On Monday, July 10, from 3:00 to 4:00 pm, South African pop star Nomfusi gave a talk to students and faculty at the University of Florida. The conversation was moderated by UF instructor, Richard Kweitsu, who asked Nomfusi a series of questions about her life and career, along with giving attendees the opportunity to ask Nomfusi questions of their own. Nomfusi was introduced and she first talked about her family and how they helped her discover her love for music as a child.
“I was raised by my single mother because my father was imprisoned. I grew up with two siblings, an older brother, and a sister, so I was the baby of the house… I know we often come from big, huge families, but in my case, that was not the case. I was very close to my mother and my siblings, those were the people that were around me all the time. I was not much close to the extended family of both my parents, which made me very close to my mom especially. My home was a very whimsical home because my mother was a traditional healer. She was a spiritual lady and therefore it was a very musical home, she was beating on the drums every weekend and I was that child in the center of the stage moving my little legs, dancing, and commanding attention. I think that was where the musical and entertainment side of me was born.”
Nomfusi has experienced the loss of numerous family members. She talked about the struggles she experienced with loss and how she overcame it.
“Losing people that are close to me exposed me to grief, which I can say made me go through a lot of emotional rollercoasters in my life. I'm still trying to figure this all out a bit. That’s where I discovered I am oddly resilient. I don’t think that’s something I would’ve known without losing my family members, as he says from my mother, to my father, to my aunt who took care of us after my mother passed away, to my sister who was very close to me. I almost felt like I didn’t have a choice but to find strength and fight back. It was two choices, either I drift with whatever has happened in my life, or I find the strength to swing at it. That’s what I constantly do every day.”
Nomfusi grew up during the apartheid period in South Africa, where racial segregation was enforced to a violent extent. She describes growing up in a segregated community called the Township. She paints a picture of a musical community, describing how she would often hear different genres of music coming from different houses at the same time. When asked what type of music she does she explains how this exposure to multiple different genres at a young age still influences her music today.
“I think I am still trapped in the Township when it comes to my music. I think I can shape up all the different genres that I grew up in and end up loving every one of them with how each genre makes me feel. Listening to American soul music makes me feel this love. You listen to reggae and I just love the expression of God in their music and it gives me a major appreciation of such things. I listen to classical music and there’s the spirituality that comes with it. I am trapped there, sometimes I want to be rebellious like why do I have to choose a genre, why can’t I just sing?… I can’t box myself, maybe that is my struggle.”
Nomfusi acknowledged the challenges artists face, often coming from difficult backgrounds and enduring tough experiences. She expressed how receiving recognition from her audience and other musicians is a vital source of strength for her.
“I think as artists we do live for that acknowledgment, it comes from our audience, it comes from artists that have walked before us. We do live for that, we do draw strength from that. It feels amazing because being an artist is not easy, a lot of us are quite messed up, to be honest. We come from challenging circumstances, we come from very tough experiences. To hear such words makes you feel like whatever you’re doing is worth it. We look big, we look like we got it all figured out, we look like we are not intimidated but we go through a lot of things before and after the stage. Sometimes we question ourselves, some of us go through substance abuse, but a percentage, even if it's just 1%, makes me feel like what I’m doing is worth it.”
Nomfusi writes songs about a variety of different topics, many of them pertaining to relatable problems that her audience could potentially resonate with. She went into depth about her song ‘Iqaqa aliziva kunuka’ which translates to ‘A skunk does not smell itself.’
“I was kind of pissed off by a guy that was being skanky and this idiom came to my mind. Basically, it revolves around the need to recognize your own faults. You need to accept your contribution in a conflict. Most of the time it's never really just one-sided. Both parties are playing a role and a skunk just doesn’t give a damn and just farts in everyone's face.”
When it came time for the crowd to ask questions a UF student asked Nomfusi what advice she would give to prospective musicians.
“Don’t give up, as long as you do it there's still a chance… There’s still a chance of a breakthrough, the chance for you to achieve your ultimate dream. When you stop it ends there. People who want to do music, they must learn all the things about it, especially the business side. I know as artists we wanna go with the heart but it’s greater than that, there’s also money in this thing. If you’re gonna give the rest of your life to this it needs to sustain yourself so you need to learn the ins and outs of the music business.”
Before finishing her talk Nomfusi was asked how she believes Africans can invest in themselves and realize their full potential. Nomfusi shared an inspirational message on African unity.
“These are big questions because I don’t think there’s one answer, there's layers and layers. Some of the answers have nothing to do with music. Now as musicians, we have to solve a continental crisis. I don’t know if musicians alone can do that. There’s a lot of work Africans need to do, but on the foundation of it all Africans need to be united… I believe our strength will lead to our unity. At this point, we are still swimming through the lines of being segregated, with borders, passports, and anything that separates us. I think our biggest strength, this is just from my heart, Africans need to find a way to unite. That would be the start of a lot of change. We will not just see it in music, we will see it in the health system, we will see it in the education system, we will see it in every system that is made.”