The business of being Nomuzi Mabena

There’s something about Nomuzi Mabena, something I can’t quite place that exists beyond her beauty, success and intellect. She’s graceful – maybe even divine – and this I’ve decided way before I ever even get to meet her.

To put it bluntly I’m in awe of her.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Between being a TV presenter on two of Africa’s biggest channels – Vuzu and Channel O, a voice-over artist for MTV, a recording artist and performer working on her debut album, the CEO of her own company and an all round influencer and ‘kool kid’ Nomuzi really has no time. I’m not quite sure when she sleeps to be honest, assuming she does at all. She could very well be a super breed of Woman sent forth to teach us how to finesse life ruthlessly and leave the naysayers in the dust clutching their chests and nuts in agony.

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When I set off to meet her at the elegant jazz club, The Orbit, in Braamfontein I don’t quite know what to expect. A part of me hopes she’ll be down to earth in sweatpants and oversized shades – a tad bitchy but not too much because she works so much she really can’t help it – but a greater part wants her to be the vision of eloquence and beauty I dream of.

The first thing you notice about her is that she’s cool – REALLY cool.

I don’t see her immediately when she walks in because I’m busy taking pictures of shrubs out back and when I turn around I’m so startled my mouth goes dry.

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This does not happen to me, dear reader – ever. I’ve held my own in the presence of many of (y)our faves but before Nomuzi, who’s only a few years older than me, I buckle.

The first thing you notice about her is that she’s cool – REALLY cool. So cool she’s wearing leather thigh high boots, a leather high waist mini skirt and a crop top underneath one of the largest fur coats I’ve ever seen in my life on a fairly chilly day in Johannesburg. Her accessories shimmer with every movement she makes – large diamond hoop earrings, a diamond choker and rings for days around bedazzled nails. She’s so well put together for a moment I wonder how long it takes to create this version of her, and if it’s the work of a stylist (The Threaded Man’s Siya Beyile was her stylist last I checked) or her own fashion sense. I decide I don’t really want to know. It’s all too much, too beautiful, and I’m certain I’ll short circuit if I find out that she’s curated her own breath-taking look on top of being gorgeous.

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Next to her, no doubt asking the manager of the establishment where the fuck I am is a huge tower of a man and for a moment I wonder whether she really needs a bodyguard in Braam – I mean sure, she is who she is but come on, it’s Braam. As it turns out the tower next to her is friendly and my ears get hot when I find out who he is – Sbu, AKA Sbuda, her manager. Who gives a fuck? I do, because this is THE Sbuda – Remember the ‘Big shoutout to Sbuda smoking Buddha in Abuja’ line on AKA’s Composure? Aha! As a huge Da Les fan, I want to shake his hand like my dad does when he meets men more successful than he is – both hands covering his as I stare into his eyes with a look that says ‘Thank you for even breathing in the same area as me’ but I am sober and therefore professional.

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Nomuzi Mabena is not just beautiful – she’s downright gorgeous, I need you to understand that. There’s an awkward two seconds when she catches me staring; she gives me the once over to scope whether I’m a creep or not, then she puts her phone away and spreads her arms to give me a hug. I hobble forward, a suppliant in awe of the ethereal, and whatever awkwardness I detected ebbs away.

Her swag is to many the backbone of her whole career.

The second thing you notice about Nomuzi is the fact that she’s simultaneously nothing and exactly like you’d imagine. Having got to know her for years on our screens, many of us think we know what she’s like, but of course seeing as she’s a celebrity – and one who’s earned their stripes at that – one would expect her to at the very least be SOMEWHAT snobbish.

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And yet, she isn’t. The image she’s portrayed on our screens seems to be exactly who she is, and I’m startled, yet relieved. ‘I’m thankful,’ she says once we settle in and get to talking, ‘because nothing that I’ve done has been contrived. Everything’s been pretty organic, it’s flowed.’ I prepare to ask her all the questions I’m expected to ask as a journalist – Where did you grow up? Remember that time when? What was up with? But it’s not really what I want to know.

 

 

I’ve thought a lot about Moozlie’s image and her ability to capitalise on coolness. Her swag is to many the backbone of her whole career – from appearing as the bald beauty during the MTV VJ search to being the reason why Southern African girls started wearing chokers around their thighs, she’s always doing something nobody else is and as a result getting attention she turns into endorsements, job opportunities or business deals.

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The night before we met I sat up ploughing through her music videos and features and something struck me – at no point in time does she get cast as a weak bitch, ever. While Se7en and Don’t Panic don’t quite have intricate concepts and are as urban as music videos come, 6 AM, PASOP and the recently released Mbongo Zaka have notably dark themes which she jumps into headfirst and conquers. Whether she’s a dominatrix in the Kanye West Monster-inspired video for PASOP or a voodoo priestess/witch/goth something in the 6 AM and Mbongo Zaka videos she’s always powerful with just a hint of scary.

People really don’t like Nomuzi, hey – well those who dislike her REALLY dislike her.

For many people women are strong only as long as they’re martyrs – sacrificial lambs to a cause or a person. When it comes to black women especially our strength is rooted, in many people’s minds, in our ability to withstand abuse and ‘suck it up and keep moving’. Nomuzi doesn’t seem to have bought into that idea.

Her constant self comparison to icons such as Brenda Fassie and the original Queen Pin herself Griselda Blanco (famous for orchestrating the murders of lovers and enemies alike as well as running one of the biggest drug cartel syndicates in history between Columbia, New York and Miami) is very telling of how she sees herself. These women surely had vices and weakness like anyone else, but they overall displayed strength, and I dare say a viciousness people don’t usually associate with feminine energy. Brenda and Blanco weren’t the ones to fuck with.

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Moozlie visibly picks her words when I ask her about her alignment with the aforementioned figures. Brenda’s one thing but Griselda is a notorious figure to say the least and while male rappers are free to compare themselves to anyone from Pablo to Jesus himself, I’m sure she knows she could very easily be thrown under the bus for ‘encouraging rampant drug use and violence against men’ or whatever. Why? Because people really don’t like Nomuzi, hey – well those who dislike her REALLY dislike her. There’s no in-between when it comes to her, it seems – on any level.

Griselda was a boss. That’s pretty much the long and short of it, you know? She was a fucking boss and I can appreciate that.

‘Why Griselda?’ I ask her. ‘I can get Brenda, I mean, I wrote a whole article about it so I’ve got that, but why Griselda? Many people don’t even know who she is.’

‘Griselda was a boss. That’s pretty much the long and short of it, you know? She was a fucking boss and I can appreciate that. Whether people know her or not doesn’t change the fact that she was what she was.’ It’s clear she doesn’t want to say ‘I like her and appreciate what she stands for’ outright because it could be misconstrued but that’s the bottom line. Griselda was a ruthless businesswoman who got her way by any means necessary. She came from a shitty upbringing and managed to rise through the ranks in a male-dominated industry, taking down all who opposed her (ex-husbands and lovers included) and well, basically, she was a fucking badass.

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‘A lot of the time people look at me and wanna take me lightly. It happens all the time, in meetings, on the street, it’s been that way for a long time so I don’t sweat it but at no point in time do I ever let anyone try to disrespect me in any way. When I say that people might wanna take it as a sign that I might be a Diva or whatever ‘cos they think I should be but that’s not who I am. I’m a pretty cool person and I can vibe with people but at no point in time do I take disrespect. Like, I’m not the one, ska njwayela kabi (Don’t disrespect me).’ she says, shaking her head and waving a bedazzled finger in the air as if some unseen spirit is attempting to try her at that very moment.

I get the message loud and clear and move things swiftly along to her recent collaboration with fellow rapper Rouge. While we’ve danced swiftly around fellow celebs in idle conversation, her face hasn’t quite lit up as it does when she describes the making of the smash hit Mbongo Zaka.

 

 

‘Rouge just hit me up and was like, “Yo, I want you to get on this track with me” and we went to the studio and we were just vibing, you know? Listening to beats and stuff and just kicking it, nothing hectic. At some point she got in the booth, she had a melody in her head and she just started rapping and it just flowed. The beat hadn’t even been created at that point she was rapping along to like, the bare part of it – She just went off and the beat was eventually built around that. My mind was blown! I’d never quite witnessed anything like that. I was sitting on the couch like, fuck, what?! I was shook.’

 I had a lot of shit on my chest that I just needed to say ‘cos I haven’t really addressed the naysayers.

Shook, and inspired. In one of her most bare and honest verses to date Nomuzi proceeded to address the haters on Mbongo Zaka, dropping what could be described as a manifesto and a plan of action for her future. ‘Rouge told me to get ‘em and I got ‘em. I had a lot of shit on my chest that I just needed to say ‘cos I haven’t really addressed the naysayers. I wanted them to know that I hear them, I’m watching and I see all. She told me “baby girl, it’s okay to snap on ‘em”.’

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And snap she does. With more jobs than I can truthfully count, an album on the way she’ll be releasing under her own stable, a single out soon, and God knows what else in the works – because it’s her – it’s clear that at the very least Nomuzi should inspire not just because of her fashion sense or beauty, but her ability to tuck her head in, shove the bullshit aside and work. With every power move she makes I’m reminded of a joint statement her and Rouge made during a TV interview a few months ago – ‘We’re no longer telling people what we are – we’re just gonna shut up and show them. 2016 is the year that we show people what we’re capable of.’

Nomuzi has just released a new single: Recipe. Download it here

Photography by Bakang Akoonyatse

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