03 Jun Young South Africa: Nomsa Mazwai aka Nomisupasta | Musician, Activist and Visionary
We kick off this year’s Young South Africa series by introducing to you the eloquent and talented Nomsa Mazwai, known musically as Nomisupasta. The Soweto born and bred singer not only sings for the soul, but also speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. Having been the president of the Fort Hare University students’ representative council, gaining a Fulbright Scholarship, presenting at the United Nations on behalf of South Africa and winning the South African Music Awards’ Best Adult Alternative African, Nomisupasta’s achievements speak for themselves – as do her lyrics.
Nomisupasta skilfully puts her thoughts across through her music, giving her fans something to think about. In her song, Globalization, she critiques the concept of globalization accusing it of destruction and voices her disapproval of a global village. While music captures the essence of who she really is; bold, whimsical and passionate, her thoughts inspire other young South Africans to work towards building a South Africa that is responsive to the needs of others.
In an exclusive interview with the award-winning singer and activist, we learn that there’s no stopping this young artist.
You are the daughter of a veteran journalist and a younger sister to a singer and a poet. How did your background influence a career in music?
I grew up in a family of artists and creative thinkers. I was always inspired to achieve greatness and to value who I was in the world, a young amazing black woman. My father inspired me to write about my experiences, this is why I now have my blog #FunkItImWalking which is housed on my website www.nomisupasta.com. My music is influenced by the different things I experience and the different kinds of music I am exposed to. My sister Thandiswa has an extensive variety of music that she listens to and I benefit from her song choices when we are at home. My other sister Ntsiki is a fearless activist, and that inspires me to say what I believe in through my music.
What inspires you to make music and how would you describe your genre?
I am inspired by my experiences. My music is alternative because I have always enjoyed that which is different. I like to create newness, I like to innovate with sounds and lyrics so I choose music that is unexpected. My genre would be Afro Soul Alternative, that is the best way I could describe it.
Do you feel a responsibility to include messages about issues you think are important in the music you make?
When I am moved to write, it is usually about something I feel strongly about. That I write music or poetry to it is secondary. I do not feel I have a responsibility to include issues, I feel I have a responsibility to create the music that I imagine. Sometimes people are disappointed when I sing about love and not politics but I am a whole human being and political issues affect me just as much as lost love might.
It is both impressive and inspiring that a performing artist is actively engaged with social and political affairs. How does your music correlate with your activism?
I am a musician, I am an activist, I am an academic, I am a thinker, I am a creative. These are all the things that make Nomisupasta, this is, for lack of a better way to express this, this is who I be. The whole me correlates. I am just being myself and trying to find balance and happiness as we all are traversing this planet. Perhaps, if you were to ask, how does my music support my activism, then I would say, sometimes it is easier to communicate a message through the arts. I use my poetry to argue the economic experience of the young South African, I use my art to tell my story when words are not enough. This is great because it gives me access to larger audiences who can understand my music or my poetry and can relate to where I’m coming from.
Why is it important to stay aware and engaged?
To be aware and engaged is to live. We are a collective and in order to support each other and grow together, we need to be aware of each other and engaged in our collective struggle. This is especially important in South Africa where it is very easy for those in a position of privilege to not be aware or engaged in the South African struggle and choose only to focus on disease and not the symptoms that make society sick.
As South Africans we have to understand that if people cannot access education, cannot access opportunity, are closed out of the economy, then crime will be ever prevalent, as they simply have no other option. The same would go for understanding racism, for understanding privilege and understanding that we all have to make a contribution if we want to live in the South Africa we imagined in 1994.
Do you think your generation is as socially and politically aware and active as they should be?
I do not think it is possible to not be socially and politically aware unless you are completely disengaged from society. It is possible to have a misunderstanding of the status quo, and this is possible in South Africa as the media may not be covering the whole South African story. I also think that the influence of media, through satellite television and the Internet can completely disconnect people from the realities on the ground.
We must however remember that how society manifests is of our own creation. I am politically and socially aware. I know many of my friends are too, this is how we relate, but I do know of people that are completely disengaged from South African reality. They live on MTV and listen to CDs in their cars and never tune into the news. I am always surprised when spending time with these people and listening to the issues they deem to be important. That life is attractive, however, we cannot all live in it as it is the home of the disengaged wealthy.
What is it like to be a musician in South Africa? What advice do you have for other young creative South Africans?
It is tough to be a musician anywhere in the world. I am an independent musician in South Africa which has been nothing but challenging. The thing is, I love to perform so much that I keep climbing this mountain in the hopes that my career will one day be able to sustain itself. Presently, I fund it like a hobby and perform like a professional.
If you are a young creative in South Africa or anywhere in the world, do what you love, but ensure that you have options so that if something doesn’t work out you have another passion you can follow. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. If you are able to study, study business so that you can sustain yourself as a creative. Studying business management will give you the tools to manage your own career and effectively retain most of the income you make. It will also give you the critical thinking skills needed to scale your career through maximising the use of the resources available to you.
For example, you may opt to outsource your PR to increase your reach, but not abdicate your management role to retain control over your business while also saving on paying a management fee on bookings secured through you PR agent’s activities.
You say that you have a larger international following than local. Why do you think this is?
I have a larger following internationally because as an independent artist my presence is largely online and the online community is borderless. I also had the opportunity to complete my Masters degree in International Political Economy and Development at Fordham University, which exposed me to New York based publications and platforms such as AfroPunk, OkayPlayer and OkayAfrica who have an international following.
I also joined the Independent Music Exporters of South Africa, IMEXSA, and they empowered me to grow my brand into Europe and the US by booking space for me to perform at a few festivals. Through IMEXSA I performed in Germany and Spain and PrimaVera Festival in Barcelona.
You have a lot lined up in the coming months. You are performing at Oppikoppi in August and at the UN General Assembly this month end in New York. How do you work between recording and performing? Which one do you prefer and why? What do you do when you’re not in the studio recording or on the stage performing?
I enjoy performing the most. I love connecting with people and sharing my ideas and thoughts. So performance is by far my favourite. I also enjoy recording at times, but recording can get very boring because sometimes you have to repeat something a million times until its perfect.
I am playing at the United Nations in the General Assembly on the 30th of June. I will be playing with the NYC Philharmonic, this is beyond amazing for me. I am totally excited. I am performing at Oppikoppi this year. I am looking forward to that showcase. I will also be having a show on the 25th of June in JHB before my departure. All information for venue and bookings is on my website.
What are your future plans?
My future plans are to drop my next album titled First Contact, which I did with San Francisco based producer Nezbeat, it’s a joint project. I also want to record with up and coming South African producers and hone in on a sound that will grow my South African audience. I want to perform in the country and promote walking through my blog #FunkItImWalking.