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Portrait of an Artist: Thando Khumalo

September 9, 2022

Courtesy of Serena Jonas
SINGING AND STRUMMING Thando Khumalo ’23 plays a remote show broadcast at Art Piragua Art Space in N.Y.. She also played there in-person this summer.

This past February, Thando Khumalo ’23 released her debut EP, “Normal Day.” The project’s honest guitar riffs and calming vocals garnered recognition across campus. Khumalo recorded the EP in the laundry room of her hometown house in Oxford, Massachusetts. Over the summer, Khumalo switched out her laundry room for a recording studio and will be releasing new music this fall.

Khumalo’s writing process starts with creating a melody. From there she’ll recite the words “peanut butter and jelly” over the chords until the lyrics come to her, lyrics that only gain meaning to Khumalo after their creation.

“[The lyrics] just pop in my brain and then in retrospect, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is literally about this [situation].’” Khumalo said.

Katherine Page ’23, Khumalo’s close friend and poster designer, expressed her fondness for Khumalo’s writing.

“Her lyrics are funny. They’re very tongue in cheek. They’re just very real Thando lyrics,” Page said.

For Khumalo, making music allows her to convey herself in a light she usually cannot.

“I feel like I always have to be smiling or whatever, but when I make my music it’s the only time that I feel comfortable to really have a full range of emotions,” Khumalo said. “There’s no pressure to be positive.”

Khumalo spoke on her experience as a Black female artist, especially as it relates to connecting with her audience.

“I’ve been told so many times by non-POC peers that they will never be able to fully understand my experience as a Black woman. But the overwhelming response I get from my songs is ‘that’s so relatable’ or ‘that made me think of xyz experience.’ Through my music I really want to show people that you don’t have to know the why behind their sadness or anger to relate to them,” Khumalo wrote in a text message to the Orient. “Now I’ve come to really like watching people cry listening to my songs. It’s confirmation that I am relatable as a Black woman.”

Last semester, Khumalo performed at local cafe and natural therapy store Grampa’s Garden and, over the summer, she played shows in New York City.

“I had an opportunity to play some shows in New York City, which was really fun. My first show, I think ten people came to, but it was so great … But then the second show I was so shocked—it sold out,” Khumalo said. “It’s really nice to know that people besides my friends can connect with the music.”

Khumalo’s affinity for performing is clear to Page.

“She also loves sharing her music with friends,” Page said. “From my perspective, it seems like she’s happiest when she’s playing guitar for other people and singing for other people.”

In New York, Khumalo also had the opportunity to make connections in the professional music world.

“I ended up connecting with a producer in New York who loved [the song I showed them],” Khumalo said. “[The recording experience] adds a layer of seriousness or professionalism to my music that I definitely didn’t have before.”

One of the songs Khumalo recorded in New York is called “Like It Like That.” The song comes out on September 30, and the release will be accompanied by a performance at Grampa’s Garden that night.


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