In praise of South Africa’s polymath artist, musician and performer whose life and creative output makes your head spin, in a good way

It is difficult to put into just a few words the phenomenon that is Manthe Ribane. The matriarch, the artist, the sister and the mentor possesses an intangible grace and magical power that commands attention wherever she goes. Today an acclaimed performance artist, designer, musician and muse, her life’s journey has taught her to reach for the stars and “let your work speak louder.”

The first born of three children, she grew up in Soweto in a happy, spiritual home. She realised her calling at an early age and was only eight when she performed at Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday at FNB stadium. This was only a year after she also almost lost her life in an accident that left her with 21 stitches across her abdomen, unable to walk for a time.

After the untimely passing of her mother when Manthe was 13, she instinctively adopted the role of protector to her younger sister Tebogo and brother Kay Kay. “I had to become a mom and it was difficult but we had a lot of support from family, which made a massive difference. We were truly blessed to have them as shelter in that storm,” says Ribane with a slight quiver of melancholy in her soft but commanding voice. Her father has also since passed away. “It’s still difficult to this day, I miss my parents; they instilled so much into us.”

“I want every aspect of my life to be art.
The people I surround myself with need to have a good energy”

Manthe was drawn to graphic design and visual arts, which informed the visual language of her performances. Her hypnotic choreography has become both uncanny and alluring, drawing onlookers in with its innovative fusion of styles spanning South African subcultures including pantsula and isbujwa (popularised by the infamous izikhotane) to freestyle, hip hop and contemporary dance. She moves like a universe, completely absorbed as if in a trance, and in doing so inspires others to flourish under her influence.

She became a member of the Joburg-based dance group V.I.N.T.A.G.E crew and travelled the world as principal member of Die Antwoord’s dance ensemble before moving on to focus on her solo career. She’s worked with Mafikizolo, Toya Delezy, Spoek Mathambo and OKMALUMEKOOLKAT and three years ago formed the creative collective Dear Ribane with her siblings. They also run 113 Studios, which offers design, fashion, styling, music and film under her creative direction. “I want every aspect of my life to be art. The people I surround myself with need to have a good energy and this is why we as Dear Ribane have been so selective with whom we work with, it’s important,” she says.

The seemingly effortless way in which Manthe traverses various forms of self-expression had led to her hugely successful collaboration with London producer and DJ OkZharp. Their Dumela 113 EP was released on Hyperdub last year to great acclaim. And now the duo follow up with the Tell Your Vision EP including the heavy Gqom-influenced track Teleported.

Manthe has also been working on a secret project in Sweden with a number of South African artists. And she continues to cast her creative net far and wide, being nominated for a World Music Award by Giles Peterson, performing at Liberty London for Cointreau’s Dream Dare Create Awards and touring across Europe.

Having overcome unimaginable tragedy and taken Atlas-like responsibility onto her young shoulders with grace and poise, Manthe’s sheer creative will and dexterity has seen her rise to become one of the leading lights in South Africa’s creative scene and her continued international ascent is spectacular to watch. Believe the hype because Manthe Ribane is the future and the future is now.

OkZharp and Manthe Ribane’s Tell Your Vision EP is out October 28 on Hyperdub


Words Anthony Bila
Photography Kent Andreasen