News / Africa

    Swazi Musician Follows the Beat of Her Own Drum

    Bianca Nobanda is one of the world's few black female rock drummers

    Bianca Nobanda pounds the drums....She's a rarity in modern rock music: a black African woman
    Bianca Nobanda pounds the drums....She's a rarity in modern rock music: a black African woman
    Darren Taylor

    Perspiration pours from the drummer.  Lithe arm muscles ripple in the flashing strobe light as they pound out a staccato rhythm.  The glistening face is contorted as the music builds to a crescendo that sends the crowd into rapture.

    It’s a scene like many others in Johannesburg on any Friday night….  But this one has a different element to it, for the vicious beat holding the party together is provided by a rarity in the world of modern rock ‘n roll – a black African woman.

    “I was born in Swaziland, in Manzini.  My mom is Swazi and my (South African) dad was basically in exile (from the apartheid regime) when he met her,” Bianca Nobanda says after a particularly hectic gig that’s left her shirt sodden with sweat.  Bursting with nervous energy, the young woman only stops twirling her drumsticks when gulping from a bottle of beer.      

    “I know (American rock star) Lenny Kravitz had a black female drummer – Cindy Blackman,” Nobanda says.  “But I don’t know of any other black female rock drummers – certainly not in Africa.”

    Defying the stereotype

    The slim, attractive Swazi is thriving in a world of male drummer stereotypes:  the long-haired – and longer bearded – scowling, broad-shouldered man with inky tattoos on huge biceps.  Because of this cliché, Nobanda says, wherever she goes in South Africa, her race and gender are an issue – something she says “mildly irritates” her.  But sometimes, she acknowledges, the attention feels “nice!”

    Swazi drummer Bianca Nobanda in action at a live gig in Johannesburg
    Swazi drummer Bianca Nobanda in action at a live gig in Johannesburg

    “If it’s such a novelty and people get a shock out of it, then it works for me – as long as they pay me!”     

    Nobanda agrees that her gender and dark skin set her “far apart” from the traditional breed of rock ‘n roll drummer.  Yet she’s eager to emphasize that she does have “something very important” in common with the stereotypical beater of skins in international rock music – “My beer guzzling!” she says, spluttering with laughter.  

    Before, after and even during gigs, Nobanda indulges in liberal swigs from a bottle of her favorite brew, Black Label.  “It’s very unladylike, I know!” she says, her eyes glinting with mischief.    
    Nobanda has “always felt closer to the male world than the female world.  I was a tomboy all my life anyway, and I always had guy friends and I’d always play boxing with them or karate or whatever.”  She says she decided from an early age to “beat the boys up at their own games.”

    But despite this attitude, she still seems at a loss to explain how she ended up playing drums in a heavy rock band with three white Afrikaans men.  “I have no clue!” she says.  “It’s just like it was written in the stars!”

    She met one of her band mates in film school in Johannesburg and started “hanging out” with the band.  “Like a groupie!” she says.  Soon after that, Nobanda says, the group’s drummer became “totally unreliable.”

    “He just basically never came for practices or anything so they kicked him out and asked me if I wanted to play drums.  And I was like, ‘What?  Yeah!’  It started from there.  Two weeks later we recorded our first single, ‘So Perfect’ – and it’s two years later now.”

    Although Nobanda wasn’t a professional drummer when she “hooked up” with her current band, she was an “informal” artist with several other groups practicing diverse musical genres.

    “I’m from a hip hop background, and drum and bass and break beats and stuff like that,” she says.  Nobanda’s convinced that this experience allowed her to make a transition into rock music.  She does, however, acknowledge that she doesn’t know much about the realm in which she currently finds herself.

    “First time I heard rock and roll was when I met these guys.  So it’s completely new for me.  I’m learning as I go,” she says.  

    Audience reaction is very important

    Fans of rock music around the world are primarily white.  In South Africa, Nobanda says, her audiences are also “mainly young, crazy white kids,” who nevertheless “mostly react very well” to the “mal (mad) Swazi girl” smacking the drums on the stage. 

    Bianca Nobanda, as she appears in the music video for her band's first single
    Bianca Nobanda, as she appears in the music video for her band's first single

    “The females love the fact that I’m beating the drums – because that is what I do.  I have no mercy; I annihilate the skins!” she says, her voice raised in excitement.  “I get very animated; I like to cause audience reaction.  So I make a lot of eye contact with the audience, unlike a lot of drummers out there.  Most just sit there with a bland expression.  You could put them behind a curtain and no one would care.”

    But Nobanda makes sure the crowd knows she’s enjoying herself, along with them.  “I’m having fun.  I’m looking at people, they’re looking back.  I rock out with the crowd,” she says.

    Nobanda “still can’t believe” she’s actually a rock ‘n roll drummer.  In the middle of gigs, she sometimes says to herself, “‘Whoo hoo!  It’s me!  They’re looking at me!’”

    Negative incidents

    Nobanda says even though there are still “pockets of racism” in South Africa, audiences “hardly ever react negatively” to her race.  “We play mostly venues where people are open to rock music delivered by any band, no matter what race the band is….”

    Bianca Nobanda, Swazi drummer, performing in a music video.....she says she's still learning the art of rock 'n roll
    Bianca Nobanda, Swazi drummer, performing in a music video.....she says she's still learning the art of rock 'n roll

    But she also tells of a recent incident in Potchefstroom, a town in South Africa with a reputation for conservatism.

    “After the gig we went to a restaurant.  We were just sitting there eating chips.  Then all of a sudden a whole group of (white) boys (who had attended the gig) walked past and they started chucking chips at me.”

    Although she laughs the incident off and is at pains to explain that none of her assailants used racist terms, Nobanda says it’s “significant” that they only threw food at her, and not at her two white friends.

    “It’s disappointing, really disappointing.  But fortunately people like this are few and far between in South Africa now,” she says.  

    A sprint

    Regarding her hopes for the future, Nobanda says that to “seal the coffin” on her career as a rock musician, she’d like to play a gig before a “load of people.  Where they all look like termites, all looking at us playing.  That would be it for me….  Then I’d probably just walk away and become a bank teller or something….”

    But for this young, free-spirited Swazi, that’s unlikely.  Nobanda continues to display an unbridled passion for drumming.  She likens her performance during a single song at a typical live show to “running a 400 meter sprint” and feels her band mates sometimes don’t allow her enough space to demonstrate her talents.   

    “The flashy lead guitarist is given more opportunity to showcase his play and go on wicked jams, but I am more restricted….”

    Then, Nobanda gathers her thoughts, and reflects, “Yeah, that’s a bit irritating….  But it’s cool – he solos for about three minutes, whereas if they gave me the chance I’d probably keep going for three hours!  I do everything to the max – everything!” she exclaims, taking yet another long sip of a beer, the mischievous smile reappearing across her face.


    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora