Soon there'll be a lot more Phiri-maniacs

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Soon there'll be a lot more Phiri-maniacs

Bob Perfect
Nonku Phiri
Nonku Phiri
Image: Jamal Nxedlana

Nonku Phiri is a rising star on the South African music scene.The multi-talented creative has featured on a handful of hits, both as rapper Jung Freud and as ‘herself’, collaborating along the way with some of the most respected names in the game. She has put out two vastly different singles in the few years she’s been making music. But she’s also an illustrator who has done work for other local musicians. Oh, and she has her own record label, Albino Black. Her work is so multifaceted that while she’s shown her range of skills, it’s hard to say that anyone really knows exactly who Phiri is. This year though, she promises that we'll get to know her a lot better.

Phiri recently graced Joburg stages as part of the New Year’s weekend Afropunk and Smoking Dragon sets. “It was a long year so I’m feeling a bit in need of a break,” she says.

Is taking it easy her New Year's resolution? “Nope. I think people do need to have a plan for each year but I like to leave room to expand. I have plans for what I want to achieve through the year and then everything else that falls in between is like leaving room for surprise and seeing what the world has to offer.”

Her plans for this year include kicking it off by putting out a fresh single and finishing off the EP she’ll release in June. “There’s a new single coming out soon,” she says, adding “I’m not gonna give you dates." Nonku plays her cards close to her chest, she wouldn’t even tell me who she was working with on the project. “You’ll find out when it comes out. It's someone I’ve been working with for a while.”

“I plan on putting out a lot of music this year. I’ve been producing as well…” So she's adding another talent to her reportoire. “I’ve never just been a vocalist," she says. "I’ve been solo for the last three years, and travelling, and gaining lots of different experiences." She says she's learned a lot about using the voice as an instrument instead of using backing tracks. It’s been fun to explore that side of being more hands-on with how the music gets done versus stepping into a booth and writing for direction.”

She's collaborated a lot, so I ask if she’s looking forward to having more control over the music. “I’ve always had control over my music," she says. "The collaborative part of my formative years in the industry was motivated by challenging myself and getting out of my comfort zone.”

She says collaboration is about being able to create something that can’t be duplicated with any other individual. "Being a musician, in fact being a creative in general, always has a collaborative element to it. When I was younger I wasn't interested in focussing only one genre or style - moving from boom-bap, experimental hip-hop beats, to house music, and then having a stint of rapping, after which I'd go back to just making music, whatever it was.”

There’s a contribution, or a story, that can only be told by a specific person and it always has the essence of that particular person.
Nonku Phiri

Although Phiri loves collaborating, she doesn't think that appearing on a track means that she's just a featuring artist. "There’s a contribution, or a story, that can only be told by a specific person and it always has the essence of that particular person."

If you’ve heard the music she's been involved in making, you know this is true.

“Vocalists are underrated," she says. "They are always producers in their own way.”

Phiri sees the last three years since she’s moved back to Joburg as an incubation period. “It's been a stage of exploring myself. Before I moved to Joburg I wasn’t travelling overseas or playing to different audiences so I think It’s been a very positive growth period. Joburg has negative connotations attached to it, but it’s home for me. It's where I was born.” Although she grew up in Cape Town, moving back to her birth place gave her time to, "Figure out who I am at this particular phase as an adult. I don’t think the influences have necessarily come from the city, but I think it’s been a space that’s allowed me to just be me …” she pauses, “without having to try be what anyone expects.”

And that’s the thing with Phiri, it’s hard to pin her down. She’s a creative spirit expressing herself, and she plans to do so in a myriad of ways this year. She’s keeping things hush for now, but she’s clearly excited about putting everything she’s learned up to this point into a definitive release that encompasses all her talents. Look out for Phiri's name, voice and visuals in 2018. She won't disappoint ...

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