If your music has taken you from urban South Africa across your whole home continent and then onto the international World Music scene, you don’t really need to be modest. If you’ve stormed world music – been there, done that – and you’re now making waves on the mainstream circuit, then you really don’t need to be modest.
If your voice can confidently and charmingly navigate Motown, jazz and reggae in the same set, then outstrip a full band on a soulful ballad (if yours can’t, just stick on African Day for practise) – if you can sing like that, you don’t need to be modest.
But it helps…
…and Nomfusi really has it all. She’s played bigger, but it’s not beneath her to play underground at Auster Club. The stage is hardly off the floor, so she’s not looking down on us: we’re eye to eye. But Nomfusi holds sway. She’s not cocky, but she knows how to swagger. Whatever the occasion, she rises to it.
Brushing aside language barriers
For this tour and the African Day album, she’s worked with both African and European musicians for an evolved sound. The result is (quite ironically) more accessible to an international crowd. Through the tracks Don’t Play that Game and Sthandawa Sami, Nomfusi and the men behind her mi motown and americana mixed with Wave of Love opens the new album, but it closes the night
Her bandmates hunch over their instruments, lost in the parts they’re playing. Meanwhile, Nomfusi plays the crowd. She’s a dynamic performer and wonderfully expressive, which gives us the impression of a conversation. This is particularly helpful when she sings in Xhosa, her mother tongue and one of the official tongues of South Africa. She brushes aside the language barrier with a playful gesture and a winning smile.
Fighting talk on the microphone
The dialogue continues in between songs, and here she’s perfect: a pro’s confidence, but she hasn’t lost a glint of excitement from the early days. To warm up the room she’s all enthusiasm to start off, and gets the crowd moving and whooping. Then she eases into her personal history, her national history and her culture, pinning her music to the storyboard of her life.
Once we’re wearing out our shoes for dancing and our voices for cheering, she talks race relations and international politics. She stays tongue-in-cheek while recounting the history of Europe’s plunder of her continent, her tone more baffled than indignant. But it’s not a joke: it’s challenging note for a majority-white audience to listen to. It hits home just like every other note she’s sung.
But above all the others, this is the stroke of mastery which elevates the concert above the benchmark. If you can create euphoria through music, fellowship and warmth through performance and then moral discomfort with some well-worded home truths – then you really don’t need to be modest. But Nomfusi, she’s got it all.
African Day is out now on Spotify or find out more here.
Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.