Nomfundo Xaluva shrugging off jazz stereotypes

Nomfundo Xaluva wants to shed the image of female jazz singers being sultry and sexy, and shift the focus toward the music. (Supplied)

Nomfundo Xaluva wants to shed the image of female jazz singers being sultry and sexy, and shift the focus toward the music. (Supplied)

The image of a female jazz singer wearing a seductive dress, singing into an old-school microphone in a small smoky bar is not how jazz singer Nomfundo Xaluva wants to be pictured.

“A lot of the time, woman in jazz are expected to be vocalists who have to look pretty and have to be the eye candy of the band and I think we are trying to change that. Our artistry and skill goes beyond how we look,” says Xaluva. 

“People revere jazz singers but in terms of them taking jazz vocalists seriously, we still have a long way to go before that perception is completely transformed.”

The University of Cape Town Jazz Studies graduate is the 2014 Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) winner of the ImpACT Award for Young Professionals in the music and singing category. The ACT award ceremony was held on November 26 in Johannesburg.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, ACT is South Africa’s premier independent arts and culture funding and development agency that honours breakout, as well as established artists in South Africa through the ACT awards.

Xaluva was quite surprised by her win.
Her manager submitted her nomination form on deadline day and rolling the dice paid off for her in the end, as she is now the recipient of an award that was previously received by instrumentalist and composer, Camron Andrews.

Each ImpACT award winner receives a cash prize of R1 500 and editorial coverage worth R25 000 in Classicfeel magazine.

“It’s great to have another award in one year. It’s something that encourages you to carry on doing what you are doing.” 

The ACT award will join her Metro FM Music award for the Best Urban Jazz Album for her debut album Kusile, in her living room, which she received at the beginning of 2014. “I sometimes forget that I received the award.” 

Although awards have not altered her life in any big way, she still refers to them as a constant reminder that she is on the right track.

In 2011 she opened for international jazz singer Dianne Reeves, a personal idol of hers, when she performed at Monte Casino. “It was an amazing experience. A lot of people who follow my work first heard my music at that concert.”

Xaluva also performed at 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz held in Sandton and even took a photo with Reeves, posing with a copy of Kusile in her hand – a moment Xaluva has etched on her memory. 

Reeves also complimented her on her admirable voice control, one she credits her voice training lessons for. 

Love affair with music
Xaluva began singing when she was in school, performing solos in her school choir and began a love affair with the classical piano when she was 12 years old. 

Her late grandfather, who was an avid lover of jazz music, insisted that she study a musical instrument. Now Xaluva doesn’t just share her talent with the country, but also teaches music to teenagers in Cape Town, who want to able to sing and play an instrument like musicians Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift.

There has been an evident shift in the way young people view jazz, she believes. Carrying a music book and taking piano lessons in high school earned her the title of “nerd”. But Xaluva thinks jazz has become more fashionable now and young people now take jazz very seriously; they are studying the craft.

“They bring a fresh energy and contemporary feel to jazz. Jazz music is no longer just for old people or for the elite and that is the stereotype we need to break.”

One of ACT’s aims is to offer artists an opportunity to expose their crafts on a national platform. “Jazz musicians are still trying to fight for a space that one would think is rightfully ours. 

“If you look at jazz festivals across the country, the majority of their line-ups are no longer really jazz and so we are fighting for spaces where we should feel most at home, which is very discouraging.

“We are not saying ‘can we be on every festival or concert line-up?’; we are saying, ‘can we play jazz at jazz festivals?’ We embrace the integration of other genres because it’s good for business, but can we at least get a majority stake at jazz festivals?”

Even with the slow transformation pace at which the jazz industry is moving in, Xaluva finds it exciting to be jazz musician in South Africa. “There is so much to write about in South Africa. Our country has a great energy culturally and we also have such a rich heritage of jazz.”

After years of singing in small and unknown spaces, sometimes “dingy” Xaluva is finally where she wants to be as an artist. “It has been a good breakout year for me because I’ve met and worked with a lot of musicians this year, more than I ever have.” She hopes to be back in the studio, working on some new material, mid 2015.     

The award winners   

ImpACT award for design: Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana, a fashion designer who started her fashion company in 2009. She was featured as one of the top 10 designers at the 2013 Design Indaba Expo in Cape Town and was honoured by the Nelson Mandela Business Chambers as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Achievers of 2014. The Thabo Makhetha label was recently invited to showcase the Spring/Summer 2015 collection in Canada, at the Vancouver Fashion Week.

ImpACT award for theatre: Jade Bowers is a University of Cape Town Bachelor of Social Sciences in Drama and Sociology graduate. Bowers specialises in directing, designing and stage management for theatre. She directed and designed the stage production, iHamlet, which was nominated for a Naledi award in 2013 for the best sound design.   

ImpACT award for visual art:  Bevan de Wet is a Johannesburg-based artist and printmaker. His is best known for printmaking forms such as intaglio, relief, monotype and screen-printing. The Rhodes University Fine Art graduate has worked at the David Krut Print Workshop and has collaborated with artists such as Gerhard Marx, Walter Oltmann and William Kentridge. De Wet is De Wet is a recent ABSA L’Atelier Merit Award Winner.   

The Lifetime Achievement award recipients are:
Andre P. Brink for Literature
Richard Cock for Music
Richard Loring for Theatre
Sam Nzima for Visual Art

Katlego Mkhwanazi

Katlego Mkhwanazi

Katlego Mkhwanazi is the Mail & Guardian's arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started her career in magazines, before joining the Mail & Guardian team in 2014. She is an entertainer at heart. Read more from Katlego Mkhwanazi

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