Average read time: 6 minutes.
Dinky Kunene was simply born to be a singer. She grew up in a family of musicians and that influenced her journey towards becoming a musical artist. Her biological father participated in the Shell Road to Fame competition and was part of a group with gospel sensation and legend Rebecca Malope that made it to the semi-finals.
Her mother sings in the choir at church and her maternal uncle plays the guitar. But no one has had a bigger impact on her than her older sister. They would sing together in the choir, at weddings, and at events in the community.
“I’ve always looked up to my sister,” shares Dinky Kunene. “She’s the person that got me going. There are so many pictures from when I was younger where I’ll be standing next to her, with no teeth and I’m looking up at her and she’s singing. I tried to mimic everything she did.”
A prodigal talent, she first started singing and writing at the age of seven and recorded her first song when she was in grade nine. That’s when Dalene Schwartz became Dinky Kunene. Dinky was a nickname she got when she was in high school and Kunene is more of a tribute to her connection to her father and step-father. This moniker is also a way to express her unique personality. This is not rare in the world of performers—think of Beyoncé and her alter ego Sasha Fierce.
“I think it’s good to be able to separate your everyday life from your job, right? Dinky Kunene is the stage personality. She’s the performer and the singer. Dalene is just your average girl next door whose going through life the way every other human being is. I also needed something catchy and I think the mystery is always a good thing,” the Ennerdale-born musician smiles.
Although she always wanted to be a singer, she decided to study Education in Bloemfontein because, at that time, she felt like there weren’t any good local career prospects in music. She was going to be a teacher as she was good at maths, business studies, and accounting.
But, the music bug soon caught her again as there were a lot of opportunities presented to her while she was studying. Her biggest accomplishment in the world of music before auditioning for Idols was competing and winning the University of Johannesburg’s UJ Can You Sing. After that, she was single-minded in her pursuit to carve out a career in music.
The following year, she auditioned for the 14th season of Idols South Africa. She’d had previously auditioned six times in high school, but it was the first time she made it to the theatre rounds and would appear on TV. She finished in the top 16 but knew she was capable of more and returned the following season.
“I was just young, I was scared and I wasn’t ready for it. One thing I learned from Idols is that you need to be steadfast and to understand who you are outside of that competition because there’s negative commentary coming from all sides. And if you can’t handle that, you start to act out of character,” admits Kunene.
Kunene has learned that It’s okay to get guidance from other people. “Because I come from a musical family, I’ve always been the lead singer. And suddenly, I’m in a competition and I’m not number one. That was a bit of a knock to my confidence. Perhaps I wasn’t fully absorbing all of the knowledge they were giving to me in the first season. And so when I went back in season 15, I knew that I needed to allow these people to play their part in my journey and I needed to take advice,” she affirms.
This maturity and growth have made her a better singer—she made it to the top 9 of season 15. The experience taught her how to manage her brand, to network, be a professional, and have resilience when meeting with struggle.
After the competition, she released her first EP, One Moment. The up-tempo and amapiano project showed the singer/songwriter’s ability to tap into dance and soul music. Kunene had been playing with the genre since 2017 when it wasn’t as popular and mainstream as it is now.
Another positive lesson gained for her through the years is that it’s okay to be different. A very pertinent message for females. Boomba, her new single, is a body-positivity anthem that brings awareness to fat-shaming and body dysmorphia. The song was inspired by a situation when she was on Instagram Live and received negative comments about her body. She chose to address that through her music and made the song a fighting response against the shaming.
“Boomba is about body positivity and making girls feel good. Those are the issues that I like to touch on. With Boomba, I want people to understand and communicate the message that whatever body you have, it’s okay. I want to show girls to love their bodies unapologetically because it doesn’t matter what size they are.” said Dinky Kunene.
Watch the video for Boomba here: