INTEGRITY: Nomfundo Xaluvas Kusile also features a reworking of Winston Mankunkus Yakhalinkomo.

Terri Dunbar-Curran

PROMOTING a jazz-based album as a young artist can be quite a task, especially when you wonder how much airplay it will get, but Nomfundo Xaluva says she is up to the challenge.

“I think South African audiences are much more intelligent than we think they are,” she says. “We keep trying to give them the same things, but it’s worth putting out music that isn’t confined to what we think the masses want. We need to push the boundaries and do it anyway. Audiences deserve to hear this kind of music.”

Xaluva recently released her debut album, Kusile, a melodic African jazz offering which is the culmination of a lifetime of music studies.

The title is isiXhosa for “The Dawn”, and she explains that the word refers to her heralding of a new day. “It has quite a few connotations. It’s my debut, it’s brand new. It’s a picturesque representation of what it means to me to release my debut album.”

After starting her music studies in primary school and continuing to university, the goal has always been to record. It’s just been a case of developing her sound, content and feeling. Now that she is older she believes she has enough experience and skill, as well as something to say.

Her producer on Kusile, Mandisi Dyantyis, is also a close friend and fellow performer. The pair first played together at UCT in 2005 in a band which featured Dyantyis’s original songs. Half of the songs on Xaluva’s new album come from that time and the rest she wrote over the past two years. So in effect the album has been a collaboration spanning about seven years.

“So many of life’s experiences are best expressed through music. Songwriting is really an organic process. My songs are born out of my experiences and subconscious,” she says. The album sleeve includes a few words explaining the inspiration behind and meaning of each track.

While Dyantyis comes from a church background, Xaluva’s music has classical and jazz beginnings. She started playing the piano when she was 12, long before she turned her attention to singing. When she reached matric, however, she decided to see what she could do with her voice, and it took over.

“I don’t believe it’s a talent, it’s a skill. I look at it from an academic perspective and I consider myself very privileged to have been exposed to music from a young age.”

Now she spends her time passing on her knowledge as head vocal coach at the Cape Academy of Performing Arts, a role she is passionate about.

While recording Kusile, Xaluva worked with the likes of pianist Bokani Dyer, double bassist Wesley Rustin, drummer Kevin Gibson, and saxophonist and flautist Buddy Wells.

“They were really the dream rhythm section to record with. They understood what I was doing and they were so humble.”

She says working with such a small group meant she was able to maintain the acoustic jazz sound she was looking for. “They are so down-to-earth, and skilled and so generous with that skill. It really was a joy to work with them.”

A lot of time, thought and precision went into putting the album together, from songwriting to recording, and one of the best aspects of Kusile is that it has so few technological studio effects. “It’s uncluttered, not over-produced,” says Xaluva. “It’s a simple offering and I feel the music has a lot of integrity.”

Recording started in 2011 and the album was released late last year, so in the interim she has had time to work on new songs. She is contracted to Universal Music and the seeds are sown for a second album.

“Artists are constantly evolving,” she says, discussing what direction her new work might take. “You can go two ways – either stay the same or expand. While I would not want to put out another album that sounds the same, I also would not want to venture too far.”

While Kusile has a distinctly jazzy feel to it, she hopes a wide audience will identify with the spirit of her music. “Sometimes when you say jazz people think hectic, out there and deep. But I’ve had people buy it and write to me saying that it really resonates with them.”

l Find Xaluva on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.