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Family Tragedy an Influence on South African Singer

About 5.5 million South Africans are living with HIV, with an estimated 1000 dying daily, robbing families and friends of their loved ones. One of those left behind is a 23-year-old musician who lost her mother. That was more than ten years ago. She has overcome her past and many struggles since then and is now building a successful career in music.

Nomfusi Gotyana, known simply as Nomfusi in the music industry, was born in the Eastern Province's KwaZakhele township. Her single mother was a traditional healer. Each weekend Nomfusi would accompany her to ancestral rituals where she would sing, dance and play drums in front of worshippers.

In 1998, her mother died from an HIV-related illness. Nomfusi was only 12 and she struggled with the loss of her mother. She wrote her first song, "Uthando," which means "love".

"When my mother died," she says, "we didn't know that she was sick of AIDS – we thought that it is one of her beliefs and that maybe she needed to do something for her ancestors.

"I personally was so hurt and shocked that my mother died of AIDS [that] I wrote the song about Uthando. And I got to think what is love and what love means. I wrote the song in Xhosa, because [it] is the language I am most comfortable with. So most of the songs I write [are]in Xhosa."

A few years after her mother's death Nomfusi moved to Cape Town's Khayelitsha township to live with her brother, who was a waiter. She enrolled at a local college to learn to be an accountant. To pay for her studies she got a job as a waitress in a karaoke restaurant, where she was also required to sing.

That's when she got her big break. Diners would personally ask for Nomfusi to perform and others started booking her for their weddings and other functions. But it wasn't an easy road, being recognized as a talented musician.

"As I grew up as a young black person in the township," she says, "it was scary for me to come to the city because everything was at my disadvantage. I mean lots of things. Speaking English, communicating with people and marketing myself was just a disadvantage because of the background of schooling that I got in the townships. I would want to express myself but I couldn't."

Today she performs with her six-piece band, the Lucky Charms, at various public events across the country. She's already released a live performance DVD, and her debut album is due to be released soon. It's titled Kwazibani, which was her mother's name and which means "Who Knows?"

She describes the music in this album as a mixture of different genres ranging from rhythm and blues to jazz – and says she is inspired by artists such as Tina Turner and Whitney Houston.This year she performed along big name artists at the 10th Annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival Free Concert, and she is fast becoming a household name even before the release of her album.

She wants to keep singing – and more. She dreams of travelling the world – seeing places she's never been before and wooing crowds with her captivating voice and lyrics.

For VOA Africa, I'm Unathi Kondile, in Cape Town, South Africa.