Passion and Patience: Lee McHoney gets personal

Words by Nonsi Tshabangu

Questions by Alex Gwaze and Nonsi Tshabangu

I remember the first time I ever got into a studio. I was excited, I wasn’t nervous, I was ready to sing my lungs out. Even though I was only doing backing vocals, I felt like this was it! This is the first step to showing off my talents. I had finally gotten through the door and I was ready and willing to learn – press record and listen to me roar! Fast-forward to several years later and I was 1000+ miles away from home on a totally different career path. The passion was gone … sadly. That’s how my story played out (a few highlights though) but not how Lee McHoney’s has progressed.

Lee McHoney also started in the background, doing backing vocals for Jah Prayzah on the song “Chipo” from the “Kutonga Kwaro” album. But since then, she has released her own hit songs like “Skorokoro”, “My Qualifier”, and “Uthando”. Then, in 2019 she won the Best Metro Urban Song Award and the Best Female (people’s choice award) at the Skyz Metro FM Awards. Also, in early 2020 she starred in the highly successful Wadiwa wepaMoyo series on YouTube. McHoney appears to be a jack of all trades, so one of the first questions we asked her was:

AG: You are a singer and an actress, so it’s safe to say you are a creative soul. Have you always found ways to express yourself artistically growing up?

LM: “I am a singer and an actress yes; I am a very creative soul. Growing up I have never really been or observed myself as a creative, it is only when I had to choose a career path when I realised I’m only good at being creative, I tried everything else. I am actually a qualified computer engineer but it wasn’t my thing. The whole time it was torture for me, so when I went to music, I realised there is this new world that I had never explored, this ‘Art’ is where I belong. So, when I started music, I also ventured into acting, trying to play instruments, and writing – and I felt so comfortable. Then I realised that is where my talent and gift is”.

It’s no secret that Zimbabwe is a country brimming with talent, and “the City of Kings and Queens” is a hub for some of the best of them. Bulawayo has nurtured the careers of Lovemore Majaivana, Albert Nyathi, Sunduza Dance Theatre, the late Cal_Vin, Jeyz Marabini, and Sandra Ndebele (who continues to reinvent herself throughout her 17-year career). As a Bulawayo native, McHoney revealed in previous interviews with other publications that she draws her inspiration from some of these Kings and Queens – as well as Ammara Brown, Jhene Aiko, MJ Sings, and the late Chiwoniso Maraire. Lee’s awareness of where we have come from (Chiwoniso and Sandra), where we are (Ammara and Masike) and where we need to be going (see her answers) is what initially drew me to her. Then her candidness and dope energy rekindled my creative energy, so we ended up asking her a whole bunch of questions:

NT: Let’s start with that name, wow. Why Lee McHoney? Why not Linda Nyauchi? Why did you decide to translate your surname, shortcut your name and add an Mc? Was this part of inventing a character?

LM: “Why Lee McHoney? Well, my name is Linda Nyauchi but I decided to use Lee McHoney because generally in my personal life, I was raised by a single mother and I have never really been in good books with my dad’s side of the family. And growing up I had never been comfortable using their surname and there is nothing I can do at this point because I have (my dad’s side of the family) – their surname – so I thought translating it would make me feel better. So instead of using Linda Nyauchi I used Lee McHoney. It’s a direct translation, it’s still the same thing anyway but it avoids a lot of unknown relatives popping up and claiming me. Get it?”.

AG: I know you are a proud mother, so I got to ask how did the term “future baby mama” come about?

LM: “I am a proud mama. The term ‘future baby mama’ came from that – umm, people always used to say I’m a bubbly character and I’m full of drama, you know. And at the time I was the baby mama but it wasn’t really public that I was a baby mama so I decided to call myself future baby mama, so that it just has that thing. Already Busiswa was using the ‘baby mama’ thing so I thought if I’m a future baby mama, because the whole phrase – ‘ufuture baby mama ole drama’, you know that drama that comes with the baby mamas. That is the character that people say I have. I’m loud, I’m fun, I’m crazy, I’m really crazy when I’m mad. I’m fun when I’m happy, that means when I get money from the baby daddy <laughs> yeah”.

AG: So, the music industry is notoriously linked with sex for success, how have you navigated it? Do you have any horror stories?

LM: “I suppose every industry for women is like that, but the entertainment industry is definitely worse because there is this stereotype that comes with that – ‘ma artist mahure’ saying. Because female artists express themselves artistically in their dressing and their form of expression has passion – it is kind of different from the way other women express themselves in other industries. So ‘men’ feel entitled to our bodies and feel like they can buy whatever and throw money around and they can get whatever they want. But I have managed – I don’t know how – thank God. I’m thankful to my family, because I have never had to need something from someone else, so I have never been vulnerable to that. And I am stern, so when someone comes to me with that vibe, I’m quick to block and just say nope, I’m not about that. I just keep working hard and keep doing my thing. So, it is there, but I managed to swerve all that”.

NT: How do you think females should act or behave in order to achieve their goals in the Creative Arts industry?

LM: “Females should take their stand and stand their ground and stop being scared. Just do their thing. Because females are really stronger than males. Well, I ‘feel’ like that because we have a lot of things we are forced to do alone – like building a family and charting a career. Plus, we still have to fight society sometimes, you know the stereotypes out there and unsolicited advances – everything. But we still manage to get out there. So, I feel like we should be more confident in our art, more confident in ourselves, and try and be bold cause this inferiority complex is really real in the arts industry. Men, I don’t want to generalize but some men try to make females feel like – ‘ahhh unogoina iwe, ehh just give up and go and have a family’ – but if you are bold enough you will make it because that’s more of an intimidation tactic because they know if this person makes it, they will be bigger than them”.

AG: So, your breakout role was playing Mai Noku on College Central’s Wadiwa wepaMoyo opposite Ben Mahaka of Studio 263 fame. What kind of roles do you want to play in the future?

LM: “My breakout role was playing Mai Noku on Wadiwa wepaMoyo. It was so awesome playing Ben Mahaka’s wife. I was star-struck at first but I managed to get that out the way. Also, it was my first or one of my first acting roles and funny enough I actually think I did a good job. In the future I want to play roles that portray my personality as Lee McHoney, because when I got that role, I was playing someone’s mom, someone’s wife so it’s more reserved and more conservative. But I want to play a character that is closer to me, so that when people meet me in real life or when people socialise with me on social media they don’t see that much of a difference”.

AG: We heard you want to produce your own reality show, what do you think of the current film and media industry in Zimbabwe? Where do you think it should be headed and what improvements are needed?

LM: “I really want to produce my own reality show but I feel the current film and media industry in Zimbabwe should be headed towards more creativity and more originality. Because a lot of reality shows out there feel like they are copy cats – that’s why they don’t really make it big out there, because there is already an original concept somewhere, that has a bigger budget and more famous people. So, when you do yours, it’s more like eerh, I have seen this before. So, we need more originality and creativity in the industry”.

AG: Everybody knows about the starving artist and in Africa, especially in Zimbabwe, it’s even harder to earn a living from it, why pursue it? What keeps you going?

LM: “Everyone is starving, I don’t know about the whole of Africa but I can say that about Zimbabwe. Because of the struggling economy it’s hard to earn a living from the arts, it’ s really hard. What I’ve noticed is – in the arts industry – especially in my experience, you need money to make money. You don’t just wake up, you good at what you do, and already money is being made. You need to put in some money to make money, so you lose a lot of money first before you start making new money. So, starvation is definitely there and earning a living from art takes a li’l bit of time that’s why you have to do it for the passion more than the money. But eventually it comes back, after sometime though, after you’ve grown your brand and after people start noticing you – that’s when the money starts coming; but it’s not even much still. If you see how other countries are doing compared to Zimbabwe, we are really bad – but hey, it is what it is”.

NT: Do you have any other hidden talents you haven’t explored? Are you perhaps a great designer?

LM: “I’m not sure, well as I grow in the industry, I’m realising I have more talent than I thought. I never thought I would be a writer, I never thought I would be an actress, but look at me now. So, I feel like there are so many things I’m yet to explore. There are many things I’m still yet to discover about myself as I grow in the arts industry. Learning is endless so I learn new things about myself every day. I have never tried designing but I have tried video directing and I feel like I’m actually good at it. So even though I have never really directed anything, I have plans to direct my next music video, I feel like I will be very good at that – then I wanna go into music production. I want to produce my own music and I’m working on that too”.

AG. Finally, what’s your go to African film or music that puts you in a creative mood?

LM: “Well my go to African film will definitely have to be Sarafina. I feel like Sarafina was real for me. I have cried, I have felt happiness, I really felt the emotions in Sarafina and the way they portrayed it was really good. And for music I definitely go to Poptain. He is a Zimbabwean upcoming artist and he is very good, his extremely good. Besides the fact that I know him personally, I feel like he is a lyrical genius. He writes sometimes but I have worked with him in the studio and he just goes to the mic and starts singing and you know it’s like, ‘what, how did you think of that’. So yeah, he is that awesome”.

Follow Lee online at: https://www.instagram.com/leemchoney

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