You probably know Babes Wodumo from her track Wololo, the viral hit that had everyone either admiring or trying their hand at her dance moves. Babes now stands to clean up at this year’s SAMAs, so we investigated the backstory behind the local star as part of our Women To Watch At #SAMA23 series.
This year Babes is nominated for a number of SAMAs including Best Newcomer, Best Kwaito Album for ‘Gqom Queen Vol. 1’ and Best Female Artist of the Year. She’s known for her ever-changing weaves and her killer dance moves but how exactly did Bongekile Simelane from a township in Durban become Babes Wodumo, the (self-proclaimed) ‘queen of gqom’?
You might be surprised to hear that Babes comes from a conservative background, being brought up by her god-fearing mother and her father, a bishop. In classic Babes style she shook things up from an early age, choosing a path of modelling, beauty pageants and dancing over a life of prayer meetings. After Matric she started studying social work but her desire to perform became overwhelming and she dropped out to focus on her dancing. Her signature style of dancing got her noticed by Mampintsha, of West Ink Records, in 2014. Mampintsha took her under his wing, showing her the ropes of the local music industry, which lead to her first big break: singing the hook on Sit Burbzin’s Gold-selling single Desha.
Last year, however, was her biggest year yet. The public’s interest was piqued when we spotted her in Big Nuz’s video for Tsege Tsege at the end of 2015. The video featured a ton of beautiful women but all eyes were on Babes, who sang the hook, for her bright blonde waist-length braids and dancing skills. Shortly after that, Babes released Wololo, a song she says is a playful warning to not drink so much that you blackout. The track was an instant banger, currently sitting on over 5.5 million views on YouTube.
It is one of the tracks that has brought gqom music, an underground genre by definition, into the spotlight. Gqom music originated in Durban as an evolution of South African deep house and Kwaito. It is characterised by repetitive drum rolls, haunting instruments, Zulu chants and sounds like one long build-up without the drop you expect with club bangers. Wololo was a big deal for gqom music, taking it from being played mainly on public transport to local radio stations picking up on the genre.
In her personal life Babes has kept the public guessing about her relationship with Mampintsha. She often posts loving messages about him on her Instagram but has also used the platform to announce that she is single, which resulted in a slew of comments both querying her relationship Mampintsha and offering themselves to be her next boo.
Although she may have dropped out of studying social work, she has been able to use her platform to give back to the community in the best way she can: dancing. Babes started the West Ink Dance Academy, where she teaches young people to dance with her on stage. Other non-music-related endeavours include the launch of her own range of weaves. Babes’ weaves have been the brightest colours of the rainbow but still remain in good condition, and soon we’ll be able to get our hands on a high-quality weave from her source.
Babes was one of the most nominated artists at the Metro FM Awards earlier this year but failed to win in any of her four categories. While Babes is punting to win as many SAMAs as she can, she has also announced that should she not pick up any trophies she will be boycotting awards shows. “I am obviously happy to be nominated, but I don’t have that over-excitement anymore. I even said to my team if we don’t win an award this time, I am not entering awards anymore,” She stated.