In 2005 when Pebbles released her debut album Playful Soul she gave the South Africa an entirely new dimension to R&B music, with a style unique to herself. Two SAMA nominations later (for Best Female and Best R&B), you'd still be hard pressed to find a similar singing voice and manner in the industry.
Now in 2011, the Port Elizabeth-raised singer is as determined as ever to push her own envelope with the a brand new album named Phenomenal for this reason. Overseen by the renowned production ensemble Jazzworks, Pebbles not only expands on her song-writing abilities but even dabbles in some production and justifies, "I think as an artist you always try to push yourself to do what you haven't done before. Or at least you should. I don't play any music instruments so the next best thing for me was to make beats."
The overall result is a set that can be placed somewhere in between the sophistication of Anita Baker and the earnestness of Amy Winehouse, both of whom are influences as are Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, George Michael, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra.
Yet everything about the album is very much her own: The Bond-esque concept as carried by the big band intro Over is her idea. The album itself, a labour of love she self-financed entirely by taking on a 9-5 job in advertising, and a mark of her commitment to a career she has chosen above all else: "It took me a while to realize that if I chose not to take this business of music seriously, give it my all and make it my primary hustle, I'd not only be doing myself a huge disservice. I'd be teaching my son that it's okay to live a lie, and that to take the gifts that God has blessed us with and throw them back in his face will lead to a happy, fulfilling life."
Phenomenal's title track features appearances from long time collaborator Zubz (Destiny, All My Life), and R&B new comer Nothende.
Elsewhere on the album, co-writing Cry for Me and Should've Walked Away enters another heavyweight RJ Benjamin, a maestro and a rare producers/artist in what is still a very niche music genre in SA.
In fact working with SA's music greats is something of a mainstay in Pebbles' career by now. Tumi and The Volume's 76 and People of the Light - from the seminal 2004 Live at the Bassline album - are considered classics not least because of Pebbles vocal contribution. Tumi, who wrote (The Way of Want on Playful soul), features Pebbles on his album Whole Worlds , an experience she describes as "one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Because I'm so in awe of Tumi as a songwriter, I felt so intimidated, and battled at first to get past my own insecurities as a songwriter. I learnt a lot from that session though."
You will also often catch her fronting Joburg-based pop rock band Newtown, a platform where she experiments organically with different live musical directions and enjoys the opportunity to unleash her inner rock chick.
This is how, coupled with a slew of appearances on high profile compilation albums, with just one solo album prior to Phenomenal in tow, Pebbles has stayed firmly on the radar. She was also part of Channel O's 2008 Young Gifted & Black campaign, a pan-African collaboration where she recorded a remake of Nina Simone's song of the same name.
Hers was also one of the voices on Ke Nako used in the 2010 Fifa World Cup campaign and played during the opening ceremony for the games.
Later on in 2010, Pebbles debuted her brand new material for her live set at the prestigious Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival to the delight of fans whose wait for the return of this phenomenal talent is finally over.