Award-winning jazz artist Nomfundo Xaluva is operating on a busy schedule.
On Wednesday, March 15, she performed at The Orbit – Jazz Club & Bistro in Johannesburg as part of its three-year anniversary, and today she’s handling a few interviews before she rushes off to Soweto to perform at a school there. “It’s just one of those times when a lot is happening. But it’s good, I’m not complaining,” she says.
Xaluva is based in Cape Town, but she performs in Johannesburg so much that people think she lives there. She loves travelling to Johannesburg, but Cape Town is special for her because it’s “relaxed, grounded and much slower” than Johannesburg.
Next week, she’ll be performing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival for the first time. “I’m beyond excited,” she says. “Having lived in Cape Town, having been at UCT Jazz School and growing up surrounded by all these incredible musicians who lived in Cape Town, and then also attending the Jazz Festival to watch those greats, and then to finally have my own show is absolutely absurd, it’s great.
"I almost feel like I’ve come full circle and the time is right. I appreciate the opportunity more because I’ve kind of been really moulded as a jazz musician in Cape Town, having attended the festival as a wide-eyed student of jazz and now I get to do my own show.”
She recalls walking into her friend’s wedding, checking her emails, and being surprised by the invitation to the festival. “I had to contain myself,” she laughs. “I wanted to scream. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And there were years when I thought, ‘Argh it’s never gonna happen’. And so for it to happen when you’ve sort of finally let it go, that was great.
"I think I’m a bit more level-headed about it now – I’m excited but I’m also like, ‘pshh, come on now, it’s about time'.”
Xaluva attended UCT, where she achieved her Master's in jazz studies in 2009. “I felt like the four-year undergrad in Bachelor of Music went by very quickly and like I was a little young to call it a day. I wanted to dig a little deeper than singing, playing the piano and writing music. I thought to myself that there’s very little documented about the South African jazz heritage, especially within the realms of academia,” she says.
She found that our libraries were flooded with dissertations on everybody else’s musical heritage other than our own. After deciding to do her dissertation on the work of Miriam Makeba, she set out to analyse her influences and how she approached music. “She didn’t really embrace the term (of a jazz artist) because to her she felt like she wasn’t really a jazz vocalist. She was like, ‘I’m not a jazz singer, I’m just a singer'.”
Xaluva interrogated this theory and observed her technique to try and figure out if the nuances in her music were aligned with the genre of jazz. Since she completed her Master's, she has been toying around with the idea of going back to school. But, for the time being, she’s more focused on performing and advancing her career.
Xaluva taught vocals as well, but she hasn’t done so in just over a year due to her loaded performance schedule. But she does hope to start doing some singing masterclasses sometime in the near future.
Xaluva’s debut album, Kusile, won the best urban jazz album category at the Metro FM Awards in 2015, and her sophomore, From.Now. On, was nominated again in the same category at last year’s awards. She isn’t planning on continuing this streak by releasing any new music this year.
“You know with jazz, you have got to give it a bit more time. It’s got to simmer a little bit. You want to play the music (live) because it’s the kind of music that thrives in live performance as opposed to on record. I think the intention is always the same every year, to get the music out there and to play at big shows.”