Yolanda Sangweni


I first met Yolanda a few years ago when I was interning at Trace Magazine and I was immediately struck by her flyness, her wit and overall dopeness. Born in South Africa, this mother of two who is now Entertainment Editor at ESSENCE.com, was chosed by Forbes as one of the 20 Young Power Women in Africa last year.
We had a chat with her and it went a little something like this.

Tell us a little a bit about yourself, who is Yolanda Sangweni?
I am a South African-born, Brooklyn residing mom, wife, daughter and lover of all things amazing. By day I work as an editor at Essence.com (the online component to Essence Magazine) and run AfriPOP! I’m also a singer and songwriter on the come up.

Growing up, what did you want to be?
I always wanted to be a teacher, until I read Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” in high school. I even went to Howard University to follow in her footsteps – LOL! The book totally changed my life and perspective on how Black girls could tell our stores. I remember thinking, ‘I want to write stories like this.’ I never followed the novelist path, but I did end up becoming a journalist – still writing stories, just not fiction.

What is the idea behind AfriPOP, the webzine you founded?
I’m an African who spent a large majority of my life outside the continent. Growing up in Harlem, the only images we had of Africa were the usual horrible ones. When I went back home to South Africa at 20 years old it was like a reintroduction to the magnificence of our people, and continent. I started AfriPOP as a way to celebrate that beauty, drive and sheer dopeness that I saw of the young people of Africa. I like to say that I want it to be as if I am holding up a mirror to remind us just how dope we are as a people.

As an artist, a singer, what inspires you?
I am inspired by the experience of living in New York and feeling like an outsider. And then living in, say, Johannesburg and still feeling like an outsider. I remember Toni Morrison, again, being one of the first people to introduce me to the idea of being a liminal being – a person equally existing between two worlds, home and host. I guess these days we call ourselves Afropolitans. Many of my songs are rooted in this idea of co-existing in these two worlds –the immigrant experience, basically.

What’s your work philosophy or motto?
Do what pleases your heart. Since I’ve been an adult (never mind the under-the-table jobs one has to take when one has no papers in America) I’ve never worked a job that didn’t make me happy. I’m naturally an inquisitive person so journalism and being an editor was right up my alley.

How would you define your personal style?
Bohemian? I’m not sure, but I think that’s the closest.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement?
Besides raising my sons (with my husband), I think nurturing my dreams has been my greatest achievement. The universe has conspired with me on many an occasion and it feels great.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’m not telling. *wink*

What was the last book you read?
The Zahir by Paula Coehlo.

Lastly what is playing on your IPod these days?
Kendrick, Laura Mvula, Dizu Platjies, and Alice Smith.

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