Nomathamsanqa Treatie Mkwananzi, known as Noma Nkwali is a singer, dancer, actress and composer born in Bulawayo and currently based in Germany. She was an extra in the movie Power of One, starring the iconic Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman and Zimbabwe’s Alois Moyo at the tender age of seven. She grew up performing with various artists and dance groups in Bulawayo, and also worked with Albert Nyathi as a backing singer before landing a leading role in the world renowned Mother Afrika Circus in 2006. She performed in the show as the lead singer and dancer all over the world until 2015, and even impressed Dolly Parton along the way. In November 2015 she went solo under the name Nkwali, performing her own compositions as well as covers. Her first acapella album, Sithokozile, earned her a Zimbabwe Music Award (ZIMA) for Best Acapella Album in 2016.
You live in Germany now but what are some of your favourite memories from Bulawayo?
Growing up in EMakhandeni high density suburb and playing games with my friends in the dusty streets. There are two of us girls in my family and we had a lot of sibling arguments and fights especially for fudges – those are sweets. My mother would keep them in a display cabinet. Whenever she was away, it would be a tussle between the two of us.
Luckily, I overpowered Dorothy and munched all. Oh, sibling tussles – fun times!
A little more about your family?
We’re a small family – it’s just my mum and younger sister Dorothy now as my father passed on two years ago. I have a 16-year-old son, Mbongeni Lawrence.
What was the hardest part about settling in Germany and how did you handle it?
The language barrier was the main one as l didn’t know any German at all. Then there was the food which was not my cup of tea but now l’m completely in love with everything German. The only issue is the cold weather. l can’t get used to it despite all these years here.
How did you learn the language?
As l said, it wasn’t so easy but with the help of these language apps, YouTube and friends I learnt. I also studied Germany at a college and even passed it with flying colours.
Talking of languages, you speak so many – how did you do it?
Yes, I also speak Ndebele, Shona, Zulu, Swahili, Xhosa and English fluently, and a bit of French and Spanish. It’s really because of all my projects in Europe which meant that I’ve worked as a musician and dancer with various other African artists and musicians in Europe and across the world. Mother Afrika was a huge show that ran for ten years with Africans
from different countries so it was inevitable that I would learn new languages.
When did you realise that you were going to be a star?
I’m not sure if l am a star but simply a musician still learning a lot and trying so hard to earn a living. I am proud of the fact that I now have fans around the world and that many appreciate my music and performances.
Who are your musical influences?
Whitney Houston, Brenda Fassie and Chiwoniso Maraire.
What was a musical highlight for you when you lived in the City of Kings?
My album launch, because both my parents got to watch me perform for the first time in front of a packed venue. l really gave it my best on the night and will never forget the day.
And other great moments in your career so far are…
There was winning the ZIMA definitely. Then performing for Dolly Parton and chatting with her after a performance. And then there is a performance I did with Lebo M, at German superstar Helena Fischer’s Christmas show in Germany.
What inspires your music? How do you get ideas for your songs?
I’m a traditionalist and come from a cultured family, so my music is driven by my tradition and things l see happening around in our communities. Some of the songs are influenced by social issues, love, relationships, abuse, hunger and killings.
How has your first album Sithokozile impacted your journey as a musician?
It opened a lot of avenues for me as an artist. A lot of people noticed and took me seriously. Nkwali was a new artist that had landed! Winning the ZIMA really took me by surprise as l didn’t expect to be nominated, let alone scoop the award. I’ve sold so many copies of my album in Europe because Europeans love traditional acapella music. It feels like I’m a complete musician now.
What’s the song ‘Nyawo Lwami’ about?
It talks about a person who is angry and decides to walk away from the anger because they’re heart broken. It’s an old song and I’m sure the elders would have a deeper explanation. My grandmother used to sing it a lot.
The best thing about being a solo artist is…
l own my music and l don’t have anyone controlling or telling me what to do and how to do it. I work in my own time with no one pushing me. l can explore, change and sing different styles and genres whenever l want to. I write, sing and perform music which I believe my fans will love without consulting anyone. I enjoy the freedom l get as a solo artist and l don’t have to deal with disagreements, divisions and fights found in groups.
One African artist that you would like to collaborate or work with?
Dobet, a female star from Ivory Coast who sings world music.
What’s a typical day like for you when touring?
Well, I wake up around 9 o’clock, work out, then take a shower. After breakfast, I pre-set my costumes then meditate, do voice warm up then go for sound check. Then l listen to music in my dressing room while waiting for my performance.
Do you still get nervous before going on stage?
It’s normal for performing musicians and artists to be nervous before going on stage. I’m used to it and we just have to live with it.
Any advice for young girls aspiring to become artists?
Believe in yourself and your talent. Don’t allow anyone to pull you down.
What advice would you give to parents whose children want to become artists?
Education first. Art is not for school dropouts.
Support your children in whatever they want to do.
Talent is a calling.
Should we expect another album from you soon?
I’m currently in the studio working on my new album Themba and expect to release it later this year. It’s dedicated to my late dad Charles Themba Mkwananzi. I won’t say much, but I think it’s gonna rock! It’s about social issues including issues faced by women and children in our society. It has wedding and party and traditional songs too.
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Photo Credit – Dunyaio