Soulful singer-songwriter, Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni’s love of music is surpassed only by her passion for human-environmental interaction. This originates from her early years growing up in Cunningmore near Bushbuckridge, where she was born and raised, before moving to Mkhulu.
Birdie’s musical passion first came to light from around the age of eight. Reserved and rather shy as a child, fellow church congregants recognised her talent and encouraged her to sing, boosting her confidence. “All I wanted to do was sing, so I looked for opportunities to be on stage,” she smiles. “How I ended up pursuing music as a career is something that was led by my just wanting to be on stage, wanting to perform. Everything else happened all on its own. I think of myself as a soul singer, although I grew up listening to different genres, including neo-soul. This influenced the kind of music I created when I finally started writing my own songs.”
Apart from singing, Birdie is an accomplished academic and conservationist and is currently an anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, which keeps her quite busy. Since she can remember, she has been involved in conservation-minded programmes, which is partly what led to her love of conservation and the environment. Birdie studied ecotourism at TUT before expanding into nature conservation, later becoming a lecturer in the field.
“I went on to do my work-integrated learning at De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape, under CapeNature. Upon completion, I worked on Dassen Island as a field ranger, one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Armed with enthusiasm, a telescope, notebook and a tally hanging around my neck, I was doing the weekly (penguin) moult count and a count of all the birds found in colonies all around the island (cormorants and pelicans). The privilege of living in South Africa and connecting with myself and nature is one I do not take lightly,” says Birdie.
Working in the conservation sector, she realised that there is an emphasis on the preservation of nature and people are generally a foreign agent. “I became interested in human-environment interactions; particularly how these play themselves out in protected areas in post-apartheid South Africa, given the country’s history of the removal of and the exclusion of black communities from places that then became protected areas and the conservation enterprise.”
Birdie sees her music as one way of imparting an educational message relating to her studies. “I hope to promote a positive self-identity among African youth,” she muses. “Through the use of our beautiful languages and the telling of our own stories, in our own way, I aim to make my music a channel to communicate what I have learnt through my research. Music eclipses so many things, surpassing the barriers of language and bringing culture and heritage to the fore.” This is evident at Birdie’s performances when the audience interacts on a completely different level. She incorporates different cultural aspects into her music, bringing something for everyone and uniting them in the joy of song, accentuating her love of the happiness and prosperity of people.
“I care about the well-being of others,” she says. “I care about access and equal opportunities. This is largely why I am interested in the kind of research I am pursuing. It is important to me that we understand how these things are connected, and how they play out, even in the sector that I am in.” Birdie laughs as she says that she is actually extremely shy… “But I tend to speak a lot when things that I am passionate about come up!”
When asked what the future holds, this multifaceted woman muses on what destiny has in store. “I generally do not have these long-term projections when it comes to my life,” she laughs. “There is just so much to learn and experience out there, and there are so many things I am grateful for. I look back on two of my favourite performances, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in 2016, and the Atlantic Music Expo in Cabo Verde in 2017, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My studies, the people I have met along the way, the places I’ve been to…”
Birdie’s favourite place in the world at the moment is Mapungubwe National Park and Cultural Landscape, and there is still so much more to see, so much to still look forward to. “My life is ruled by serendipity, so I really don’t know what the future holds,” she smiles, her beautiful dimpled smile. ”All I know is that I want to continue to travel the world, see all the beauty out there, and find ways to keep doing all the things that I am passionate about!”