Angie Santana is a steadily rising R&B sensation, who’s had a relatively short but interesting journey in the music industry thus far. What seemed like a dream start to her career – signing with one of the most renowned musicians in South Africa – would soon prove to be quite the opposite, as she had to leave her previous label and carry on as an independent artist. Her story is that of resilience and charting one’s own path regardless of the obstacles one may face along their journey. A testament to the tenacity of a woman with unflinching determination. We caught up with her and delved deep into a discussion on a myriad of issues from her beginnings, influences, pros and cons of being a signed artist versus being independent, as well as the ins and outs of the music industry from her experience.
When did you decide that you wanted to sing professionally?
I had been interested in doing music since I was a little girl, I would say from the age of 11 or 12. I grew up in a music oriented household and my dad constantly played music. It was mostly ‘70s and ‘80s Jazz, Soul and R&B. The very first song I remember hearing is a Teddy Pendergrass song. So, with that kind of influence and surroundings, the love for music and to be a music star was instilled in me. It crystallized when I got to high school and I started engaging with other talented peers who shared the same love for music as I did. I joined the choir and also took part in school plays and talent shows. When I got to university, I studied Marketing but I always knew that music is what I wanted to do. So, during my third year, I dropped out – in order to pursue music full-time.
From the time when you were still aspiring to get into the industry, have any of your expectations significantly changed, now that you’re fully in it?
I did have some form of expectation that things would go relatively easier for me, because of my belief that I had all the talent needed for this journey. But I soon realised that it didn’t matter how talented one is – sometimes it takes more than that. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes one having the right team in their corner, and to be honest, it’s only a handful of people who get it right the first time around. The rest of us usually have to work extra hard. And it will get frustrating along the way because regardless of how hard you work, it might just not come as organically for you as it does for other people. I did eventually reconcile myself with the fact that some people’s journeys take longer than other people’s journeys – and that’s absolutely fine. So, even though I thought I was the full package – as far as my person and ability is concerned – I just didn’t have the right team or management behind me to take me to the heights I felt I was meant to reach.
Were you always certain on what exactly it is you planned to do and become, once you got your foot in the door?
From the very start, when I decided to pursue this for real, I had a very clear plan and vision for myself, in terms of the kind of music I wanted to do and the kind of artist I wanted to be. And the truth is, when I first entered the industry at the ages of 20 – 21, I didn’t have anyone guiding me or holding my hand. I did all I had to do on my own. It was only as I progressed within the industry that I gradually started meeting well-meaning, like minded industry people who were willing to help me out. And truthfully, I realize that I was gullible at that time, so having these people helped me a lot when it came to discipline and learning the tricks to the trade.
Who are some of these people?
The first person that took me under their wing and was supportive of me, showing me around and stuff – was producer and rapper, Sean Pages. He showed so much respect and was interested in my work. At no point did I ever feel like his interest in me or my work was malicious in any way. Even today, he’s someone I am still in touch with, who still advises me and checks up on me – with the same respect and genuine interest in my development and enrichment within the industry. Another individual who has helped me greatly in my development is rapper Pdot O. He has featured me on virtually all of his projects and we have a great working relationship. He is a very respectful and caring individual who valued my craft and also advised me on how to navigate my way in the industry.
That’s really good to hear. I imagine having these people also strengthened your resolve to adhere to the goals you set out for yourself, when it comes to the music that you make.
Exactly. My goal was, and still is, to be an R&B artist – nothing else. So, with their continued advice and encouragement, coupled with my vision, I told myself that I would do R&B until it grew on people, if it came to that. I was hellbent in making it work as an R&B artist. I promised myself that I wouldn’t jump ship to House music or Gospel music, regardless of how hard it would get as an R&B artist. I made a promise to myself that I was going to work on my craft and perfect it. Me being resolute in this decision is something I am very proud of.
What are some of the realizations you had once you were in the industry, that you may have not placed much importance to prior?
It’s very important that you understand your market. It’s very important to understand the industry you’re getting into. It’s very important that you know who you are. The sooner you forget these things, the sooner you’ll start becoming someone or something that you’re not. When you reach that point, it’s easy to start sounding like everyone else – you end up just fitting in whereas the real plan is for you to stand out. I also wish I had someone to tell me that the industry is cutthroat. You have to read your contracts. You have to understand that everyone is in this for their own reasons and at the end of the day, you could easily be a casualty of war or used as a pawn. I unfortunately had to learn most of the dark parts of the industry myself. I’m glad I learned what I learned because it made me better, and now I am in the position that I can teach others who come after me.
Got you. What are some of these not so desirable situations you’ve found yourself in?
I signed to Theo Kgosinkwe (of Mafikizolo) and his label in 2017. In that period, we released my first single called “Don’t Waste Time”. In the beginning, everything went smoothly, we were on a roll. As time went on however, we just didn’t agree on certain things. We both had different visions for my brand. I wasn’t happy and I wanted to be somewhere else – I saw a bigger picture for myself and I didn’t like the feeling that I was boxed in, so I parted ways with the label.
Yeah. The truth is, there’s pros and cons to being signed. Only a few of us sign really good deals that work out for the best. But some of us unfortunately sign bad deals. My personal experience with being signed is not a good one. I didn’t like the process which involved so many people handling my business and too many people handling my money. I wasn’t able to have the final say and I had everyone else make final decisions for me – I wasn’t comfortable with all of that. This is why I have decided to do my own thing for the foreseeable future, until someone puts a deal in front of me that makes sense to me.
And your biggest take away from all this is?
Nothing is personal in the music industry, you know – it’s all just business. Everyone is trying to get ahead. Everyone is trying to make money. Everyone is trying to get the piece of the pie. So you have to look out for yourself and your best interest. Sometimes you come across good people that may have your best interests at heart, but most of the time, everyone’s just trying to get theirs. If it means stepping on top of a few people to get there, that’s how it’s going to be. Sometimes you’re going to sign bad deals, sometimes you’re going to sign good deals. At the end of the day, you have to keep it moving. If you fall, pick up where you left off – and start over. You’re the talent and people can only take so much from you. You have to pick yourself up and carry on.
There’s some level of resilience that comes with having experiences like this. Almost like a baptism of fire, which may hurt as you go through it but usually guarantees that you will be much better as a result of the baptism itself.
Right. The thing about me is – firstly, I believe in knowing oneself. Knowing who you are and knowing where you come from and understanding that everyone you meet in the industry has a different background from yours. This means that chances are, they might have different values and morals from you. Once you understand that simple fact – no one can ever shake you from your own morals and values, making you do what you don’t want to do. No one will make you lose your way and your true self. Believe in your craft, believe in who you want to be, and you will be just fine.
What are some of the glaring inconsistencies that still exist in the industry today that you wish would change?
One of the things that needs to change is that women entertainers need to be given the same respect that men receive. We all work the same amount of hours and days – sometimes women work even harder because we have so much more to prove than men. However, we are not given the same amount of respect – if anything, we’re looked down on. We’re not given the same platforms and when we eventually get these platforms, we’re treated as lesser. That’s one thing that certainly has to change. I would also love to see more men coming to the aid of women by speaking up on behalf of women in the industry, out of their own volition. That will go a long way in effecting the changes when it comes to the perception and attitudes towards women – if the men in the industry are also involved in speaking out against the inequality perpetrated by their male counterparts. The double standard still exists, in that, as soon as women in the industry voice out their unhappiness with regards to a particular thing, they are seen to be dramatic and hard to work with. They’re labeled divas. But it’s easy and understandable for men to voice out their opinions and unhappiness regarding a certain thing or how things are done in their space, within the music industry. We are not respected like we should be. We are not given the same respect and platforms. Men are valued more than women because of the mentality that women are not as competent as men. And this is still pervasive today largely because music is a male-dominated industry. These attitudes need to change.
Who have you worked with in the industry who has left an indelible mark in your career?
I have worked with a lot of artists. I am grateful to each and everyone of them for their time and their effort, and it’s always a great experience for me to work with new people. One of the people I genuinely enjoy working with is my longtime friend Tweezy. He’s a great producer, songwriter and rapper. Not only does he make amazing music, and not only do we have great chemistry in the studio – he is also a great motivator and educator, so I have received invaluable advice from him. I certainly plan to continue working with him as my musical journey continues.
And your influences and inspiration?
I grew up listening to women like Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston and Beyonce. Those are some of my biggest influences, internationally. Locally, I was deeply obsessed with the late Tsakani “TK” Mhinga – she was one of my favorite R&B singers. Right now, I absolutely love Shekinah. I’m a huge fan of Elaine. And I literally watched Rowlene grow right in front of my eyes, which has been amazing to see. So, all of them inspire me.
Were your parents, family and/or those closest to you supportive of your decision to pursue music professionally?
In the beginning, my mom and dad were not particularly happy about my decision not to pursue a conventional career. They actually wanted me to be a lawyer but I was never interested in doing that. Me choosing a music career over what they wanted for me certainly did not please them. But eventually, the reality of my decision grew on them and they have since been as supportive as they possibly can be. Especially now that I have had to do everything myself, since my label issues soured.
Got you. You just released your first single as a fully independent artist, a song called “Money”. How has it been received?
The response for “Money” so far has been incredible. I wasn’t sure how people were going to receive the change in sound from the last song I released. But the love for it has been astounding. I am forever grateful and humbled by that. Especially because it was an experimental attempt on my part. Over and above that, I am working on some new music that should be released in 2021, so I am excited about that.
Any last words?
My plan is to continue making music that’s going to live forever. Music that my children and their children will listen to and appreciate. I’m trying to have generational wealth and success through my music. I hope to change lives through song. And have a legacy in line with those ambitions. I am aware that it will take time for me to achieve all of this but this is something I am determined to achieve.
Stream Angie Santana’s latest single Money Here