Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Couch with Thembisa S. Mshaka!

Thembisa S. Mshaka

Author of: Put Your Dreams First

Handle Your [Entertainment] Business

Industry Secrets For Your Success

When did you 'love affair' with writing begin?
As a child. I kept a diary, the kind with that cheap lock on it, then graduated to journaling my experiences. I also loved wordplay. Partly because my mother and I played lots of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, partly because I loved slang and making up words. Back then I had no idea I was becoming a creative, or that it would be my calling. It was just fun.

What was your aha moment when u decided that you wanted to write professionally?
The confirmation that someone wanted to read my point of view--with my freelance pieces that I wrote for free in the Bay Area for two indie magazines: Grits 'n' Gravy and Klub, who gave me my first cover story on KRS-1. When I realized I could get paid for it? Oh it was ON!

How did you get your first job working in the entertainment industry?
I found the internship at DeLeon Artists, a boutique talent and tour booking agency at my alma mater's (Mills College) career center. At 18 years old, I had no idea what a treasure chest of knowledge I would open by working for legends like Willie Colon, the late great Gil Scott-Heron, Etta James, and many others.

Tell us about your first big break?
Well phrased question, because I've had several. The first one was that internship. I was entrusted with the careers of iconic musicians at a very young age, truly baptism by fire. Collecting Gil Scott Heron's publishing checks. Making sure Shirley Horn's ride requirements were met by venues. Fielding calls from Junior Walker as he repaired his tour bus with his own hands. Bruce Solar and Lupe DeLeon believed in me and gave me power that I didn't realize I had at first. I was just happy to be there. I carry those lessons daily in my work, which now spans advertising, voiceover, TV production, and marketing communications.

What has been one of your biggest accomplishments to date?
I have two that still blow me away: writing the advertising campaign for a seminal musical work that has now influenced two generations of hip-hop listeners, particularly empowering young women: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Also a great privilege to write the Promax Award winning campaign for the BET Awards 2009, and getting to compose a song for that campaign with Oscar winner Jamie Foxx on the set.

Tell us about your book?
Put Your Dreams First is dedicated to my late mother, who I lost to melanoma (skin cancer) in 2007. She was my biggest cheerleader and quite an advocate for women throughout her life. My book is a business mentorship guide written from the points of view of over 90 different women in all fields of entertainment, from celebrities like Oscar winner Mo'Nique to women behind the scenes, like master recording and mix engineer Marcella 'Ms. Lago' Araica. I wanted to amplify the voices of women, who drive and persevere in an industry that is often unfair and unkind to them. Thankfully, this is changing--and my book is part of that paradigm shift.

What are your goals and dreams?
To produce game-changing, award-winning films. To bring untold stories to the screen in ways that honor the story and those who own or live the content. I start film school at 39 years old and feel giddy like a teenager, after 19 years in this business. That's how I know I'm making the right move.

What things can we look for in the future from you?
I am writing my first screenplay, which I also plan to adapt as a novel. I continue to blog at about the intersection of women, business, popular culture, politics, and entertainment. As an advertising executive, I'm fascinated by when and how ads win and fail, so much so that I started identifying them with the #AdWIN and #AdFAIL hashtags on Twitter. It caught on with my followers, so I am also working on a platform to explore and analyze advertising imagery and its impact on consumers, especially youth of color.

What advice do you have for Curvy Bellas in pursuit of their dreams?
Exactly what my book title says: Put Your Dreams First. After whoever you pray to, of course...but so often we build empires for others! Practice building a legacy that springs from your passion.

Find Thembisa On-Line at:

Photo: Thembisa Mshaka with Jamie Foxx

Photo Credit: Ola Kudu for Kokujin Design

Until Next Time,



  1. Thembisa rocks!! Looking forward to what's next from her :)

  2. As do I! She is one TALENTED LADY!