Interview: Nonku Phiri shares details of how she started, her new single ‘Sïfó’ & her future plans

When you speak of creative forces that continually push culture, shift perspectives and break boundaries, you cannot leave Nonku Phiri out of the conversation. Nonku Phiri is a talented, multi-disciplined creative who has collaborated with global industry leaders in electronic music with a growing track record. Experimentation is rooted in her artistry and as time goes, she exposes layers of her being as she continually and naturally comes into her own. In the creative industry in South Africa, she is regarded as a pioneer and a future leader who is pushing boundaries in art. Musically, she knows no bounds or limitations, as her creativity is not built on singularity but rather the flexibility and the unpredictability of life.

We got a chance to speak to Nonku Phiri about her start in the creative industry, her new label venture and her future projects.

You first burst into the South African music industry about seven years ago, breaking down walls whilst also eradicating common perceptions attached to womxn in the South African music industry. Your story obviously doesn’t start there. Please share your story of how Nonku Phiri, the multi-talented artist, came to be?

I basically decided to pursue music after I completed my studies, it took a series of serendipitous events to finally convince me that this was something I wanted to do. Working in the creative industry is challenging as it can be quite a thankless job but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Since breaking into the industry, you’ve done quite a lot for yourself in music. Having worked with some of the best electronic music artists in South Africa and the world, it could be easy for one to assume that you’ve ticked a lot of boxes of success in your career so far. How do you stay sharp as an artist and what inspires you to keep creating?

Surprisingly enough I feel like I’m just beginning, I try not to focus too much on following trends and always try mix things up a bit when it comes to collaborations. The project I’m currently working on has allowed me to explore things like production and how that translates into creating a unique live set. I’m super excited to begin sharing a lot of the new material and hope that you’ll enjoy what comes out this phase.

What are your thoughts on the current state of electronic music in Mzansi? Do you feel that there is enough representation of womxn in the industry and if there isn’t, what change do you want to see in the near future?

I really think we should stop using this segregated narrative when it comes to women in the creative industry, as there are tons and tons of strong female artists kicking ass locally and internationally.  Since there’s lots of music available nowadays people tend to gravitate more towards what they like, I don’t think one’s sex should play a role in making this decision. Regarding the current state of the electronic industry artist like Manthe Ribane, Moonchild, Eve Rakow, Purity and Rose Bonica really excite me.

You’re one of the best performers in our country. One can tell that you put a lot of effort into your performances as you consistently display excellence in your showmanship. How do you approach performances?

Thank you. I try to approach each show with an open mind and tend to focus on creating a new experience every time we get to play. Seeing as none of our performances have ever been the same, it definitely does help that the live show has an element of improvisation that allows me to feed off the energy of the room. The rest is often left to the universe and the mood of the day.

The second half of the year comes with a new single from you called Sifo. With this new song, you seem to have taken a different direction musically, from the production to the writing. How did the single, Sifo, come about?

Without going into too much detail, Sifo was inspired by a personal experience that took place last year. I’ve essentially spent the last two years on the road exploring and showcasing the new sound/material and I felt that it was time to share apart of my journey sonically. I hope you’ll like what’s in store as I feel as though I’m finally coming into my own as a solo artist.

The new song is released through your own label, Albino Black. What inspired the move to go independent?

I’m inspired to see more artists take the leap. Everything that I have released thus far has been released independently. Starting off I felt that it was important to be hands-on and in control of all facets of my career. All it takes is a little bit of investment in oneself and taking the initiative to start things off without waiting on someone else to make it happen.

cover image for sifo by nonku phiri taken by nonku phiri
Cover for Sïfó by Nonku Phiri. Photography by Angus Mackinnon

What can we expect from your new label?

For now, a new EP releases from me.

What can we expect from you as the year goes?

I’ve got plenty more music to release so you can definitely expect to hear more from me. I’ll also be heading out of the country for a couple months and am currently working on curating a couple of shows around SA with some of my favourite acts over the summer time.

Stream Sïfó below.


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About Author

Nkululeko Nkosi Creative entrepreneur, self-starter and writer are some of the words you can use to describe me. Inspired by the grit, rawness and passion you often find in underground and alternative culture. Based in the greatest city in Africa, Johannesburg.

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