South African-born and New York-based neo-soul artist Noba, real name Nobantu Msweli, is flying the Mzansi flag high and beams with joy, as her dream of graduating from the College of Performing Arts in New York has come true; and finally releasing her official debut single “Tell Me”. She tells us more and shares her success tips.
Give us a glimpse into your childhood. What drew you to music, especially in the neo-soul and jazz genres?
I’m not quite sure what drew me to music. I just know that I first wanted to be a ballerina and then I wanted to be a singer. Being drawn to Neo soul music or jazz genres I would say comes from my father. He always encouraged me to sing and see through expression in said genres.
He would say “I just imagine you singing this, your voice would sound so beautiful with this type of music” and I would always reject or deny this idea, believing pop was my calling. But I believe you are who you are, and that has a way of coming to light. And thus here I am making said music. I guess Dad knows best!
How did the opportunity to study music in New York come about, and how is the life and culture on that side?
Well, studying in New York was never really my goal. My dad had prodded and enquired from time to time about being an international performing artist. And eventually, I wanted that for myself. But the decision to make that jump actually came from a friend of mine at the time who planted the seed of moving to make this a reality.
My parents, surprisingly, were very supportive of this. And so from then on we just did everything we humanly could do and trusted in God to fulfil his will.
It has not been without sacrifice and financial support from my family that has allowed me to fulfil my dream.
With regards to the culture, in the beginning, I was under the illusion that there wasn’t really much of a culture shock. Due to the familiarity with pop culture, television and social media. But the culture in the US is so much different than that of South Africa. In relation to how people treat one another, race, food, capitalism, politics and the black experience. Having been here for almost five years, it is still an ongoing learning experience. I took the time to read You Are Your Best Thing by Brené Brown and Tarana Burke. And while so enlightening, it is so so sobering. There is still so much I don’t understand about the black experience here and so much to learn. About how I will exist and how to navigate adult life. But it sure is a land of opportunity! I have been so fortunate to have met such amazing inspirational creatives and individuals.
Tell us about your single Tell Me, what inspired the lyrics of the song and who do you think will relate to the song?
Well, I was coming out of a relationship and part of healing was putting pen to paper through my journal, my music, and in conversation. And this song came about because of my frustration at not really knowing where I stand in the relationship and where we were going. I believe this is so relatable to every single human being on the planet that has been in a relationship that has caused confusion. If you know, you know.
How has it been breaking into the music industry? What challenges and highlights have you experienced so far?
Well, what is really breaking into the music industry? Is it being seen by as many people as possible? Is it being well known? Having a large following? Or is it just being a credible musician who makes amazing music and teaches? I don’t know. Or is it everything?
I ask myself this question quite often, trying to define it for myself as I’ve tried to lay out what I want for my career in the coming years. But I would say that has been my biggest challenge as of right now. Finding a flow and finding my space in the industry. And what does that look like for me?
My highlights are the people. It has to be the people I’ve met, and it has to be the music. Having interacted, shared, created and listened! What an experience. But most of all, proving to myself that I am capable! Like I make really good music.
Who would you like to work with in the studio, in South Africa or the US? Share with us why.
Such a difficult question, I have so many creatives that I want to work with. In South Africa, at the top of my list would have to be Black Motion. I saw them live in 2015 and I made the decision that we are working together; it has to happen haha. I love their music so much!
In the US, I would say Mark Ronson. He is such a talented individual and having followed him over the years. His career has seen so many collaborations with so many genres. I don’t believe he’s taken on much of the sub-Saharan, afro sounds to his records. So this could be an opportunity for us to create something new. I also told myself that we would work together after watching AMY. I was so inspired and wished to experience being seen the way he saw Amy Winehouse.
I also chose these artists because they’re gifted in creating very diverse soundscapes.
What is your definition of success and do you feel you have achieved it?
To be honest with you I’m just going with the flow of God’s will. He has put this desire within my heart and given me purpose. In fulfilling his will for my life, I will be successful.
Which stage or festival would you like to feature in its line-up and why?
Award show stages! That’s when you get to go over the top and no one’s mad because we’re all there to be entertained. Most of the iconic live performances I remember are from award shows. I would love to weave my influences and culture into a performance like that. Being able to educate and have fun at the same time. Definitely something I’m looking forward to.
What goals do you aim to achieve in 2023?
I hope to grow in my craft, further my career and reach new audiences. I hope to release new music and travel the world through my music.
Apart from music, what keeps you busy and fulfilled?
My family, my faith, reading, watching live shows (Broadway, theatre, live music concerts, comedy shows) and meeting with my friends.
Lastly, what are your success tips for young people?
JESUS, mentorship, hard work and networking!
Listen to Noba’s single Tell Me and share in the comments what you think of it.