Johannesburg, Friday, 21 October 2022 – Singer, songwriter and guitarist, Xhanti Nokwali releases his debut album Umthombo today. The project’s title speaks to a water spring that breaks through many layers of earth to reach the surface. It represents Xhanti’s hope for the music: to be an aid to all who listen to it, in navigating the many injustices of the present – as a source of cleansing, sustenance, spirituality, unity and healing.
Xhanti Nokwali is a storyteller through sound. His music weaves together South African jazz, folk, maskandi, malombo and isingqi to form a sonic tapestry that speaks to our contemporary realities. Propelled by Pan Africanism, and rooted in his Xhosa identity and culture, this is music in the key of liberation.
Delivered with heart, vulnerability and urgency, his multi-textured, resonant voice creates a reflective space where music is a site of prayer, protest and possibility – holding onto hope in seeking healing and release from daily injustices. The artist describes creating music as a space where he can be free – working out his thoughts, ideas and responses to the troubled and often devastating present, and his understanding of himself through sound.
Originally from Engcobo Entseleni, winning The Eastern Cape Music Talent Search in 2016 marked the beginning of Xhanti’s professional journey. He was one of the first artists to sign with ALTBLK>>, a home for unique African independent artists, founded by the multi-award winning musician Msaki. Sharing stages with notable artists, including Madala Kunene, Neo Muyanga and Zoe Modiga, among many others, Xhanti has honed his craft alongside the contemporary greats, who are defining the sound of South Africa’s present. Speaking of his influences, he namechecks The Brother Moves on, Sibusiso Xaba, BCUC and Urban Village.
Following a series of singles released in 2020 and 2021, Umthombo arrives as’s first full-length project. Featuring music created over the last four years, the album is produced by the masterful Nduduzo Makhatini, and was recorded at ECAVC studios in East London – where Xhanti is based.
Under Makhatini’s studied guidance, the mostly acoustic songs transformed, shifting into dynamic arrangements that make space for the sound to speak. Built around guitar, bass and drums, and coloured with other instruments, Umthombo features some of South Africa’s finest musicians – including Asher Gamedza on drums, Bali Ntunja on guitar, Tumi Pheko on trumpet, Amandla Zamxaka on sax and Sakhile Twala on bass.
As a body of work, Umthombo is a clear-eyed exploration of our contemporary South African reality, rooted in hope and pressing for a more just future. Across ten songs, Xhanti celebrates “the vastness of the sound of revolution”, while reflecting on major moments in his life. A standout track, in this regard, Ukhula Egadini remembers the Marikana Massacre through a sonic prayer that sings of the spiritual poverty of our leaders, and calls for the shattering effects of this to end.
The first single Intlokomo is described as “gentle and piercing eruption” – and represents his upbringing and deep connection to the rural space, and the influence of iintsomi told by his mother. This was followed by the release of Ezeyeza – a message from the ancestors that reminds us to lean into the wealth of wisdom that is our birth right and not be blinded by the heady promises of today. It reflects the retracing and redefinition of roots that is a core theme across Xhanti’s music, as he sings of his country and himself in musical meditation.
Across Umthombo, themes of love, universal harmony, hope, growing up, protest and a celebration of Nguni identity are explored through the deep introspection that is Xhanti’s signature. He describes the project as reflecting “different colours and directions”, grounded in the feeling of Sunday braais and the music that filtered through them.
With this project , Xhanti wants to take people eslalini, and to church. And ultimately, thinking of the dilution of so many aspects of society through pervasive social ills, he wants to take us back to Umthombo: the source of pure water.
Umthombo is released through ALT BLK>> and Platoon. The album is now available on all major platforms.
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