If you would’ve told me that Nandi Dlepu got the name ‘Mamakashaka’ from the close chemistry and proximity to which she shares characteristics with King Shaka’s mother, Nandi Bhebhe, I would have believed you. It’s cliché but I would’ve still believed you.
“No”, she laughs. “It was a nickname given to me in high school. It was a little bit of a jab from a friend of mine, ‘Chaba”, Dlepu remarks without any discontent or resentment in her words or eyes. “In high school, I was introduced to my four primary influences. I was introduced to hip hop, black consciousness, socialism and communism, and Rastafarianism. I remember when I was in std 7, I converted to Rastafarianism, officially”, Dlepu reveals to me.
By this time, I’d completely forgotten about the 30-minute hourglass Dlepu flipped between us after we sat down. The combination of the timer, coupled with her composed, active, and fully present demeanour made me nervous earlier. However, at this point, she is quite good at verbally taking and passing the ball whilst I seemed to be the only one fixated on how much time we have left.
“When you’re Rasta, we don’t call each other by our names so, you’re ‘sister Nandi’ or ‘brother whatever’”, Dlepu explains. “I remember that’s one of the many things I did in that chapter – I had them change my name on the class register from ‘Nandi’ to ‘Sister Nandi’ and I essentially wouldn’t answer if you called me ‘Nandi’”, she ascertains further, in between loose cannon bursts of laughter that don’t shy away from embarrassment.
Her laughs sound more retrospective and cheeky than embarrassed. Dlepu goes on to tell me that ‘Chaba was so sarcastically impressed with her ‘deepness’ at the time that he declared not only did the name ‘Nandi’ not suit her anymore, but they should also take it up a notch and call her a new name to match her newfound depth – “This one is not even ‘Nandi’, ke Mamakashaka!”
“Ebend’gezela grand, grand but it stuck. It was playful, and all my friends started calling me ‘Mamakashaka’”, she now affirmatively states, like the captain of a ship who briefly got lost in thought, regaining control, and reeling back the wheel to end this part of the conversation on her own terms.
“I remember when I started the business because I want the business to be built around building and nurturing community. It just felt natural to use the nickname that my friends and peers called me by and extend it to the public as well. I suppose in a way to say that we might be strangers, but this thing that I’m building is personal, it is for you. This engagement, even though we’re strangers is still a personal one. You can call me ‘Mamakashaka’ as well.”
Mamakashaka receives a lot of support from her community. Who that is exactly, I wouldn’t be able to describe, but after attending her events, consciously and unconsciously knowing that they are Mamakashaka-organised events, there is something to her personal taste that people want to experience and are willing to go out of their way to get.
Self-described as a marketing agency within arts & entertainment, Mamakashaka has 4 brands and events in current rotation: Bloom – a conversational platform and business network, Feel Good Series – a live music event for emerging talent, Pantone Sundays – a colour-themed fashion experience, and UMI Festival – the mother event of Feel Good Series. All of the above, however, are successors to Dlepu’s first event and creative outlet: The WKND Social.
The WKND Social was founded by 6 women, Nandi included and ran from 2013 to 2016. It is what, a year later, led to Feel Good Series when the thought and question about the evolution of The WKND Social arose and Nandi found herself democratically outvoted out of including live music performances at the events. Still passionate about that possibility, she bookmarked the thought and waited until the right opportunity came to create and continue the idea.
Underneath that, however, there is a much more personal story of how Dlepu arrived at The WKND Social. Her face now completely lights up when she begins talking about her son:
“Motherhood has called on me to evolve in very interesting ways. I think my empathy levels increased more as a creative”, Dlepu enthusiastically tells me. “I constantly consider how a person is going to receive our experiences in the same way that I suppose a mother plots out a journey for their child. I’m constantly aware and considerate of how my son receives a moment. I consider parenting to be a notice of curating an experience for this person.”
When Dlepu’s son was born, she realised that she needed and wanted an outlet. That, coupled with breaking up with her son’s father contributed to that need and search. “I find the ending of relationships, the heartbreak of that, really great and quite cathartic. Some of the best decisions I have made for myself in my life have happened right on the back of a breakup”, Dlepu says laughing. The irony of that proclamation is not lost on her.
During her son’s early years and after the breakup with her significant other, Dlepu then channelled what was going on in her life at that moment to focus on The WKND Social. “That was my release. That’s the energy of those two things. The one thing beginning, the other thing ending. I took that energy and repurposed it and refocused it on this thing”, she tells me.
“I find that when I’m hurting specifically, I like to create. I found out that even when I’m happy, I like to create. That’s the full story of that moment”, Dlepu states.
Dlepu is of the belief that the need, the desire, and the seed of things we want to create always exists. She harnesses and taps into her emotions as triggers to help her get to the place she wants to be in.
“I trust myself because the seed is not a result of that time in my life, it was already there”, Dlepu confidently says. “I wanted to create something like The WKND Social and had been sitting on it for whatever reason”, she quickly brushes off.
Instead of wallowing in what she describes as the “negative space” of her breakup and being “all consumed” by early motherhood, Dlepu wanted and decided to create an identity for herself that was beyond all of that. Each journey of motherhood is different, and many parents have since spoken out about how difficult it can be to manage a child and expectations as a parent alongside their own emotions and any semblance of a well-rounded life. Dlepu admits that, early on, motherhood was very consuming for her.
“It was great that I had this space, this opportunity, this thing. I wasn’t just a mom when I was with those five other women, I was becoming.” Although the time, Dlepu didn’t know what she was becoming exactly she trusted the process of “becoming”.
“Have you ever just been writing or creating something – you’re not sure where it’s going –
but you’re feeling that energetically, there’s just this ‘hum’ and vibration in you?” Dlepu asks me. Carefully trying not to interrupt the sudden passion and flow to which she is speaking, I silently nod, hoping that it lands as encouragement.
“You know that it just feels good. You’ve got to trust that good feeling”, she continues.
“It’s to a point where I want to lock myself in the room because I don’t want that good feeling to be interrupted”, she says, now at full speed. “I just kind of go with it and see where it takes me. I trust that ‘hum’.”
Dlepu has felt the ‘hum’ many times while creating. Whether it’s copy or a tagline for a brand back in what she casually refers to as her “past life or whatever”. Her “past life or whatever” being the time she spent working for some of South Africa’s top agencies and production houses including Masters & Savant, Tenant McKay, Clearwater, and T+W before she founded Mamakashaka in 2017. That ‘hum’ and vibration has resonated with Dlepu, similarly to how it resonates with other creatives as well, regardless of industry or period in life.
Motherhood is not only what shapes Dlepu as a primary giver but also a receiver as well. After watching her own mother fail and succeed in business, Dlepu uses a lot of her mother’s cues and motifs to guide her today. “My mom has exhibited a lot of the things that I want to build this business on and that I have tried to replicate and improve on because that’s legacy right?” Dlepu rhetorically asks. “I love what she has handed over to me. I’ve learnt a lot from her mistakes, and this is from witnessing and experiencing”, she continues.
Without revealing too much to me, I can ascertain that like most people, Dlepu has a consequential relationship with her mother. It comes across as subtle and uneventful but it’s heavily loaded with shades of meaning. What stands out to me is the way she chooses to address it, because that can be the key difference between calmness and disarray in the inner workings of a person, regardless of how much they love the person who raised them. Only time, acceptance, and honest reflection can conjure the assurance to which she speaks about her mother now.
“Her traumas and her flaws, I’ve inherited, and I appreciate them. There are ways in which I’ve grown, that I’m very pleased about. There are ways that I’m conscious and pleased about some of the unfortunate things that she handed down to me, Dlepu tells me. What I admire most is how courageous she is. My mom was an entrepreneur. She had businesses, some failed, and some didn’t. She started over multiple times. I have a good relationship with failure because of her,” she says.
Dlepu also admires her mother for maintaining boundaries throughout her professional career and wants to be a person that is treated akin to how her mother was treated. “I’ve been trying to learn from her how to balance being open, but also having firm boundaries. She’s open but has firm boundaries. I think when you exist in the spaces in which we exist, in the type of world that we live in – social media, Instagram – it can be very easy for people not to recognise that they are crossing boundaries”, Dlepu confesses with a notable retreat in demeanour and tone.
“Very, very, very easy”, she emphasises.
“You share so much that people sometimes feel entitled”, Dlepu tells me, retreating again. I ask her how she thinks people begin to infringe on boundaries and hastily before I even finish the second part of my sentence, she replies:
“Quite simply, Instagram. I have a business page and I have a personal page. I’m always surprised when people DM me, looking to get stuff from me in a professional landscape, on my personal page. I have a personal page because I want to get away from there. Those are two different personas.”
“I remember, I nearly typed— as part of my bio – ‘don’t dm me for work on this page please’”, she confesses in between laughs that I can’t help but join her in after instantly recognising how funny (absurd?) that sounds.
“I think I’m very engaging. I respond to probably about 80% of the messages that I get on both pages, the Mamakashaka page and my own, nandi.dlepu”, Dlepu says.
“And I get it. I know how it feels to want to break down, to seize the day, to seize the opportunity. Sometimes, it’s like that. For me, I feel like you are crossing a boundary.”
I ask Dlepu why she ended up opting not to put that in her bio, to which she replies, “It was ruining the aesthetics of my bio.”
After being inspired by a talk she heard a couple of months ago from what she can’t exactly recall, Dlepu tells me that she has learned not to do “the work” for people. Dlepu professes that there are things that she is happy to respond to, but other things, she’s hoping that her silence reverberates.
The messages that affect her the most, based on our conversation today are, however, the very personal ones she receives about people’s intimate stories and journeys. A lot of well-known artists and organisers receive direct messages, that’s not surprising, but the extent to which strangers can affect other strangers with a touch of a button will always be astonishing.
Dlepu remembers times when strangers tell her things, like how they’re not achieving, or how they are feeling, and she is on the receiving end of that. How they feel like they have been let down by the world and she is sometimes the person those stories end up being directed at. It can be anything, people don’t have a problem with laying it all out.
“Some of the stuff triggers your own stuff and maybe that’s why you don’t respond”, Dlepu tells me. “That part I’m still trying to navigate”, she goes on. “Sometimes, I don’t think that people consider what they’re offloading to you. You don’t know how I’m feeling you don’t know what I’m going through.”
Before our conversation ends, it becomes clear that there’s a scepticism with which Dlepu speaks of the creative community right now. She doesn’t seem to trust or believe in the general collective’s relationship with humility. “There is unwarranted arrogance”, she says. Keeping in mind that there is a difference between arrogance, confidence, and being self-assured – a point that Dlepu herself makes in relation to sharing her perspective.
“I don’t think that the things that I do are always right, or good, I don’t. But I do think that I do the thing. I go and create it”, Dlepu preemptively prefaces. “I find that we can’t, as peers, even talk or counsel or guide each other on ways in which we could evolve for the better because there’s just this thing of…
… ‘I can’t tell you shit’”, she proclaims after pausing for a moment to find the words.
“That’s how I feel. That’s how I feel about my peers. That’s how I feel in general”, she says. “Have the confidence to see your creative intuition and your urges through, but somehow exercising the humility or some sense of humility when it comes to development, or refinements, or growth, or whatever. There’s this thing of ‘I just did the thing’ and just doing the thing is enough. It’s half of it”, Dlepu goes on to say.
“It’s a pretty solid part of it but I would say…” She trails off.
“Everyone always talks about how we can show up, I think we should do more talking about how we can get better at the things that we’re doing. I get it now. I get it. Yes, let’s show up. But how can we do better?”