Nothende owes her career to a musical youth
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Radio, my name is Aphiwe Manono and as usual we bring you some of South Africa’s brightest stars, singers and songstresses. Today we speak to Nothende. Nothende has been said to have her soul house in order and it’s no wonder because in just a matter of years, she has worked with so many S.A. artists and recorded number one hit singles. Even scored herself a nomination for a SAMA and Metro FM Award. Afternoon Nothende and thank you so much for joining us.
Nothende: Hi Aphiwe, all good. Thanks for having me.
AN: So Nothende, I want us to start right at the beginning. Who is Nothende? Where did she grow up? Who were her parents? What was her upbringing like? Just tell us the story.
The story behind Nothende
N: Nothende has always been a lover of art, it seems. I grew up mostly with my grandparents, so I suppose my story would be different to someone who grew up with their parents from the get-go. My grandfather was very, very musical. He was a lawyer but he loved music, so it’s almost like he could use his left and right brain. So the things I learnt from him were quite remarkable, sometimes contradictory because he was so strict. The lawyer in him was such a strict person and the artist in him, the reader in him was so free. So it was an interesting thing to experience growing up. I’ve always been into music and other forms of art from a very, very young age. Pre-primary school, pre-school, what do they call it these days? Kindergarten?
AN: Yes, pre-school or kindergarten.
N: Pre-school, I was already doing ballet. I was learning how to play the violin and that was a very, very young age. I was under probably like three years old or something, you know, and going from school to school. Moving from Mafeking, from the farm to Ga-Rankuwa, in Pretoria. Then back to Mafeking. Then back to Pretoria. I was just sort of in and out of Mafeking and Pretoria. I sort of grew into myself over those years. I was so, very involved in music. Wherever there was a choir, I was there.
Even if I started off being reluctant, not really wanting, not really being sure, but I somehow ended up being involved. Wherever there was a talent show, I was involved. Wherever there was ballet, I was involved. Wherever there were sports, I was involved. I kind of viewed life very much as an art form, you know. I suppose every child does but kind of knew from a very young age. When I wrote my first song at 11, I then knew that, okay, this is my path.
AN: This is what I want to do.
Musical talent was evident from a young age
N: Clearly, if I am able to manifest. Yes, if I am able to listen to music, and appreciate music and then somehow find the music in myself and then put it out and create something new. Then I figured this must be my path, so from a very, very young age I’ve known, you know. I can’t say I’ve known myself because you learn yourself, as time goes on. But I’ve known what really makes my soul happy, from a very young age.
I grew up in a very musical family. There was a piano at the house. For years, it was just sitting there. I never really saw anyone use it. Then I figured let me teach myself, so I started teaching myself the piano. There was a guitar somewhere in the house. My grandfather bought me a recorder, which actually looks like a flute but it’s not quite, so you know, I grew up very much, surrounded with music and books and reading, and just sort of travelling into this artistic world.
AN: You know, someone would describe you as a hippie, Nothende, because I am actually quite impressed with you saying that you wrote your first song at 11. Now, if you are 11 years old and you already know what you wanted to do with your life, and as someone who follows you, I’ve noticed that you are very in touch with self, if I may put it that way, you know. You are all about the woman you are and the energies that one puts out into the world. Tell me about that side of Nothende and how you view life, as a whole.
Don’t let life’s fears change who you are
N: Yeah, it’s been a cycle you know. One always looks in retrospect whenever you reach a turning point in your life. You try and look back on who you used to be and the moment that changed you and so forth, and I kind of feel like it’s a cycle. Because, you know, from a young age I felt like this and then something happened. That sort of starts making you afraid, and life is like that unfortunately.
You grow up into certain environments and become a certain age. Maybe you start school or you start high school. Your interactions with human beings and families, even different, and you are sort of introduced to new fears because a lot of people really make growing up this terrible thing, you know, in this world. They really make it out to be this ‘are you ready for the big world?’
You know, so life happens and you kind of become afraid and you forget about who you are, you know. Some people it doesn’t last that long. Some people it really lasts a long time but I guess, for me, it’s just been a cycle. Things happen, I become afraid and then I start remembering who I am and then I’m back there, and then something else happens. It is just in that cycle but I suppose, in retrospect it’s always just been me completely living in whatever moment I’m in.
If I’m really going through a tough time I’m not going to pretend like everything is okay, because I understand that everything happens for a reason. Even if things don’t go or are not going the way, one has planned. If someone is not where they want to be. Everything happens for a reason, so you kind of have to just be strong, and cry out or kind of work through the pain. I suppose you seeing that in me, is not necessarily me always being happy and always being at peace, and always living this good life. But it is just me being honest about who I am in many moments in my life.
AN: Yes, now let’s go back to the music Nothende. I understand you were a Jam Alley contestant and that’s how you were discovered. How true is this or tell us the story of how it all happened.
Jam Alley discovery is a myth
N: Ah man, I wasn’t really discovered on Jam Alley but I did go to Jam Alley. Like I said, whenever there was a singing stage competition or something I just wanted to be there. Obviously, for the longest time I’d watch Jam Alley and I had these visions in my head of myself singing whatever song, and I’d sound so perfect. Then the last two years of high school, I decided ‘why not’. I actually went twice. The first time I went and I reached third place, and I was disappointed. I was like I’m supposed to be number one, so I went back the next year. Just to claim my position.
AN: And you made it this time I hope.
N: Of course I did. Yeah, it was so much fun and I think it was the first time in my life where I made a lot of money in a very short space of time. At that time, you know I’m in high school. I’m not really making any money whatsoever. It was just pocket money from parents, which really is nothing, you know but now the day I went because then you win money and you win a prize, and you win chocolates. Remember, when they still had the Jam Alley chocolates.
AN: And the Jam blaster.
N: Oh, you see. Now what they did was, because they didn’t have the Jam blaster, so they would give you money. So that was the day when they didn’t have the Jam blaster and the CD player and what-what. They didn’t have all that stuff, so they gave us extra money.
AN: And what did you do with that money?
N: So I walked away. I went shopping. I went shopping because the next day we were going on a school trip to Richard’s Bay, so I thought, ‘ah, well I can buy myself a bikini and things’. I went shopping. I was young. I was allowed to, just have fun with my money but it was the first time in my life where I really, I was 15 or 16 years old, I’m not even sure how old I was. I made two-grand in like three hours, you know. It was fun. It was a real fun experience.
How I was really discovered
Where I was really discovered was I called a radio station that was having some competition. They were giving away tickets to some show or something, and the competition entailed the listeners singing, so I thought, ‘ay, another opportunity to sing, let me jump on it’. I called in and I sang and, yes I won but they also asked me to hold on, you know, to take my details, and so forth. Then they told me that they were having auditions for Gaz’lam. I don’t know if you remember the series.
N: The TV series Gaz’lam. They were having auditions for the second season and one of the characters was a female, who sings, so they told me to go and audition. On the day of auditions the other females who were supposed to come through and audition didn’t pitch, so I ended up being the only one. I thought, okay, I’m not really into acting. I don’t know enough about acting, for me to, really give this audition my best.
AN: Give it a go, your best, yes.
N: And no one else is here, so, exactly. I kind of cancelled the audition. I said, okay look, no one else is here. Let’s rather not do it, you know.