Radio personality and “Idols South Africa” judge Unathi Msengana has been in the industry for years, but her career seems to be on an upwards trajectory. With her recently released album, “Alive,” Msengana is once again in the spotlight, and fans are excited to see what the talented musician will come up with next. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about one of South Africa’s brightest stars, Unathi Msengana.
Sources: ENCA.com, WhosWho.co.za, SowetanLive.co.za, IdolsSA.DSTV.com, TVSA.co.za, News24.com, CityPress.co.za, 410Mag.co.za, You.co.za, Unathi.co
Born in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, Msengana now lives in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. She initially moved to the city after university to pursue work in TV production houses, but ended up making the move to radio and eventually singing as well.
Msengana attended Rhodes University in Grahamstown, earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism and drama. She then went on to the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, where she earned a degree in international media studies.
Msengana said the hit kwaito song “Sana Lwam” kicked off her career. “(Kwaito singer) Zola was someone I used to spend time with,” she said in an interview. “He asked me to go into studio with him one evening just to see how things would go, because he used to hear me singing in the corridors at Urban Brew. By the end of the evening we had recorded the song ‘Usana lwam,’ which became the beginning of my music career.”
Msengana co-hosts “The Avenue,” Metro FM’s hit drive-time radio show, alongside co-host Glen Lewis. Despite rumors that the two radio DJs were heading for a split due to tension at work, the two remain popular partners on the breakfast team. She was also nominated for the Best South African Radio Host at the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards in 2014.
After a stint as the co-host of the reality competition Popstars in 2004 alongside Rowan Cloete, Msengana returned to reality-show singing competitions when she replaced Mara Louw as a judge on the M-Net Idols show in 2011. The decision to replace Louw came after she allegedly mixed painkillers and alcohol before a show, as well as making controversial and racially charged comments regarding the show. Louw said publicl the show should be moved to SABC3 so that a black person could win.
In 2005, Msengana’s song “Sgubhu,” was featured on the film “Tsotsi,” which would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006. The film was also nominated for a Golden Globe award in the same category. It’s a story about a young street thug in Johannesburg who steals a car, only to find a baby in the back seat. The soundtrack also features other South African artists such as Zola and Vusi Mahlasela.
In 2009, Msengana married fellow DJ, Thomas Msengana, better known as Bad Boy T. Because they are both public figures, the Msenganas try to keep their personal life away from media attention. She said in an interview, “We don’t open up our relationship to the media. That’s the secret, so with the ups and downs, we go through them privately. It keeps our relationship sacred. We believe in being elusive and keeping some mystery.”
One of the nominations came from her DVD, “A Night with Unathi,” which was nominated for Best DVD at the South African Music Awards (SAMA) in 2014. Msengana was also previously nominated for SAMA’s Best Urban Pop Album, and was voted South Africa’s Best Female at the Annual Metro FM Music Awards in 2014.
Msengana has had the opportunity to open twice for John Legend. She also gave a memorable performance at a U.N. state delegation dinner, after which legendary producer Quincy Jones gave her a standing ovation and joined her on stage to praise her.
Msengana is known for butting heads with Metro FM station manager Martin Vilakazi, and the tense relationship has made headlines. In 2012, she was suspended for several days from the air after breaching a contract and discussing station affairs with other media sources. An inside source said, “Martin and Unathi don’t see eye-to-eye because he has come to Metro FM and basically changed all the rules about what each show can and cannot do. Since Unathi is very vocal about what she wants, there is loads of tension between them.”
When Msengana posed without makeup for a photo with a fan, tweeters tried to lambast the star. Her response? “There are many people that have an unhealthy obsession with looks,” she said. “Vanity has never been my strength…I’m not going to say no to a fan who wants a photo just because I’m not wearing makeup.”
When asked about her greatest extravagance, Msengana is quick to name shoes as her biggest weakness. She has a particular fondness for expensive designer brands, particularly Christian Louboutins, and blames her mother for the indulgence. “I grew up with a mother who adored shoes, and ever since I was little, I’ve loved them too. Spending money on footwear is how I spoil myself. I see it as an investment!”