Nkomo overcomes weighty issues

Afro-pop singer wins award after nearly quitting

Phumla Music with her trophy from the first Basadi in Music Awards in Midrand last week. She also has two degrees in media studies and comminications.
Phumla Music with her trophy from the first Basadi in Music Awards in Midrand last week. She also has two degrees in media studies and comminications.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

Afro-pop singer Phumla Nkomo silenced naysayers and had the last laugh when she won her first award after struggling for 10 years to break into the industry.

Nkomo, who goes by the name of Phumla Music in the industry, won her first music gong at the inaugural Basadi Awards last Saturday. The vocalist and composer walked away with the Kaya959 Afro-pop Artist of the Year award.

Nkomo almost brought the audience to tears with her emotional speech revealing how her weight contributed to her struggling for a breakthrough in the music industry.

Her experience notwithstanding, after years as a sessionist and backing singer for other artists, she still struggled to clinch a deal with a record label.

Nkomo said the doors were shut in her face by recording labels in Limpopo where she studied and later in Johannesburg because the companies were more interested in physical appearance than her talent for singing.

She spoke to Time Out about her journey and what the award meant to her.

“It is hard to make it if you are not signed, and do not have a budget to record music and videos. Sometimes my music received airplay on TV and on radio stations around Nelspruit. Most of the time I felt like giving up because it felt like nothing was moving forward.

"This award propels me to do more and do other greater things. It cultivated me and reminded me of how great I am. Even people who are supporting me will see that I'm pushing hard,” she said.

“When I sent my music to people I used to attach a mugshot. They will like my music and my face. But when we meet physically, a person will be disappointed. This is one of the things that break you as an artist.”

The Afro-pop singer said she tried  to shed some weight after realising that she was being judged on her physique. She tried slimming pills even though she reacted badly to them, suffering from side effects like headache, dizziness, fainting episodes and nausea among many others.

When she fainted during some of her performances, her sister Nobuhle Nkambule came and knocked some sense into her, showing her the beauty of accepting her looks and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

“I realised that I have been a big girl since I was young. That is why it is a challenge to lose weight. I will need money to do surgery if I want to lost weight. But I want to do it for my health not to please others. But I never knew that my weight will come between something that I love like music.

"People have written terrible messages on social media about me. But I chose to accept who I am. 

“I have been singing since I was five. I was a backing vocalist for Sechaba and Luvo when I was 14. Every audition I have been to, I won because I am good.  It is only the music industry that was not welcoming me. Now that the industry has changed and iztufuza [full-figured women] are trending on television, I welcome the change of perceptions from the public.”

Nkomo released an album titled Akamlahli Ongowakhe in 2014 and since then she has been dropping singles. The singer credits her sister for backing her passion financially. One of her popular songs is Sikhanyisele featuring Passion Master. In the song, she relates her frustrations about the stagnancy she felt in her music career.

“With Sikhanyisele, I was painting my own situation asking for God’s intervention because I was in the dark. I was on the verge of giving up. I said let me try this for the last time. I recorded a song and released a video and then Covid-19 started.

"I was depressed by the whole situation and I did not release [new material]. I was calling God to open doors because even my mother was giving up on my career. Others wanted me to go an look for a job because I am educated.”

Nkomo has two degrees in media studies and communications from the University of Limpopo.

Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.