Ahead of the release of her new album, Take me Home, I spent a pleasant 30 minutes chatting to this Port Elizabeth born singer made good.
She left Port Elizabeth at the age of 18 after completing her matric at the Seventh Day Adventist school in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. Nomfusi was raised by her single mother, Kwazibani, while her father served a 21-year prison sentence. At the age of 12 Nomfusi’s mother died of AIDS.
Of her childhood in Emaqanda, Kwazakhele Nomfusi says; “I grew up a happy child, with a beautiful mother and was unaware that we were poor. Attending school opened up my mind to the possibilities of success in the world.” As a result Nomfusi left Port Elizabeth for Cape Town so that she could leave her memories behind of the poor place she grew up in and to give herself the opportunity to become that person she had imagined herself to be whilst in front of the mirror as a young girl, in her Aunt’s home, dressed up and singing for an audience of thousands.
In Cape Town her half brother helped her land a job as a waitress at the Stardust Cafe in Rondebosch – an establishment that most of the UCT arts students gravitate to as one of the pre-requisites of working there is the ability to entertain. As Nomfusi says; “They must have hired me for my singing ability as I wasn’t that good as a waitress and could only carry two plates at a time!” The song that Nomfusi sang for her ‘audition’ as a waitress was Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’.
Commenting on Port Elizabeth people Nomfusi said; “I find it hard to describe the positive way that PE people hold themselves, I would say that they have ‘SWAG’ and a positive mentality of competing in and with the world. My inspiration comes from those locals who had style and fashion sense, in the streets and in the church, who would dress up and look good.”
Listening to the album, Take me Home, one gets a sense of good times, stylish dancers, women in three quarter dresses and white socks being whirled around by men in sharp suits and even sharper hats, dazzling smiles and the flash of petticoats, long drawn out chords from the organ, shebeen beers and a hint of smoke to give the image depth.
The jazz influences are huge and comforting but I wanted to know from Nomfusi just where she got the Jazz, Brenda Fassie and Letta Mbula influences for her music as she is certainly not of my vintage. Apparently she has her uncle to thank for her jazz influences. He had an old ‘skorokoro’ of a car and this larger than life character possesed an abundance of style and played music from that era endlessly in his old ‘skorokoro’. Nomfusi remembers him as leaving an indelible mark on wherever he visited even to being able to recognise his deodorant lingering after he had left her mother’s home.
And of course there has to be one song that jumps up and grabs you by the short and curlies – here I was listening to these deep jazzy chords and old school instruments when a track called Ndiyazenzela started out with a major change of pace and style with a house feel to it. It certainly demonstrates that this diva has business savvy and the ability to craft her talents around different genres. The lyrics best describe her formative years and are pretty upbeat. Nomfusi says that; “… the lyrics are upbeat and motivational and send young people a simple message – You Can Do It!”
Nomfusi was recently chosen to portray the character of Miriam Makeba in the long-awaited biopic of Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk To Freedom.” The film, which will be released in 2014, will according to its producer Anant Singh “be the largest South African production ever mounted.”
Since making her debut with “Kwazibani” in 2009, Nomfusi has become one of South Africa’s most sought-after export products. With ten international tours under her belt, she has given riveting performances across Europe and Canada at prestigious festivals such as WOMAD in England, performing with Angelique Kidjo at the Afrikadey Festival in Canada, and to an audience of more than 8000 at FMM Sines in Portugal.
My favourite’s on the album are Kunjalo, Ndiyazenzela, Uthando Lwam – Qam Qam (currently playlisted on Metro FM) and Ndizibonile for the crying guitar introduction.
Talking to Nomfusi one gets the sense that she is a well grounded person with an incredible sense of her own self worth and ability to contribute in a positive way to what makes South Africa great – good luck Nomfusi and we are looking forward to seeing you in Port Elizabeth soon.