Gorgeous Nqobilé Danseur
Nqobilé Danseur’s name ironically sells her story straight away. You may recognise her from a few, if not every Afrobeats video thats broken new ground. Perhaps, as the WCW beauty that had Davido ready to risk it all and empty his bank account in ‘If’. Or, setting pace with Maleek Berry in ‘Control’.
All in all, this “unicorn” (as she calls herself), has become synonymous with visual storytelling through dance. As a trio, Nqobilé Danseur and CEO dancers brought rhythm to Britains Got Talent, that had Simon catching feelings live on a family show. Nqobilé has trailblazed African dance and culture around the world. What was once a dream, has now become her profession – a style of dance that has garnered the interest & respect of the likes of Kanye West, Rihanna and Drake. She fondly recalls the days when African choreographers – if not all types of dancers – weren’t held in the same regards as other artists. Wayyy before the Fuse ODG dance numbers and Azonto.
“Being a woman and having danced and worked with mostly male artists I learnt very quickly to respect myself at all times and stand my ground from the get go. People especially men in the industry have had no choice but to respect me.”
If you ever get the privilege of meeting her, behind her beautiful smile you’ll hear her endearing South African twang. Don’t worry…you’ll be hearing it soon, as she’s set to release her own music. But for now, keep that in mind and read on as Nqobilé gives her two cents on her style, breakthrough, Africa rising as part of our Revolution Is Women feature.
Choose One: “Africa to the World” or “The World to Africa”?
The World to Africa.
The world NEEDS to see and experience the true AFRICA (whole of Africa). If people had the opportunity to experience and learn about Africa, I feel they would truly understand what a great people we are and how magical Africa is. Our food, our culture, our music, diverse talents, strength, beauty, faith, vibrancy, the world definitely can and does draw a lot of inspiration from Africa! It’s not about us going out there [rest of the world] to show or prove to the world how extraordinary we are, the world is watching. There’s that fascination for more, something refreshing and different, and Africa is where it’s at.
The breakthrough of African music and style?…
I think it’s incredible, what a time to be alive!! The way the African sound has totally intrigued and captured the world. I mean, even now when you go on Instagram you see a lot of Afrobeat dance videos going viral on big platforms, mainstream celebrities posting or singing along to African music and supporting the Afrobeat movement.
I was at the airport the other day and Wizkid’s music was casually playing on mainstream radio. Crazyyyy!! This was super refreshing to me. I remember when I first entered the industry 7 years ago, the only time I could hear any type of African music was during rehearsals, at a concert we’re performing in or at an Nigerian hall party on Saturday (I have a lot of Nigerian Yoruba friends, hall parties are a big thing) lol! So now to hear Afrobeats playing casually on mainstream radio is amazing. Now we’re even spoilt for choice, African music has so many flavours. From the beautiful South African house and now super popular Gqom sound, Rap, traditional Afrobeats to my favourite; new skool Afro music with artists like Maleek Berry, J Hus, Nonso Amadi. African music, particularly Afrobeats is super diverse now and it’s so exciting to have watched the journey and transition of it.
From your dancing to dress sense, do you feel it’s important to rep SA (South Africa) in all you do?
Absolutely. All the way!! As much as I relate so much and love other African cultures, it’s so important that I don’t lose that essence of who I truly am; a South African woman. And with that – especially as I’ve been heavily involved and influenced in the West African culture throughout my whole career in this business – I feel it’s super important to show my South African culture in every way. Especially as our style and vibe is not “out there” and as popular as the Afrobeat/ West African culture. That’s why when I have taught dance workshops I’ve used South African music throughout, to introduce that culture in my field. Even down to my snaps, I’m always sharing South African new music and vibes. It’s key!
Your favourite designers?
My current faves are Innocentemessy and Ohema’s Closet. Innocentemessy actually made me a few dope pieces for my first music video which we shot in South Africa. Her designs are so edgy and rare and that’s definitely my vibe.
One Career Highlight you can’t stop reliving…
SUMMER SIXTEEN TOUR. It’s by far the best life experience so far in soooo many ways. I still draw inspiration daily from the memories and moments I lived. That entire experience is the juice, the boost I needed for this next stage of my life. I truly experienced the term “EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and my life will never be the same.
What does it take for a (Black, African) woman to succeed or get a top role in the industry?
The reality is that the entertainment industry is male dominated first of all. Then on top of that to be Black and be in possession of a top role in this industry is rare. However, it has been done and can continuously be done! I personally believe in working not only hard but smart. Being on top of your game is key. Studying the science of your craft and strengthening it daily, surrounding yourself with real and genuine souls (mentor amongst those people), people who know your vision and get it and will keep you in check and make sure you’re aligned with that vision. Those are the things that are important to me and have helped me thus far. As long as I’m doing my part, I’m always positive that God will bring big opportunities and divine connections that I need for every level of my career.
Also, being a woman and having danced and worked with mostly male artists I learnt very quickly to respect myself at all times and stand my ground from the get go. People especially men in the industry have had no choice but to respect me. This has also benefitted me in maintaining my professionalism and relationships with respect in the industry.
Word of advice particularly for younger women who’re looking to enter this industry.
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”.
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.