Tu Nokwe was born into a family of musicians. Her father, Alfred, was in a jazz swing band and her mother, Patty, was a soprano singer. When her father performed at weddings and other functions he would encourage his daughters to perform with him. All the children in the Nokwe household were taught how to sing by their mother and she introduced them to the music of Miriam Makeba and Letta Mbulu. When Tu failed matric in the late 1970s, she was encouraged to take up music as a career by Bheki Mseleku, who was living with the Nokwes in kwaMashu.
Tu taught herself how to play the guitar by using two chairs, a string strung in between the chairs and a do-it-yourself book. When she finally managed to get a guitar, she wrote her first song Relax and had in the meantime, through her parent’s efforts, managed to complete matric. Together with her sister, Marilyn, and a friend, Nonhlanhla, they formed the Black Angels and recorded an album. Tu also formed the group Amajika Youth Project, which taught children music, dance and drama. This was a successful project and some of the children in her group ended up featuring in Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina.
Tu left South Africa for England and, during the filming of Shaka Zulu, returned to act as Shaka’s wife. After this stint in film, she left for New York where she studied music at the Manhattan School of Music. Before her departure for the United States, Tu had recorded her first solo album Mind your own business. During her stay in the States, she recorded her thoughts in three journals that she translated into song that were released in the album Inyakanyaka. In this album Tu paid tribute to Princess Magogo, a great traditional songwriter. She has featured in many plays, has written her mother’s biography and appeared in many television programmes.
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