Afrobeats Dancer, Nqobilé Danseur, on Going Solo and Her Responsibility to Represent.
Sitting in a North London studio - wearing no makeup and an oversized t-shirt paired with cargo pants - South African born, Nqobile Ntshangase smiles sweetly as she asks for a cup of tea, “milk and two sugars please.” Here, she presents a different side to herself, away from the seamless glamour and audacious attitude of her dancer persona; a more intimate and personal self on a quest to develop as an entertainer. “I feel so confident on stage, it’s real life interviews like this that freak me out,” she laughs.
‘The stage’ is where Nqobile made a name for herself. One-third of the female dance group, CEO Dancers, who found fame as 2013 semi-finalists on the reality TV show Britain’s Got Talent, she remembers that period as an opportunity to fly the flag for African dancing. “There had never been Afrobeats dancers,” she maintains. “That BGT experience opened up a whole new world. Internationally we started to get recognition, so that was when we decided, yeah, this is it.” The growing interest and media attention surrounding the group was the excuse Nqobile needed to leave university in order to become a full-time dancer, touring with world-famous artists, such as Drake and Rihanna.
With increased globalisation, aided by a new, digitally connected generation, African music is not only influencing the sound of grime stars in the UK but also acts as a source creative rejuvenation for popular US musicians. “Drake had never worked with African dancers before. He could have used any other dancers,” Nqobile maintains, as she recalls her involvement in his Summer Sixteen tour. “We’re from the UK, he’s Canadian living in America. There are so many talented dancers out there.”
A testament to the presence of Afrobeats beyond the borders of its home continent, the art form has seen exponential growth ever since D’Banj’s 2012 smash hit ‘Oliver Twist’ was played at the Thames to welcome in London’s New Year celebrations. And it continues to rise, with the likes of Fuse ODG and Wizkid holding a strong presence within British charts over recent years, their songs blasted everywhere from mainstream radio channels to West London clubs. “Everyone is embracing it and I feel so proud”
That’s why I was so strung on pushing the Afrobeats dancing”. The term Afrobeats is synonymous with dance, as its rhythmic afro-inspired beats rouse people to move. Now, the boom of the internet has reinvented the ways in which audiences access and share these routines, with Afrobeats YouTube tutorials racking up millions of views in a couple of days. “It’s inspiring to see people appreciate and embrace a different dance style and now everyone is doing it”.
The term Afrobeats is synonymous with dance, as its rhythmic afro-inspired beats rouse people to move. Now, the boom of the internet has reinvented the ways in which audiences access and share these routines, with Afrobeats YouTube tutorials racking up millions of views in a couple of days. “It’s inspiring to see people appreciate and embrace a different dance style and now everyone is doing it”.
Hailed as ‘the top female African dancer’ by the press, Nqobile is often praised for her contributions to the growing Afrobeats phenomenon. She has quickly become the poster girl for Afrobeats dancing, as she regularly solicits for the global recognition of African artistry. “People have so many good things to say about Africa now, unlike before. . . . You feel proud of your culture and the whole African culture.” Thus, Nqobile takes her title seriously, not just for the representation of her cultural background but also to place a spotlight on dancers, who are regularly overlooked and under-appreciated in the music industry - as she describes it, “the bottom of the food chain”. This is a feat that she undertakes on her own, as she transitions into a solo performer separate from the dance group. “At first, I did have a lot of nerves and fears because I’m so used to having two other strong women next to me, supporting me on stage,” Nqobile admits. “But now, I’ve been involved in so much solo work and I feel like I can hold my own.”
In a cyclical manner, Nqobile also feels a duty, as a female entertainer, to carve out a path for other girls like her. While Afrobeats has created a buzz internationally, it appears that the majority of the artists in the limelight have been male, irrespective of the strong female presence in the industry. As the world takes heed of the #MeToo movement, Nqobile expresses a frustration with the portrayal of women in the music scene. “I feel like people’s perceptions of women in the industry, for the most part, is whether someone is successful because of how she looks or they’ve been connected to a male in this industry,” she stresses. Although she acknowledges that music is a heavily male-dominated industry, she refuses to let that get in the way of her ambition. “There are a lot of females out there, especially in the African industry, doing it. Someone like Yemi Alade - she’s a boss. I can put her in the same lane as the Wizkids and the Davidos.”
As such, Nqobile is conscious of using her platform as a means to connect with like-minded girls venturing into the creative industry, in order to help level the playing field. “It’s not just about me. I feel like I have a huge responsibility,” she admits. “I’m aware that I have people watching, . . . that are looking on for inspiration and direction in their field.” And with a staggering 142,000 followers (and counting) on Instagram, the obligation that sits alongside such influence is all too real. In amongst a feed filled with selfies, show-stopping outfits and endless hair changes, Nqobile makes a point of spreading a message of positivity and using her art to encourage self-determination. “I want to connect with other females and know that they can relate to me. . . . People might a have a certain perception of me, especially looking through my Instagram . . . but I’ve worked [for my success] and I want people to know it is possible,” she explains. It is this level-headedness and relatability that keeps her so tightly bonded with her fans. “I’m a down to earth girl, just trying to make it like everyone else.”
Complacency isn’t a characteristic that Nqobile entertains, as she remains grateful for the opportunities fame has afforded her. Instead of lavishing in the spoils that are attached to celebrity status, she dedicates her time to honing her craft and strategising her next career move. She is a woman on a mission and much of her success today can be attributed to that relentless focus. So, with the dynamics of contemporary music shifting under the influence of Africa’s rising stars, what more can we expect from Nqobile in the future? “I don’t like speaking too much on things and ruining it,” she giggles. “I want to keep growing as a performer. I want to give people the best of me, [so] definitely expect more. Not just dancing but more creativity from me, more business.” A grounded woman that is ready to put in the work, 2018 promises to be a big year for Nqobile.
Director: Remi Laudat
Photography: Derrick Kakembo
Creative / Editor: MUSA
Stylist: Ihunna Eberendu
Hair Stylist: Sharon Robinson
Make Up Artist: Larissa London
D.O.P: Ben Worthington
Focus Puller:James Woodbridge
Production Assistant: Nuria Feshaye
Music: The Funkees "Akula Owu Onyeara"