The ascension of Rhea Blek has been one of the most standout musical things to happen as of late in Durban, South Africa. The singer-songwriter has made noteworthy movements that make it so difficult to not notice her progression. She’s been on a constant segway to reaching the very pinnacle of her musical career. I first came across Refiloe Makhetha at Robin Thirdfloor’s 2017 invite only Swim Social, powered by Jagermeister. I would later always see her around at social markets and art showcases, she always had a Nikon camera clutched close to her chest and was always in a pair of funky pants. So I was under the assumption that she was a photographer or a visual artist even though I never really asked, she had an artsy aesthetic to her make up.
It all changed after the release of her debut extended play – THIIIRD Wav. She then introduced herself to the rest of South Africa as Rhea Blek, the groovy Soul singer and songwriter from Durban.
Before she could share Rhea Blek with the world, she first had to discover herself as Rhea Blek. Writing and recording music every now and again throughout the latter phases of high school, making her music under her real name. After high school, she went to AFDA to study Film & Cinematography. “I never really liked this concept of school, like going to class sitting down and absorbing knowledge from someone”, she had initially wanted her mother to give her the money for college so she could open up a recording studio but instead she found herself at AFDA. After two years at AFDA, she decided to drop out “I dropped out because I didn’t like it, it wasn’t for me, I didn’t enjoy studying, I was getting depressed even. Essentially, that’s not what I wanted, I wanted to be out there making music”.
Dropping out of AFDA paved the way for her musical career. She started writing music at the age of 14 and while in college she wrote the first ever song she released titled ‘Boy & Girl’. Her first song was based on the 2011 movie ‘Something Borrowed’, which flirts around the idea of platonic relationships. The song is produced by a Gospel producer, at the time she didn’t have access to producer’s that would better suit her style of music and the approach that she wanted to take but at that moment she finally took a step towards becoming a musical artist.
The creation of ‘Boy & Girl’ wasn’t just a song, it marked the birth of Rhea Blek, “I look up to Beyonce so much and you know when she performs, she’s Sasha Fierce, so I was like, you know what? Why don’t I create an artist that I would want to be and be like a personification of, you know the woman that I would like to see in the world, that was when Rhea Blek was created”. Her name stems from Rhea the Greek goddess of Female fertility and Blek is from her embracing being black and opted to style it because of too many artists having “Black” in their name, “Black is because I love being black, my race. The culture that we have, it really does bring something to the table when it comes to your personality and who you are in life” she explains.
Before she could release what would be known as THIIIRD WAV, she had a tough time articulating what she wanted from producers and that led to her spending a lot of time not recording music “They never understood me, the beat never came out how I wanted it to come out”. Also citing that she had an identity crisis in the midst of all that, “I’m doing Neo-Soul, is that what I’m going to be doing? I’m gonna sing at festivals, coffee bars, I’m just gonna be restricted and I won’t perform at all the venues I want to perform” she says. That time came with a lot of searching and trying to establish her sound.
Things all changed when she hit the studio in July 2017 with Axsion from Palmtree Paradise and Neo-Drum, singer, songwriter and producer Garde. At the time she still had anxiety when it came to recording around a lot of people especially because she would write songs and keep them to herself, now she had to write and share her music. After sharing what she had written in the studio, Garde suggested that they make a short tape, so Rhea doesn’t have to perform covers anymore. “He was like; let’s make an EP, its gonna be three tracks and let’s make it now”, the first song to come from that became CLYDE.
They wrapped up THIIIRD WAV within a week, with Rhea having written the song TERMS & CONDITIONS for a crush she had at the time, “like essentially I wanted to package the EP and give it to him”. The release of that very tape would go on to open a ton of doors for her, “shoutout to Garde, if he didn’t convince me to do it – I wouldn’t have”. When she talks about where the name of the extended play came from, she explains it as, “It was my third try on an EP and wav because you make a song in wav format, so that’s why I named it THIIIRD WAV”.
The pace of her life has become extremely fast, enjoying a comfortable last quarter of 2018, with a busy schedule which included trips to Johannesburg, it was seeming inconceivable that we would even have this interview, “I feel like life is moving fast and I feel like there [are] things I need to leave behind to go to the next level – habits of mine, such as the laziness, I can’t afford to chill anymore now. I always have to do something and be somewhere”. She further explains it as being habits Refiloe has to drop for Rhea to succeed.
Her newest height of success came late last year when she scored a major commercial with Ford South Africa, for their launch of the new Ford Figo. The brand decided to use her song Ka Mzolo for their commercial and it was packaged as a commercial and, music video at the same time. She explains how the deal came about, “I’m on Facebook, I’m looking at my page, I get a message from this guy from Egg Films, he said I must contact him, I’m like okay, why doesn’t he call me? I put my attitude to the side and I call him, he tells me he wants to use my song for a commercial. He wanted to use TEENAGE DREAMS”. Everything happened in the month of August ’18. She explains how she gave them Ka Mzolo due to not being on good terms with producer Garde at the time “so I tell them you can’t use teenage dreams because I’m not good with the nigga that produced the song. So I gave them Umona Phansi and Ka Mzolo” leading to them choosing the latter. Garde and Rhea have later on managed to sort out their differences. The whole process was a shock for her because she thought they were just going to use her song, instead, they also wanted her to be part of the commercial.
With her first body of work out, Rhea has been enjoying a fruitful career. Reaching heights anew that come as a surprise to even herself. She is definitely one of South Africa’s rising musical acts to keep an eye on. She follows up the last single she released – Mona Phansi with a brand new song for Valentine’s day titled ‘Amaloveback’, produced by Jabulani Cindi. This is her first official release of the year, excluding her guest appearance’s on Robin Thirdfloor’s Zithande.