Cape Town is only two hours from Johannesburg by air, but sometimes it feels like it’s a city in a different country. Vibrant, energetic, and with regular four way stop-and-go crossings (the traffic lights are always on the blink) and music that is way ahead of what is cooking in Cape Town, it’s claim as the City of Gold is entirely justified.
I spent two weeks in Johannesburg recently and at every place I visited all I would hear was Nathi’s album ‘Buyelekhaya’.
So what happens next? You investigate. Enter Lance Stehr from Ghetto Ruff, the iconic independent label (yes, he was from Cape Town and managed POC to the height of their fame), and I hear a rags to riches story that blows my mind.
Growing up surrounded by poverty and a seeming lack of opportunities, Nathi and his five siblings were raised by a single mother who worked as a street hawker. He grew up just like any other kid, but he was very special because of his love for art, sport and music. He natured his artistic skills over the years and went on to enter the Dare To Dream competition, which was supported by the Elundini Municipality. He prepared himself, entered the competition, and the following year he won first prize.
Throughout Nathi’s trial and tribulations, he found four magic letters that describes his music: L.O.V.E. Nathi claims that these four letters require no reasoning, nor do they have an age group limitation.
In November 2014 Vusi Nova heard him sing and insisted on featuring him on one of his tracks. He came from Maclear to Johannesburg to record ‘Noma Kanjani’ with Vusi Nova.
The journey Nathi has travelled hasn’t been an easy one; his story is one of persistence and eventually the realization that hard work and perseverance pays off. Think of Nathi as a modern day Zahara, or a young Ringo .The voice is melodic; the arrangements are simple and lush; and I don’t understand a word as the music is all sung in Xhosa, but boy oh boy are the melodies beautiful and the voice soars effortlessly. Speaking to Stehr and his management team, another lovely fact that I discovered was that Nathi does all his radio and TV interviews in Xhosa, as it is his mother tongue.
Now I have yet to hear the first single ‘Nomvula’ blast out on the airways on a consistent basis on Heart 104.9FM, Good Hope FM or KFM. (The latter’s saving grace is they have to play it as they base their chart show on the iTunes chart and at the time of writing, ‘Nomvula’ was the sixth biggest selling album in SA.)
Is it not time that irrespective of the language, the song is allowed to gain traction here, with local Western Cape radio playing the hell out of it? After all, the predominant languages in the Cape are English, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Radio sometimes needs to believe. The sales figures show that the album is a hit, so stations should be playing the song on high rotation in the morning and afternoon drive shows. Break the conservative mindset; bugger the station policy and go with a gut feel. You will be pleasantly surprised, and so will the listener.
Nathi is also becoming a social media phenomenon with #nomvulafever trending, so what are you waiting for?
Vusi Nova also has a beautiful song out called ‘Nguwe’ that receives limited radio support. Is it because it is sung in his vernacular? The mindset of the gatekeepers at radio needs to change and sometimes listen to what is going on two hours’ flying time up the road. Listen to your gut.