s a journey. It’s universal. And I just want to touch people all over the world. I’m not going to limit myself. I’m not going to limit who I am. All my music… Music is music. It’s made to be heard. It’s made to be discovered. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do and allow.

“You put in your shift and you just let God take control from there. And that’s something that my team and I have learned”- ELAINE

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Oh yeah, I’ve received so much love. I’ve received so much love. And I remember when my song played on Metro FM, Somizi and them were like am I’m TK reincarnated… but yeah, it’s like RnB hasn’t had a market in South Africa for the longest time. I mean my queen of RnB from South Africa is Goapele and imagine the last time she released something!? And we also had Malaika who was sort of leaning towards RnB, but it was more alternative and Kwaito… Often a whole lot was going on. So South Africa didn’t have the platform to focus on RnB because I think our industry is so slow that we sort of tend to only focus on one genre at a time.

You know, if it’s trap, it’s trap. If it’s hip hop, it’s hip hop. And our industry doesn’t allow artists to coexist at the same time, which is why people are like, whoa! There’s this RnB artist… And she’s booming because people haven’t heard RnB in South Africa for the longest time, you know? It’s not part of our culture anymore and that’s so crazy because we have some of the most amazing RnB artists. And we’re not given the platform to do well fully, you know? So I’m just proud of myself. I’m proud of my team. I’m proud of my music too, for what it has been doing and for how it’s been making people feel. When people say she is the face of RnB in South Africa it’s like, Whoa! You guys really trust me… It’s like, that’s amazing. I don’t think there’s one person that can be like, you know, this is me. We’re allowed to coexist in this industry. And it’s because people make it so competitive. It’s like only one and everybody can coexist and everybody can be happy. Everyone can win and everybody can eat. So, yeah, I’m not a competitive person, I know what I do and I know how I do it.

Final question but also like a personal question too. I guess I’ll start with the personal one, your dream collaborations, do you have dream collaborations are you trying to link up with the Frank Oceans’ at some stage, are you trying to work with specific artists at some stage? Have you already started having those conversations? The final questions would be what would you like to say to all your fans, family and friends that have been supporting you, that have been holding you down, pushing your music, celebrating your music, defending you.. what words would you say to those people?

Dream collaborations, yes! Lauryn Hill, Frank Ocean, Drake, Beyoncé.  I just want to say I’m so grateful. I’ve been through so many situations in life where I felt as if no one but my family had my back, and where I felt so alone. And this moment right here is so personal and close to my heart. I’m ever so grateful.

END.

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