Nomfusi Tini sings her heart out

By Drum Digital
24 December 2010

WE'VE seen her picture all over newspapers and magazines and watched her Sophiatown- inspired music videos on YouTube. She has such a big voice and so much presence we imagine she must be quite a formidable person in the flesh – but we're in for a shock. Nomfusi Tini is short. Really short. "Hah!" she laughs when we comment on her size. "You're not the first to say that. People never recognise me on the street because they don't expect me to be so short!"

It's this kind of disarming honesty that makes the rising star from Khayelitsha, Cape Town, so likeable. She's currently riding the crest of a wave, having recently been nominated for two Metro FM awards – Best Female Artist and Best African Pop Album for her debut, Kwazibani.And it seems there's no stopping her now. The diminutive 24-year-old is making waves in North America and Europe too, after touring there extensively. Soon she'll be jetting off again to play at music festivals in New York, Chicago and Montreal, Canada.

"It's been a beautiful journey," she tells us as she sits down on the sofa in the living room of her small but stylish Khayelitsha flat and examines her perfect nails. "I can't believe my childhood dream is coming true."

Beside her in her two-roomed flat is a wall unit stacked with CDs and photos of her wedding day and her live performances. She's very photogenic and each picture captures her larger-than-life personality – yet behind that warm grin and those smiling eyes lies a sadness brought by great loss.

Aids has claimed several of her loved ones, including her beloved mother, whom Nomfusi lost when she was just 12 years old.

Her smile disappears the moment she begins speaking about her mom, Kwazibani. She made a living as a domestic worker and as a gobela who enrolled and trained people to become sangomas.

"I know I'm not the only one who's lost a mother like this," she says. "But it's still hard to speak about her passing – she was such a strong influence. My mother and amathwasa [sangoma trainees] would always dance and invite me to join them, and that's how I started singing at the age of about five."

It was in her home township of New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, that the foundations of Nomfusi's life as a musician were laid. She recalls her childhood as if it were yesterday: ceremonies with rooms full of dust from the dancing as she sang her lungs out to the ululation of those gathered around.

"Later, while I was at the Seventh Day Adventist School in New Brighton, we used to sing harmonies without musical instruments. I guess I started like that and just grew up loving music."

The songbird takes a deep breath before she continues. "I draw strength from talking about the things I grew up with and the things I learnt from my mother," she says.

"There is nothing shameful about me losing my mother to Aids. Speaking about it makes me stronger. When she died I didn't know anything about the disease – I just knew she was sick. Losing her was a double blow because my father had just been sent to jail for 21 years," she says.

Nomfusi refuses to talk more about her dad, saying what he did was a long time ago and she wants to put it behind her. But she's determined to keep her mother's legacy alive – which is why it's only fitting that the album that has won her so many fans is named after the woman who taught and inspired her.

AFTER the death of her mom she and her siblings, Siphokazi and Rethuli (now 34), were taken in by their aunt in Cape Town. But three years later her aunt also died of Aids and then, just as Nomfusi had moved on, the disease claimed her sister, Siphokazi, who was then 28.

"I knew right then that I had a choice to make – I could cry myself to death or pull myself together and face life again," she says. This devout Christian chose life and became strong enough to bounce back – even after she was forced to drop out of her accountancy studies at the Cape Town University of Technology in 2005. Unable to pay her fees, she had to let her dream of financial independence go and decided instead to follow her real passion and study music part time, a course she could afford.

Read the full article in DRUM of 6 January 2011

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