Ne-Yo Returns To ESSENCE Festival Stage In A Big Way

Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Imagesfor Haute Living
“When you put a festival like that in a place as beautiful as South Africa, good things are bound to happen."

R&B crooner Ne-Yo is returning to the ESSENCE Festival stage this weekend, this time at the first annual festival in sunny Durban, South Africa.

Ne-Yo joins some of Africa’s biggest music stars at the ESSENCE All Star Music Festival on Saturday. While he has performed in Johannesburg and Cape Town before, this will be the first time he touches down in Durban, the Kingdom of the Zulus. 

“I’m looking forward to going to Durban,” he told Essence. “I can’t get enough of the people and the atmosphere in South Africa. The level of hospitality I have received there was above and beyond anything I needed. I get a lot of love out there.”

The "Coming With You" singer said he was honored to be a part of the first international ESSENCE Festival even though he does not have a new album out. It meant that fans still cared about his music. 

“Nowadays people’s attention spans are a lot shorter than they once were. It doesn’t take long for people to forget about you. I haven’t put an album out in about going on two years. So I can see how it could be very easy for people to be like ‘Ne-Yo who?’  But, I’ve always tried to produce the kind of music that stood the test of time, the kind of music that wasn’t about the moment. It’s not easily acquired, but that’s what I always try to shoot for. I feel like I’ve accomplished it, which is why people still rock with me.”

Ne-Yo played his cards close to his chest but promised some surprises during his Durban performance. “I may bring some new flavor. I’ve been kicking around some ideas just considering where we’re gonna be and that this is the first time that the festival is going international. I might have some things up my sleeve. I’ll keep my mouth shut and just let people see when they come to the show.”

ESSENCE Festival is going to Durban, South Africa. Get more info here.

One thing fans can look forward to is being serenaded with his new song “Queen,” which he wrote for The Birth of a Nation: The Inspired By Album. We wondered if the song was an ode to wife Crystal Renay.

“I wrote the song in reference to the first time Nat Turner sees the woman that eventually becomes his wife. The condition in which he sees her is anything but royal or regal. I think she’s just about to be sold into slavery and she’s just been very beaten down. But, what he saw in her, despite what her circumstance and her situation was a queen and he made her his queen,” said the singer-songwriter. “I knew what I was writing it for: a powerful film, a powerful story. It’s a story that isn’t told in very many history books, it certainly isn’t taught in any public school anywhere, but I feel like it’s an important part of our history. I was happy to be part of it.”

The ESSENCE Festival is all about celebrating and advancing our history, culture and music. Ne-Yo believes that only good things can come out of taking the yearly festival to Durban. 

“When you put a festival like that in a place as beautiful as South Africa, good things are bound to happen. I see people having a good time and being introduced to a part of South Africa that maybe they weren’t familiar with before. I just see love and appreciation for music and culture coming from that side of the world,” he said. 

“Maybe the next time they do it, they’ll expand the festival even further, go to another country and just keep doing it so that there’s always one festival that covers the globe, that you always know is gonna give you some quality music and entertainment.”

The rest of us who won’t be in Durban have something to look forward to because Ne-Yo is back in studio working on something new. “I definitely have some new music on the way. Don’t think I’m not aware of the fact that I’m a little behind. I’m doing the husband and daddy thing again, so that’s a little time consuming.” No release date yet, but “soon.”

The father of three said that being a dad has lit a fire under him, making him work that much harder because “now this is about feeding my children, as opposed to just a passion past time that I happen to love. Music is more than just fun now, it’s a means to feed my family.”

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