Noxy has a presence of a diva: it is in how she carries herself, the way she talks, her general posture, writes Mpho Matsitle
It is a comfortably nifty evening in Bloemfontein. A light drizzle has been playing hide and seek since the late afternoon. The Loch Logan flats tower above the lake they’re named after. They’re home to a vertical strip enclosed by lights, proudly announcing the celebration of 20 years of the Mangaung Cultural Festival (Macufe), but that is only half the story. Rather, a quarter of it.
The strip’s import is the Macufe Cup between South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and the homegrown Bloemfontein Celtics. The latter is by far the biggest and most consistent cultural product of Mangaung to have benefitted from the festival. Joining them in this criminally minimal list, according to many local artists, is Botshabelo-born Nonkosi “Noxy” Sokoyi.
I am tempted to laud Noxy for her call up to the big stage, shower her with praises, reveal my utmost respect for her and how I always knew she’d “make it” in this lifetime. But something is amiss with this line of reasoning, and she agrees: “I have been doing this for 13 years professionally.”
She tells of how she first auditioned and got a nod for Macufe in 2008—how she killed it then, as she did last year at the main festival. She is perplexed by the amazed celebrations of people who’ve been to her shows and seen her perform, yet make it look like she is a debutant. “Somehow it seems like I am a different artist.” But more so at how she hasn’t received bigger call-ups in the subsequent years.
“It’s rather a big break for Macufe, isn’t it?” I ask.
“Thank you!” Her eyes light up for the first time. She is visibly tired. It has been a long day of an even longer week for her. It doesn’t help that she slipped and fell right before our meeting, hurting her right arm in the process. “Even make-up doesn’t help no more,” she scoffs off her pain and fatigue.
She is on stage all week for this year’s festival doing three different shows: Poetry Cries on the Monday and Tuesday, with Paleho taking the next two days before Macufe’s big break on Friday.
Any festival with a budget and prestige can have world-class performers on its stages. So, that is no feat to write home about. The real test is in grooming and introducing a class-act to the world. In Noxy the mecca of central South African art and culture has a real shot.
“Ha ke ngwana wa Botshabelo ya etseditsweng favour,” Noxy declares she is no upstart given a chance in a benevolent bid for local beneficiation. She has paid her dues double-fold in an industry that keeps on taking and expects exaltation for the crumbs that fall in return. “But it’s fine; it’s more than it was last year. So I am growing.”
She dismisses criticisms about participating in the festival in a time when some have called for a boycott of sorts. She doesn’t subscribe to “their” politics: “They have been running the programme since two-thousand I don’t know, and now that the funding is not in their hands anymore they want us to protest. I’m not going to do that.”
“I am all about my art,” she stays clear of the politics.
She has always been one to take every opportunity that comes her way. But more than that, true to her funky song Hustler, she has gone further to create her own opportunities. Waiting for bookings is a waste of time and talent. She has performed in many drinking dens of Mangaung, thus curating her own audience and following.
“That’s where it all starts. Artists have the power to make things happen.”
Nonkosi says she is inspired by the journey of Tsepe vs Trap headline act Cassper Nyovest and follows him as he makes major commercial and artistic moves. “He did a tour of taverns … being popular here, then went to another town … next thing I know Cassper is filling up The Dome.”
But she knows it’s a process, and is prepared to wait her turn. “It’s an amazing journey. I don’t regret anything, even the length that it’s taking.”
“Who curated your style,” I interject. Noxy has a presence of a diva: it is in how she carries herself, the way she talks, her general posture. It is one that cannot be missed in any setting. You always know when Noxy is around. “That must be a deliberate design,” I insist.
She doesn’t seem to agree. “Maybe it is a deliberate design,” she concedes after a bit of prodding, but definitely not hers. Maybe God’s? She pleads. But I refuse to be sated—it sounds like a cop out to me and I tell her as much. “I think I got it from my parents,” she humours me, “because everywhere they go, they leave a certain mark.”
The spectre of her proud parents has always followed her, and she drew a lot of confidence from that. “When you grow up poor, in lack, you learn to feed off from whatever is inside of you, because you don’t have anything else.”
So, it’s nature and nurture.
This immense confidence in herself is very much palpable, and is what makes her so distinguishable even in a play like Paleho where her face is covered for the entire opening act. She used to do pageants a lot as a child, and won the number one spot quite a lot, which could explain her gait. If she wasn’t a singer she’d probably be a model.
“But I love music more than anything.”
It is artists like Beyoncé and Lebo Mathosa who helped give her strength, but her spirit animal is Brenda Fassie. At this point I have traumatic flashbacks of a Brenda warm klap on Lesley Mofokeng, especially when she tells me that she snaps whenever someone says anything negative about her. She guards what’s hers jealously.
Noxy is an amazingly versatile musician who holds her own from gospel (her rendition of Sefapanong Ke Boha is nothing short of heavenly) to RnB and Pop. She reckons her dance hit Pantsula is a song that got her popular in Bloemfontein; whenever she and her dancers took off their heels and donned All Stars to dance, the crowds would go berserk. The song was even a jingle on local radio stations.
Now she doesn’t want to “just sing” anymore, but to “give people good music and evoke the right emotions.” Which is the much she achieves with her new Afro-pop single, Buyel’ekhaya, and she has amazed everyone, including herself.
“I can’t explain what happened. I’ve always been singing. I’ve always been performing. But I’ve never ever written a song and I felt like I love this song.”
It’s a hauntingly beautiful song of love, loss and restoration, sung from the deep recesses of her soul. She wholly owns the music, the words, the melody and emotions in it. Her voice on it is authoritative, not plaintive as such songs usually sound. It is the very definition of good music.
Her versatility notwithstanding, jazz music is what she wants to do. “My voice has better quality on jazz,” is her main reason for this desire. “I think everything is just perfect on jazz.”
Her voice has found a perfect home on Prince KayBee’s new album I Am Music, and on one of the biggest stages in the continent. “People thought performing in the Main Festival was a big deal,” she says. But her eye was always on the Divas Concert, for obvious reasons. People don’t listen at the main festival, and a diva wants to be heard, as she insists on the club banger Is’khathi Sa Macheri.
The Divas Concert on the other hand is a much more intimate space—as intimate as four-thousand people can be. Sharing a stage with Angelique Kidjo, Thandiswa Mazwai and Lira is by far the highlight of her career.
It took long, she admits (maybe a bit too long, some may say), but she knows she is exactly where she deserves to be.
Mpho Matsitle is the author of Celibacy & Other Cute Little Things and Publisher of ART STATE.
FEATURED IMAGE: Noxy opens the Macufe Divas Concert. Credit: Teboho Mpholo