Interview with Tima Reece

Award-winning music artist Tima Reece, 35, talks to Julia Bain about past hurts, love at first sight, and how we all have the ability to change lives

Tima Reece was nominated for the South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Dance Single for her song Crazy ’Bout You in 2001, when she was just 18 years old. But it was in 2004 when she really shot to fame with the release of her debut album My Body’s Crying, which was also nominated for a SAMA. After a nine-year break from writing music, Tima released her second studio album, 9, in 2016, and she subsequently landed her third SAMA nomination. When she’s not producing music through her production company, BluBerry Entertainment, Tima is the vocal director for Idols SA, as well as one of the show’s musical directors. She lives in Northriding with her husband, Kurt Herman, and their sons, Ariel Joshua, six, and Levi Michael, four.

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My biggest musical inspiration as a child was Whitney Houston – I grew up listening to her music. It was when my mom first heard me singing Whitney’s Saving All My Love that she thought, ‘This girl’s going to be a singer one day.’ I was only two years old at the time and I would sit in front of the radio, happily singing along. Obviously, I couldn’t pronounce the words properly but my mom said I’d sing my own lyrics to the melody. So my career started with Whitney! My parents have always been my biggest supporters. I grew up in a home where, even though we weren’t well off, there was lots of love. While my dad was the primary breadwinner, my mom nurtured my talent. She started taking me to singing competitions when I was nine years old, and that’s really how my music career started. My dad was there as much as he could be, but my mom was with me every step of the way. Music can be incredibly therapeutic. There was a very difficult time in my childhood when I was molested and, as an adult, I found healing through music. Songs like Mariah Carey’s Hero and Through the Rain helped me move forward. It didn’t take the pain away, but music could soothe me. In 2001, I recorded my debut album in New York. It was a dream come true – I was only 18 at the time, and how many people get to experience something so incredible? I was blessed to have the opportunity to record with producers who have worked with Mariah Carey and Destiny’s Child. The studio hours were gruelling and the album took two years to complete, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Being a singer was my childhood dream, but I gave it all up at 21. In 2004 I released my album, My Body’s Crying, but it wasn’t promoted particularly well and didn’t sell how we’d hoped. I met with the record label CEO, who told me it was because I just wasn’t good enough. I was so disheartened by his comment that I went into a deep depression. The music I write is incredibly personal so his words tore me to shreds. Even though the album was nominated for a SAMA, I was still gutted that it wasn’t a commercial success. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to pursue a career as a solo artist anymore – I was done. I couldn’t give up music entirely, though. I ended up working as a backing vocalist, hiding in the background behind other musicians. My debut album had been a commercial flop – and I didn’t want to be seen, or have people remember who I was. I even changed my stage name, going instead by Tia Herman; although I couldn’t live without music, I wanted to stay out of the limelight.

From the moment I laid eyes on Kurt, I knew he was the man I was going to marry. I was a big fan of 101, the music group he was in at the time, so my producer introduced us. There was undeniable chemistry. A lot of people say that kind of immediate connection with your soul mate, or love at first sight, doesn’t exist, but that’s how it was for us. Something changed in me when Kurt and I had our children. I was struck by the realisation that if I didn’t pursue my own dream and use my God-given talent for singing, I was essentially giving them a licence to fail or give up on what they want in life. I want to give my kids the same platform my parents gave me: one of support, of always being there. And I want to show them how to do it – that meant doing it myself. It took me five years to finally put pen to paper and write music again. By the time my second album, 9, was complete in 2016, it had been more than a decade since the release of my first album.

Of course I hoped it would do well but I had no real expectations. Reigniting my music career was a personal challenge – I wanted to see if I could still do it. It wasn’t about staging a comeback or proving my critics wrong; this was something I was doing for me. When the album was nominated for a SAMA, I had to pinch myself. I’m having a lot of fun as the vocal director for Idols SA. I’m in charge of all vocal production, coaching and the choices for everyone on the show, from the contestants to the backing vocalists. I love every second of helping the contestants develop from amateur musicians, to winning the competition. I’m also one of the musical directors for the show and this – along with the brutal seven-day work weeks – is my life for the next four months. Then, in November, I’m working on a new album that I’ll release next year.

I’ve found that once you start following your dreams, all you want to do is keep going – and now I can’t stop! It took me a long time to get back on my feet, but I have no regrets about the time I took off – it brought me to where I am now. Kurt and I are business partners, too. We own BluBerry Entertainment – a company offering sound recording and music production services – and it has done exceptionally well. It’s a passion project we started because we want to help bring great music into the world. In the past, it was definitely more difficult for women in the entertainment industry, but now we have more freedom and the same opportunities as men. It’s talent, hard work and consistency that allows an artist to make their mark, male and female alike. Sometimes life can feel like a never-ending balancing act. Between the demands of my career, business and family, it can be hectic, but I make it work. The most important thing for me is that our boys know that they have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and a family who adore them.

It’s incredible how having children can shift your priorities. Before my kids, I lived my life for myself, but now everything I do is driven by my wish to create opportunities for them. I’ve had their names, Ariel and Levi, tattooed in Hebrew on my forearms as a constant reminder of whom I’m doing this for. There are days where I mess up; when I don’t manage everything on my todo list or react to a situation in a way I wouldn’t have liked to. I make mistakes as a mother, a wife, and a friend – I think it’s something we all struggle with, but I try my best and that’s what really matters. My biggest indulgence is enjoying a spa day with Kurt. It’s the one thing we do without the kids, and it’s our time to be together; we can both relax and feel pampered. A lot of people are foodies and enjoy going to different restaurants; for us, we visit spas. Although I don’t often find the time for it, I also enjoy reading – I try to get through one or two chapters when the kids and Kurt are already asleep. I’m a bit of a tech addict. I love trying new gadgets and even enjoy gaming. My boys think that’s brilliant, because they get to spend time on their PlayStation with mom! Screen time is a problem for everyone, especially when it comes to social media.

I try to spend as little time as possible glued to my phone but it’s tricky; if you’re trying to build a public profile, you need to post updates regularly. And if you go quiet, you’re likely to lose your following. So I’m constantly trying to balance that but I’m firm about one thing: my phone gets turned off when I’m with my family. Whether you have one hour a month to spare or one day, everyone can do something to help others. Becoming involved with an organisation called RADA (rada.co.za) – a non-profit that provides healing to those affected by rape, abuse, alcohol or drug use – taught me that we can all positively impact the lives of others, giving them the hope and help they desperately need. I worked with other local artists on a project called RADA Inspire, which involved recording an album with covers of classic songs. Knowing what RADA has done for kids in SA, I was excited to be involved. Having two of my passions, music and children, come together was a phenomenal experience.

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