She’s been singing gospel music for as long as she can remember. With a grandfather who was a pastor, and a father who played the piano, it came as second nature for Chrystal Swanson, who lives in Bellville, to hum along and then break out into a melodious tune.
And when she went through a traumatic divorce in 2005, it was the tool that helped her recover from a journey through deep depression and despair to hope and faith. Writing a book about her experiences added to her healing.
Now a successful gospel singer whose music has been aired on Metro FM and Good Hope FM, with three CDs under her belt, she says she was never acquainted with failure; that is until her husband of eight years left her.
“I never knew failure and the day my marriage failed it changed my life,” Chrystal says.
While she has now been divorced for nine years, often the pain is as raw as it was all those years ago.
She developed severe depression in 2004 and 2005 but started writing and singing. During that time she wrote more than 30 songs and her songs I turn to you and Counting my blessings became hit songs.
She’s been on TV programmes such as Top Billing, Hosanna and Gospel Gold and, in addition to her own songs, writes for other artists. Gospel artist Alban Petersen’s latest CD, His Grace is Enough, includes some of Chrystal’s work.
An active member of the Rhema Bible Church in Brackenfell, her third album, Making a difference, gives back to the community, with 10 cents of each album sold going to a charity.
Chrystal says she lived in Empangeni with her ex-husband before she moved back to Cape Town in 2005, where her music took off.
She says she had not even imagined a book, when award-winning journalist Sisanda Nkoala aproached her and asked if she would be interested in telling her story.
“It was God’s will,” she says, adding that monthly meetings in which she related her deepest fears and feelings in “tell-all” encounters with Sisanda, have resulted in the publication of her maiden book, Shepherded: A woman’s triumph through depression and divorce, authored by Sisanda. “We met monthly and as the run-up to the launch became closer, we had more frequent meetings,” she says.
“It was not easy to chat about what I had been going through. I didn’t want to go there and you feel vulnerable when you bare your soul.”
But she adds, “One makes mistakes and it takes two people to cause a marriage and a divorce.” Sisanda, an SABC radio reporter, blogger and writer, says she met Chrystal when she was working on Radio CCFm.
“I had known Chrystal for a few years and when I heard her song I turn to you I was intrigued and decided to help her tell her story.”
She says from some casual, conversations about her life she got to the meat of what Chrystal went through.
“There were some difficult moments for her and then she needed space and time to step back to live through her experience in the way she wanted to relate it,” she says. She tells Northern News, “What did strike me was that even though her story was traumatic, most people could relate to it. It resonates with many people.”
Sisanda last year won the Vodacom Journalism of the year Award in the radio feature work category. She reports in English and Xhosa and has reported on major breaking stories.
But she says she enjoys authoring stories such as Chystal’s as they are inspirational, to show how people can pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.
“It took many meetings to cover her story but is a motivation to those both in a similar situation and those who just want some positive words.”
Chrystal takes up the story: “Under pressure and depression, the best and the worst can come out in a person, and my depression was a journey on the road to recovery. But it’s a process to which one can’t put a time frame. The book is very real and I am still making that journey.” One of her greatest setbacks came in 2009, when she was hijacked in Parow.
“I was just getting on my feet when a man forced me into the passenger seat and started driving me around. I managed to jump out when the car was moving. I was injured, but of course there are far more emotional scars than there were ever physical scars.
“Today, I still cannot handle being in enclosed spaces and I am still working through the trauma.”
In her music she offers messages of hope – she says to strengthen, encourage and minister. “They are there just to give somebody enough padkos. Enough food for the road.”
* The launch of Chrystal’s book Shepherded: A woman’s triumph through depression and divorce takes place on Friday April 1 from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at the centre for the Book, 62 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town.
For more information, go to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Melanie on 082 447 6244.