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

Photogallery Kyiv: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Weeki
X
August 29, 2014 2:18 AM
The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid