FIVE years ago, Sandra Ndebele stood on the steps of the Large City Hall in Bulawayo to give an interview to a handful of journalists that had gathered.
A cool March evening, with a slight breeze that warned of closer times ahead, was the perfect setting for the launch of her seventh album, a launch that saw the gathering of the cream that Bulawayo has to offer.
Artistes, captains of commerce and industry, Government officials, childhood friends, you name them, all were present to celebrate Sandra’s autumn night. Sure, the ladies swooned and temporarily lost the etiquette associated with such classy occasions when Jah Prayzah made an appearance but everyone knew who they were there for.
It was an A-list affair and Sandra, dressed to the nines for a red carpet event that can rival any that has ever been put together in Bulawayo, did not disappoint. When the cameras snapped and Sandra spoke, she did so emphatically.
“The reason why I’ve managed to stay in the music industry is because I’m always me,” she said. “I believe that I’ve managed to brand myself and that’s why I’ve managed to outlast all the other women in my field, aside from those in the gospel music genre. The likes of Beatar and others have all come and gone but I’m still here.”
Those words have always stuck with this reporter: “I’m always me”. The business of being Sandra Ndebele cannot be an easy one. For as long as she has been in the music industry, Sandra has been the apple of a nation’s obsession. Her name has been a magnet for rumour and speculation.
She has gone out with this businessman, one rumour says one day. There is no middle ground when it comes to Sandra. She is either that curvy woman one admires or drools over or she is, to the champions of morality, evidence of cultural decay among youths. Never mind the fact that Sandra has always covered the essentials with traditional gear when she is on stage.
Throughout her career, she has had to navigate a landscape where Kim Kardashian in a bikini is acceptable but a Sandra wearing umsisi is denounced. And throughout her career her name has always dragged behind it a trailer of rumour and slander but it has never seemed to affect her. As the rumour mill continues grinding, the Sandra Ndebele show goes on.
“People have their own views, perceptions and misconceptions so when brand Sandra was born in 2003, that’s why they labelled me many names. Personally I didn’t agree with them. I don’t know what they want to call me, but I’m still that,” she defiantly told this reporter last year.
Sandra, after all, blazed her own trail. She is the first of her kind in Zimbabwe, that rare woman who is known just for her dancing as she is for her singing. Some might trace her bloodline to entertainers like Katarina, but Mukadota’s famed dancer captivated the nation as Safirio Madzikatire’s sidekick and not the main act. Sandra plays second fiddle to no one and has always been her own woman.
Before Zimbabweans congregated on Twitter, or gathered to whisper about life during a global pandemic on Facebook posts, Sandra Ndebele was the talk of the town.
Over a decade-and-a-half later, not much has changed.
Seventeen years after she emerged as a star on the national broadcaster, Mrs Ndebele-Sibindi has now gone digital. She is now “breaking” the internet.”
Again, as she once did when that video of Mama debuted on TV, the name Sandra Ndebele is dancing on people’s tongues. It is a name that is being typed furiously on keyboards. But this is a changed Sandra Ndebele.
Gone is the Sandra that people knew, the one that donned traditional attire and gyrated to the chants of Sandy! Sandy! This is now the age of the internet. This is the age of the crisp, high definition Instagram photo. This is the age of the expert photographer and not the “cameraman”. And Sandra is ready for it.
“It’s also about moving with the times, changing my outlook, changing my music and re-branding which has also contributed to me being relevant up to now,” she said.
“. . . As a well travelled artiste, I’ve seen how a lot of full-figured women dress. I’ve seen how mummies dress and when you look at them you wouldn’t think this is a mother. You’d think they’re young girls. So I’m introducing that to Bulawayo slowly.”
The pictures that surfaced on her social media pages last week are all part of an elaborate plan. Ever crafty and foxy, Sandra has always been one of the more resourceful artistes in the game and her week as the talk of social media just confirmed it. It was all part of a plan and while some will just see the snaps as fishing for social media likes, Sandra will be the only one who sees the bigger picture.
After 17 years at the top, it is clear now that Sandra is one of those rare figures whose popularity can outlast a generation. While other female stars from her era have faded into obscurity, she is still grabbing the headlines and Instagram likes by the thousands.
She is the evergreen queen that was there for the birth and death of urban grooves, the rise of Zimdancehall’s and the slow decline of sungura. Seventeen years after she emerged, the crown sits comfortably on top of her weave.