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by Zoe Henry / 03.05.2010

Nomfusi is the next big thing. She’s sitting on the precipice of stardom, and with the support of her marketers, it won’t be long before her name is as household as your toaster. Every now and then an artist arrives on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere, and produces the sort of hype that the general public revel in, but that evokes scepticism from hacks like us. Nomfusi is one of these artists. She’s talented, and her music blends traditional African sounds with just the right amount of pop to appeal to a wider audience. But that’s true of many artists these days, so why has Nomfusi been anointed above all as the latest poster child for Afropop?

The Alliance Francais is unsurprisingly akin to a Parisian café. There are tables and chairs set out for the evening, most of which are already occupied. The crowd mills about chatting to one another, in a mixture of English and French, and sipping on glasses of red wine while the smell of Gauloises drifts in from the foyer. The crowd is mixed in every sense of the word; race, age and affluence, but they all seem to know each other. There’s a sense of community. Platters of mini hamburgers are passed around and people aren’t shy about indulging in the free food. About thirty minutes after the show is set to start, the Pesto Princess Soul Bus from Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Gugulethu pulls up outside and people begin to flood through the doors. Their excitement is palpable as they get absorbed into the already full venue. Once everyone is settled Nomfusi saunters onto stage with her band the Lucky Charms.

“Thank you so much for coming”, she says in a Tinkerbell sized voice. “I had a speech prepared, but now I can’t think of what I wanted to say.” With her little voice and timid body language, it’s difficult to imagine her taking command of a stage, but when she opens her mouth to sing, her energy changes completely. She has a strong singing voice that holds notes beautifully, and her body moves in a way that makes it clear that she feels the music.

Image by James Twarrow

She introduces every song, explaining what it’s about and what inspired it. The stage banter is awkward, unpolished and clichéd. “A lot of things don’t make sense to lots of people, but one thing I know is that music makes sense to me”, she says to rapturous applause. Her songs vary from old school South African jazz to pop and gospel. The audience embraced the gospel influence by standing and singing with their hands waving back and forth. If she had shouted, “Can I get an Amen?” she would have.

The Lucky Charms play a little too loudly for Nomfusi’s delicate voice, and most of the time it feels as though the sounds they’re creating are battling rather than complimenting each other. Halfway through the set they are joined by a brass section that lifts the vibe, and they harmonise effortlessly with her voice in a way that the rest of the band doesn’t manage. Together they build the crowd up, song by song, climaxing in a Miriam Makeba medley.

By the end of the night it’s obvious that Nomfusi is a cute, sellable package performing safe tunes for a welcoming audience. Despite her incredibly difficult life story, that’s shockingly reminiscent of an Athol Fugard play (we’ll delve into this in another article), she maintains a sweet and almost naïve energy that’s approachable and easy to watch. She’s not breaking any boundaries, but she’s having fun, and that counts for a lot.

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