The Total Package: Donna N Q & A

You can do anything you put your mind to!

Words by Alex Gwaze (Curator)
Questions by Alex Gwaze and Terry-Jo Thorne (Researcher & Writer)

These days everyone does everything – especially in the Creative Arts industry. It’s not uncommon to find out that your favourite singer wrote the song, designed the cover art, directed the music video, made everyone’s costumes, baked a cake and paid herself – without leaving her bedroom. I guess it’s a side effect of our current economic woes fuelled by this “guma guma” hustling culture and the myth of genius. Or maybe it’s the fake it till you make mentality that seems to worked even for an elected United States congressman. Whatever the case, we have officially moved past the age of specializing in one occupation like a doctor or drummer to generalizing in all sorts. However, this doesn’t mean that all these Jacks (or Jills) of all trades are actually good at even one of the things they claim to do. Some folk really should let other people do their jobs, and others like Donna N should do more jobs.

Donna Ncube, known professionally as Donna N, is Donna is a multifaceted creative who has made her mark in several arenas in the Creative Arts circuit. Firstly, as an actress she has been nominated for the Outstanding Film Actress award at the National Art Merit Awards (NAMA) and won the Outstanding Film Actress award at the Bulawayo Arts Awards (BAA). Furthermore, she has acted in the stage plays “Voices in my Head” and “Tellers the Musicals”; featured in the Netflix series “Queen Sono”; and she has appeared in commercials for Datlabs and Honey Gold. She currently appears in the “Amanxeba” and “Insuku Zokucina” series on DSTV. Secondly, Donna hosts a daily mid morning show called “Singabantu Banye” (We are one people) on Skyz Metro FM and she has won the Outstanding Radio DJ award at the BAAs and been nominated for the ZimStars Outstanding Presenter award. In addition, she has hosted several live events that include the NAMAs, Starbrite National Finals, ZimHiphop Awards Red Carpet and the Just Net TV Just Gospel Zimbabwe Talent Search, just to name a few. Plus she released a few singles and supplied the lead vocals for Plan International PSS song.

I think by now it’s very clear that Donna N is not only talented but she is also the total package. Her worksheet coupled with her versatility – and supported by her degree in Journalism and Media Studies (Hons) from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) – can elicit in others either admiration, hate or the usual green shade of envy. Fortunately what most people like about Donna is her humility, professionalism and her strong values – which we got a chance to talk her about.

AG: I read somewhere that you were raised in a very Christian home so you had to hide your creative desires from your family for a very long time. But you eventually told them. What was your ‘coming out’ like? Can you describe that day you told your family, “I am a creative”?

DN: It really had nothing much to do with the Christian environment I was raised in, there is so much creativity in my home as well by the way (laughs). It was more of the fear of saying I want to sing and act whilst the popular or rather socially accepted career choices were more on the formal white collar side. What I witnessed was really a mother fearing for her child and wanting to protect me as much as possible. I also saw the things she was fearful off, so I was more aware of what I was stepping into when I entered the industry. But that didn’t make things any easier, you know.

AG: Things worked out for you in the end though. You been very successful. You’ve won several awards plus you are on the radio and TV every day. You are a veteran now! I’m sure you no longer get stage fright. What advise do you have for beginners who get really nervous?

DN: Me, a veteran? (laughs). Thank you but I am not a veteran, I have barely begun (laughs). You know I still get stage fright, every time! Especially when I have to stand or speak in front of people. I don’t think it ever leaves you because every stage or platform is different and I always want to serve each audience as well as I can. So yaaaa it is nerve wrecking! It comes with the job I guess. So what advise would I give beginners. My advise for anyone is to find a routine that helps you keep calm. I personally prepare ahead of time, pray and dance before I turn on the microphone. That works for me (laughs).

TJ: Unlike the stage or acting (where someone is there to react to your performance), on radio it’s just you speaking to your imaginary listeners. How did you initially develop your personality without that immediate feedback from your somebody?

DN: Yoh, it was a long tumultuous but fulfilling journey. It was personal. I had to silence the critics and applauds for a season to find ‘me’ – what I liked and what spoke to me. I had to reconnect with my default settings. The personality was already there but the pressure to sound a certain way to be accepted or relevant further drowned it. But I had to go back there to rediscover it, and honestly I am nothing like the person I thought I had to be to succeed.

AG: I am correct in saying that your Christian values are very much part of your personality. Christianity and the entertainment industry’s values are often in conflict. Some shows even censor the word God. This conflict deters some Christians from becoming entertainers. How have you found a balance between these two worlds?

DN: I just live my life nje. I try not to put myself under unnecessary external pressure. I live by the statement “what is mine is mine, what is not mine is not mine and my tribe will recognise me”. My relationship with God started a long time ago before I even knew or discovered my radio skills, acting talents and all the other gifts God bestowed upon me. God was there at my highs, lows, my moments of victory and defeats, stress and happiness. In this industry especially, my relationship with God has kept me sane. So I am not about to change my working formula for a few new likes or even more fame. This industry can rip you apart physically, mentally and emotionally, so you definitely need a strong base – God is the strongest base.

TJ: What have been the hardest artistic choices you’ve had to make that disagreed with your beliefs outside of the industry?

DN: You won’t believe this but none. Well, none really come to mind. I think every decision I have made so far has brought me to a realisation of what I need to do again and what I do not need to do again. You learn from your self if you reflect on your choices.

TJ: I know some Christians who avoid all secular content and only watch Christian movies and listen to Gospel. As a creative you’ve been forced to engage with some none-Christian content and artists. How has this positively impacted your life?

DN: We live in a world full of different  people, with different beliefs and ideas. So sometimes we do not agree on everything. I have met people who are my opposites and we have created good stuff. You know it’s really a matter of how you see life and take it. I take it as the world we live in and do not worry about it like people assume I should. I have found my centre and that’s the most important thing to me. I just continue living my truth and continue being the light I love to see from all walks of life.

AG: I think I know something you love to see. Your husband, Bobby Odendaal. His a member of the gospel outfit “Family Voices”. So I’m sure he understands your values and the pressure you are under. A lot of artists do not have this kind of understanding and support from their loved ones and become addicts, depressed or suicidal. What is about the industry that makes it hard for some to maintain a healthy mindset?

DN: (Laughs) Yes I do love to see my hubby! But let me answer your actual question. This industry is very demanding and it asks a lot from you, at times more than you can give. Some people unfortunately fail to realise when it is time to pause or refocus. And they also fail to create or keep solid relationships (be it family or friendships) that can stand the test of time. The pressure to be relevant or to be constantly seen doing something can be very detrimental. Especially if you do not have a strong foundation. And this is what I think, it is not a reflective of what all people are going through or experiencing, its my realisation ever since I stepped into this industry. It’s actually quite a lot I could add but that would need a whole day to try and cover it all, we could make a documentary (laughs). Just to add a little bit more context. I think we (entertainers and society) worry too much about the brand we trying to create (which really is a business) than the mind and body of the person behind the brand.

TJ: The entertainment industry often has very awkward working hours, odd meetings and long rehearsals. How has it been balancing your previous obligations – acting, presenting, music, job – with your marriage?

DN: Eish it can be demanding. Honestly I am still learning how to balance everything but I think one thing that has worked for me (even before getting married) is knowing when to shutdown. When I get home most of the times I can’t even locate my phone. Even now, we are chatting after midnight at 01.20 am and everyone is asleep. But I’m not complaining. I am grateful for everything. For the support as well, especially from a family that understands the nature of my work. When I get home I try to be present as much as possible for my family and I am a home person. I loooove being at home! It makes it easier for me to give my full focus to my family.

AG: What do you like to do at home? Since you and Bobby are both musicians, do you sing together at home and in the shower? (laughs) And can we expect a duet album from the Ncube-Odendaal family?

DN: Yes we do, all the time! it’s quite a very noisy house – but an album hmmmm maybe you never know (laughs).

AG: Noisy? I don’t believe you (laughs). Some of your friends and old lectures described you as a “shy and reserved person”. To me that translates to secretive (laughs). I know you can keep a secret, so for our last question, can you tell us something we should know about you that might surprise your fans?

DN: What! (laughs) Okay I am shy and maybe reserved (let’s pause while I smile). I’m also a huge introvert. As for secrets, hmmmmmm none. Wait, not sure if this is one but I am a veeeeeeeeeery playful character. I am hardly serious except when I am working because that’s work and we all have to be professional (laughs). But I just love having fun. And you don’t want to live in my head, you will meet some multi -coloured personalities that help me prepare for my acting roles (laughs).

Follow Donna N at: @Donna15n
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