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Brief Profile of Jessica Mbangeni The arts and an entrepreneurial spirit have been an integral part of Jessica Mbangeni’s life. As a child growing up in the village of Ngqamakhwe, Eastern Cape, she worked alongside her grandmother in the fields and also sold fresh produce to support the family. In the evenings, she’d listen to amazing tales told by her granny, who was also a great orator. Another added advantage to growing up in villages near the one of the Xhosa kingdoms meant that there was no shortage of wordsmiths who narrated the history of the Xhosas and the rich traditions that are revered by its people. As a six year old Sunday school choir lead singer, litte did she know that the influences which surrounded her upbringing would define her career. By the time she reached Ezizweni Senior Secondary and later, Eastern Cape Technikon, her powerful voice had caught the attention of many and led to her scoring a part in Nkosinathi Mbombela gospel album, titled Umthwalo, where she sang lead on a couple of tracks. That experienced marked a turning point for this singer, songwriter, poet and entrepreneur. Despite the early breakthrough, things didn’t go as smoothly as she had envisaged when she relocated to Johannesburg in search of a brighter future as an artist. Instead of landing a record deal, she was forced to seek employment as a domestic worker in Fordsburg, earning a mere R400 a month. Unable to survive on this meager wages and also send money to her family back home, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she supplemented the wages by selling cosmetics to fellow domestic workers during her spare time. However, her dream of career in the arts remained and her deep passion for music led to her being noticed and invited to work with South African music royalty – among them Hugh Masekela; Sibongile Khumalo; Dolly Rathebe;Abigail Kubheka and Thandi Klassen. When she signed up and toured the globe with the award winning Soweto Gospel choir, Jessica saw another opportunity to supplement her artist wage through selling beaded crafts after performances and explain the hidden meaning behind the intricate beads to her audiences after each show. Suddenly all the skills she learned in Ngqamakhwe of story-telling, praise singing and running a business came alive in Scotland, France and the USA. Back home, corporate South Africa, couldn’t have enough of her rich voice and deep knowledge of culture – a rare feat among South Africa’s youth. Local brands engaged her to write and tell their stories from a traditional perspective. In honour of the knowledge she learned from her grandmother, fellow villagers and community leaders who have played a pivotal role in her growth as an artist and cultural activist, Jessica launched Kwantu Entertainment – an all encompassing brand which fusses story-telling, manufacturers traditional South African fashion, music and praise singing. As a way of mentoring young artists who come to Johannesburg for greener pastures, she launched an artist management unit which allows her and her staff of arts industry expert to guide and mentor young artists. Despite her role as the company’s director, she has managed to also fulfill her longtime dream of releasing her own solo album, Igoli, which gave her an opportunity to work with her long time mentor, the late Victor Ntoni under Kwantu Entertainment. IGoli album has been succeeded by Busisiwe Tribute to the African Heroines and the Live Dvd Jessica Sings IGoli at Lyric Theatre Gold Reef City. Despite her many talents, this mother of two is working tirelessly to lead her team of employees in the manufacturing of exclusive designs which will see high quality African designs which weave the story of its people being acceptable as part of everyday wear in corporate corridors as well as at home. If the support she’s been receiving from all quarters is anything to go by, she’s definitely on the right track.

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