In the West African tradition, Nonhlanhla Ndhlovu, aka Nolha, would have been described as a griot, a French word used to define someone armed with a cultural knowledge and an excellent vocal expertise who acts as a praise singer, a musician, a messenger of peace in time of crisis and an African story-teller.
The 29-year-old South African Afro-soul singer, mother of one, has indeed showcased all these attributes in her debut album titled Nghala (Lion in Tsonga language).
As if addressing a nation plunged into a deep crisis, Nolha, an account clerk by profession, sings emotionally and forcefully, putting her mellow and melancholic voice into the orbit of various rhythms to convey a message of peace, hope and unity.
In Nghala, she seems to attack the xenophobic tendencies of certain people, urging everyone to come out and unite as true human beings, and listen to the sounds of unity. “As Africans, we are one and there is no need for us to fight among ourselves,” she tells says Moon of the South.
The album, which contains elements of world music and contemporary jazz, was made possible with the collaboration of Jeff Maluleke and Jetro Mbowane.
Born in Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga Province, Nolha has made history. She is the first Tsonga female soul artist to deliver melodies in her native language in a way that seems unique and different.
“I feel proud about this,” she says. “I’m extremely happy. The first time I got a copy, I couldn’t sleep, and played it over and over again and I do play it now and then in my car.
“I saw the gap in the market where the music market is dominated by the Nguni melodies (Xhosa and Zulu), and I thought I should do something different.”
Nolha’s music, which is well textured, touches on contemporary issues in society and relationships. As a South African griot, she also brings along a message of hope, striving to wipe the tears of those who constantly cry and despair. In Walking, a song she wrote, she seems to say that life must go on despite what people experience in their daily existence.
A couple of friends, Nathi Mpanza, King Boggen and Mpumi Khuzwayo, also helped her in this project. She also says she would forever be grateful to Mandla Zikalala for his valuable contribution in her career.
Nolha, who is not related to soul musician Paul Ndhlovu, appears to have the potential to reach a high level in music. However, it remains to be seen if she could handle the heat of stardom with care.
“I have matured a lot, and therefore I’m well-prepared to stand my ground. There is no need to get carried away. You need to remain who you are, always being humble, and keep your friends. Remember that when you are famous, everyone wants to be your friend.”
Nolha, who once tried her luck at Umoja Africa and confesses being a number one fan of African singer Khadja Nin, says she wants to be seen as a performing artist, and not just a recording artist. Europe-based Nin, whose 1996 hit song Sambolera, was critically acclaimed, is from Burundi.