Noluthando Ngema was recently announced as the Nando’s Emerging Artist of the Year at the Basadi in Music Awards (BIMA) and she’s buzzing with excitement as she begins her career.

For Noluthando, working as a musician is an opportunity to be her authentic self. There is nothing she loves more than creating music and she feels truly blessed to have the opportunity to learn and grow in the industry. But, although she loved singing in choirs and performing on stage at school, she didn’t formally train as a musician.

Noluthando and her family moved to Ballito from Mpumalanga when she was just 10 years old and she says she immediately fell in love with the ocean. She went to Umhlali Primary School before beginning her high school career at Durban Girls’ College. It was there that she joined the choir and discovered a real passion for music. “The choir there was incredible,” she says. “I remember performing at the Durban Playhouse with the philharmonic orchestra and thinking, this is everything!”

After a year, she moved to Our Lady of Fatima in Durban North where she continued to sing and perform. “I loved my time there. I joined the choir, and I loved drama. I felt like I was becoming more and more myself,” she says.
But when she moved to Cape Town to study physiotherapy, Noluthando struggled with her choice of qualification, as well as the realisation that our healthcare system has some very real problems. “I found myself deconstructing a lot of things that I thought were true. In the health system, I experienced eye opening exposure to structures that are still very much affected by something that happened 30 years ago. Seeing how people’s lives are so tangibly affected by it still was so heart wrenching,” she explains. She spent a lot of time grappling with questions surrounding her purpose and identity and says she found herself really clinging to her music and faith during this time.

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While at UCT, she joined a student band and began to learn about the real skill involved with music -how songs are written and composed, what makes a good performance and when to let other people lead. She wanted to give up her studies, but having promised her family she would complete her degree and community service, she stuck to it. After qualifying, she moved back to KZN and finally late last year, she had the opportunity to go and audition in the United States. The experience taught her about performing at a professional level, as well as about the practicalities of the industry. And then, in May this year, Noluthando’s sister sent her a link to the Basadi in Music Awards. A month later, she was shortlisted as one of the top five, and in August was announced as the New Emerging Artist of the Year.

The prize includes a bursary to study music at Bridges Academy, a mentorship programme with Msaki (one of Noluthando’s favourite artists), beauty and wardrobe consultations, and the chance to record an album and perform with other artists. “I hope this opportunity will allow me to connect with people and to start my career off well,” she says. “I trust that it will yield fruit that is good, not just for me but for those around me as well. And to help heal.”

Noluthando describes her music style as ‘native’. “It calls back to the soul, into a space that we were created to be,” she says. She writes all her own music, and says this process has really helped her with her own personal journey. “Music is my best way of serving,” she says. “I want to use it to connect with others. People can use music to process their own circumstances and hearts.”

She says she truly loves what she does now, and entering the world of music has turned her life around. “I know what it’s like to wake up every day not happy with what you do. My core value is empathy, so to do a job that allows me to show that side in truth is amazing. I’ve found a space where I can be myself.”

Details: IG:@noluthando.mbali; youtube.com/@noluthando222

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