Journalist, singer, podcaster, media innovator and mother of three beautiful boys, Yolanda Sangweni is no stranger to change and this month she taught us how to identify the opportunity in transition. A senior editor in the glamorous world of glossy magazines and an advocate for global African culture long before it was trendy, Yolanda recently pivoted to the growing new media of podcasts. Still, she has always used her voice to sing and now she has taken the leap with a performance at the famed Apollo Theatre in New York City.
One of the first major changes of your life occurred when you were very young, arriving in New York with your mother as asylum seekers from apartheid’s brutality. How has that shaped your relationship to change and on the other hand, routine and stability?
Our experience taught me resilience. Seeing my mother have to rebuild her life—from her education to her social circle—in a new country taught me everything I needed about change. While our change was drastic and somewhat heartbreaking, I’ve also had to learn that “home” can be inside of you. So in moments of displacement (temporarily, hopefully), when you are far from family, you remain steady in your heart knowing that home travels with you and being away can be an opportunity to sow new roots and create new bridges and bonds.
You built a career in magazines and media, an industry that has seen enormous and often detrimental change in the last decade. How did you remain agile, adjusting to new media like podcasts and live events, and still grounded with a consistent message, celebrating black women?
Looking back, I’ve always liked things that disrupt and expand. When I started AFRIPOP way back in 2008 I was one of the first people blogging about African arts and entertainment and talking about “global African culture” because I had a feeling African culture was about to blow up thanks to the internet. So, new media is where I live. I’m now working in podcasting which is so exciting because, like blogging way back when, it is democratic and the barrier of entry is low. No matter what medium I choose, I am always striving to bring the voices and experiences of black women to the forefront.
Some are calling this moment we’re experiencing The Great Pause. In pausing we can reevaluate and reimagine.
Music has always been a part of your life. How has your relationship with it changed since its front and centre of your life now?
Like any creative multi-hyphenate, I’ve gone through the phases of doubting my talent and trying to keep myself in a box. But recently, I realised my songwriting is part of my story and I could be more public about it. Some of us don’t have just one linear story to tell and that’s okay. I think once I liberated myself of the labels I had placed on myself, I’ve been able to move closer to music. I like to say “you can be many things in one lifetime.”
You have three sons, from early teens to toddlers. How do you teach them to manage change, little and big shifts?
I wish I had a great answer, but I don’t. Like most parents, I am taking things day by day, especially during these uncertain times. I hope to look back on these days and say I instilled respect, generosity, love, and art of self-reflection into the boys.
Across your life’s areas, you’ve evolved and stayed rooted at the same time. What advice would you have for women in our digital community who are grappling with this major shift of a global pandemic and all the change it could bring?
Some are calling this moment we’re experiencing The Great Pause. In pausing we can reevaluate and reimagine. I say, use this time to say yes to whatever it is—an idea, an aspiration a career shift—that has been lingering in your heart. And it doesn’t have to be a major shift, it could a simple shift, just make an effort to move closer to what you aspire.