Audio

Audio: Nonku Phiri's Clouds of Nocturne

'Clouds of Nocturne' from South African songstress Nonku Phiri.

“I like the rawness of an idea when it begins" says up-and-coming South African songstress, Nonku Phiri. “That's when like, I personally feel what I'm saying is more authentic". Of the dozens of songs she's shared on SoundCloud – and the hundreds more sitting on her laptop - only a handful were written down before they were recorded: the rest were improvised using GarageBand; a programme she learned to use when she was studying graphic design at an advertising college in Cape Town. “The day I got my [Apple] Mac that's all I started doing, and only at night" says the 24-year-old singer; “so whatever I was either thinking about or like going through or whatever it is I'd heard, I'd sing about".


Nonkululu x Kool Out Lounge @ Kitcheners from theblaggTV on Vimeo.

Initially, the Jo'burg-born vocalist kept the late-night recordings to herself until rapper Jimmy Flexx, of hip hop trio Ill Skillz and a mutual acquaintance, encouraged her to share the music with a wider audience after a listen. She followed the emcee's advice and watched with surprise as the nocturnal compositions assumed a life of their own on the web. “I didn't realise that as much people were listening until I started looking at the amount of follows and listens". In addition to the 'song sketches' she also shared covers she'd done including her brilliant reworking of Icelandic singer Björk's “Oceania" and Frank Ocean's “We All Try" (stream both tracks below).

At the beginning of the year, after nine months working for an ad agency, Nonku decided to give up the daily grind of the rat race to earn her keep as a musician. “It's been a blessing for me to quit work and get to start doing what I want to do" she says. True, the decision seems to be paying off; aside from releasing her debut mixtape, Clouds of Nocturne: The Luv Mvmt, she's also recorded notable collaborations with electronic music DJ/Producer extraordinaire, Richard the Third for “Unfortunate Fool" (stream below), and house music duo, Crazy White Boy for “Zoma", and her second mixtape is due out next month. “I'd describe myself as an experimental artist I guess. I don't like boxing myself in or following any formula" she says; “so whatever comes out it's organically put together based on what I'm experimenting with".

Interview
Photo: Benoit Peverelli

Interview: Oumou Sangaré Proves Why She's the Songbird of Wassoulou

We caught up with the Malian singer to talk about her new Acoustic album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

When Oumou Sangaré tells me freedom is at her core, I am not surprised. If you listen to her discography, you'll be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn't center or in some way touch on women's rights or child abuse. The Grammy award-winning Malian singer has spent a significant part of her career using her voice to fight for the rights of women across Africa and the world, a testimony to this is her naming her debut studio album Moussolou, meaning Woman. The album, a pure masterpiece that solidified Oumou's place amongst the greats and earned her the name 'Songbird of Wassoulou,' was a commercial success selling over 250,000 records in Africa and would in turn go on to inspire other singers across the world.

On her latest body of work Acoustic, a reworking of her critically acclaimed 2017 album Mogoya, Oumou Sangaré proves how and why she earned her accolades. The entirety of the 11-track album was recorded within two days in the Midi Live studio in Villetaneuse in 'live' conditions—with no amplification, no retakes or overdubs, no headphones. Throughout the album, using her powerful and raw voice that has come to define feminism in Africa and shaped opinions across the continent, Oumou boldly addresses themes like loss, polygamy and female circumcision.

We caught up with the Malian singer at the studio she is staying while in quarantine to talk about her new album, longevity as an artist, and growing up in Mali.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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