How would you describe your childhood?
I grew up with my mother who was a single parent and with my two siblings, Siphokazi and Rithuli, in the township of Kwazhekele near Port Elizabeth. I remember my early childhood as being very colourful and filled with music, whether it was my mom drumming or listening to her tapes of artists such as Dolly Parton, Miriam Makeba or Aretha Franklin.
What is your fondest memory from that time?
Dancing with my mom on stage at the intlombe while the sangomas were doing their rituals.
Who was a major influence during those formative years?
My mother was a major influence. She was a beautiful person inside and outside. She filled my life with a love for music and taught me to respect other people; even though she was a domestic worker with no education she had major insight and wisdom into matters of the heart.
You used to accompany your mother to her weekly sangoma rituals – what do you remember from those shared moments?
Whether the rituals were held at our house or at someone else's, it was always very noisy! I loved the dancing the most, I was such a show-off! I loved the sound of the different drums which came in all shapes and sizes.
Tell about your experience recording your first album and how it was received?
I'm not going to lie, it was a painful experience. I was used to singing live in front of other people since I was very young, always feeding off the crowd. All of the sudden I was put in a little white soundproof box and asked to sing for a microphone! And then to do certain parts over and over and over, it was sometimes difficult to keep the spirits high.
The album is probably best known for the track "Nontsokolo”. The music video we made for the song was nominated for a SAMA. Even though the album got praised by the media and got very good reviews not enough was done locally to market the album and to give it enough airplay. It was also very difficult to find in stores. We sold most of our stock at our live performances, especially overseas, where it has also been widely available for digital download through iTunes.
You dedicated your debut album to your late mother; why was this important for you to do?
She gave me the strength to be who I am today. It’s important that we praise the mothers in our society; they can educate an entire nation.
Do you think artists attempting to make a mark in the industry have enough support from media and recording companies or government for that matter?
I have never received a cent from the government in support of my art, whether it’s been for music education, putting together tours or exporting my music overseas. Most of our funding has come out of our own pockets, with some help from the private sector. The Distell Foundation is currently paying for my studies towards a music degree, but other than that we have put together most of our local and overseas tours ourselves from money we have earned from our gigs. A record label can provide the resources and infrastructure to make an album but they don't do much to promote the artist. You need a good management team to constantly remind them of developments in your career to keep yourself in the public eye.
You have the amazing honour of playing the character of Miriam Makeba in the biopic of Nelson Mandela; how did this come about?
Our music publishers who work closely with the film's music supervisors recommended me. After meeting with the film's director, Justin Chadwick, I was given the role. The fact that I have always paid tribute to Mama Miriam Makeba in my shows helped since there was a lot of footage available on YouTube showcasing my renditions of the classic Makeba songs.
How do you feel about taking on such an undertaking?
It’s a great honour to play someone who wasn’t only a great musician but also an activist.
From humble beginnings to stardom! This is the path that young Nomfusi is taking. From her humble beginnings in KwaZhakele Township in the Eastern Cape where she grew up.
You have recently been appointed as ambassador for Mould Empower Serve (MES). What is the organisation about and what is your role?
The organization, based in Hillbrow, helps vulnerable or at risk individuals, families and communities to become independent and sustainable. It’s a huge project which is very hands-on in breaking the cycle of poverty in the city of Joburg. So far I have performed at a function for their staff, spent time with the kids at their in-house crèche and will soon take part in a gospel concert at the BG Alexander Centre, a theatre on their premises. I like sharing MES's view that poverty is a mind-set.
What advice would you give children who are not sure they have a chance?
You need to change your mind set about life. If you were made to believe that you were destined for a life of poverty, you don't only have to prove the world wrong but also yourself so that you can bring change to your own life as well as the lives of generations to come.