She's conquered the dance world, now she has her eyes set on music — her other passion.
From the second Nqobilé joins me for our Monday afternoon Zoom conversation, I can tell she’s such a light. “I hope you’re doing okay,” she sweetly inquires after we exchange pleasantries. Though some 4000 miles away in her London home, her vibrant aura pierces through and almost instantly fills my room here in Lagos, Nigeria — in a way not dissimilar to during her performances on stage.
A triple threat, Nqobile’s second home has always been the stage. Her ability to light up any stage she sets foot on is a testament to her work ethic, fueled by her burning passion for entertaining. “For me, dance is freedom and the most liberating form of expression,” she asserts.
Born Nqobilé Ntangashe, the South African performer has been dancing for as long as she can remember. “I was always the happy, super energetic kid who was entertaining family; dancing, singing and goofing around at every family function, especially Christmas,” she tells me during our continued conversation on Whatsapp. South Africa in the 90s was bubbling with earlier iterations of Afro House and Kwaito music — the inspiration for what we now know as Amapiano. A young Nqobilé was immersed in it all, mimicking moves from her favorite performers like Lebo Mathosa, much to her relatives’ delight. “I recall my aunties and uncles always calling me “weNqob’saiday” and getting me and my best friend/cousin Samkeliso to dance for them,” she remarks.
Although Nqobilé's dance roots run deep in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was after her move to the UK that she decided to take it on professionally. After spending years living between Leicester and Brighton, Nqobilé finally decided to move to London to pursue her career as a performer and build her life. ‘I’ve been here ever since,” she tells me. “It’s the longest place I’ve ever lived in.” It’s also where she met Ezinne and Soliat, the other members of her all-female dance trio, CEO dancers — the dance crew who found fame as 2013 semi-finalists on the reality TV show Britain’s Got Talent, putting Afrobeat dancing on the global map. The camaraderie between the girls was so apparent from the very first moment they all met each other. “The chemistry and connection we all had were instant and so pure. There was nothing like it, for all three of us,” she narrates. “Right then, [we] knew it was a no-brainer; this was it. It was as if we were sisters.” This bond enabled them to work in seamless unison to fly the flag for African dancing.
“At a time where Afrobeats wasn’t as popular and still within the African community, for us, it was beyond a talent competition; we felt a responsibility to showcase and represent our culture as best we can,” Nqobilé explains. “Our goal and mission were for the Afrobeats genre and dance culture to be seen as equal to other mainstream genres.” The BGT experience opened up a whole new world for the girls, granting them international recognition they could have only dreamed of. Following their appearance on the platform, the CEO Dancers gained the attention of Afrobeat heavyweights like Fuse ODG and Tiwa Savage, who granted them appearances in their music videos. As their recognition grew, so did the calibre of their clientele; they soon began bagging appearances on bigger stages, touring and performing with superstars like Drake, Rihanna, and Stefflon Don — a testament to the presence of Afrobeats beyond the borders of its home continent.
B.Side: When did you three decide to split and why?
Nqobilé: CEO Dancers has never really split. We all naturally followed our individual paths in exploring our other passions. That was bound to happen, it’s growth, and it’s beautiful. I give thanks that we’re all doing so well.
As she transitioned into a solo performer separate from the dance group, Nqobilé admittedly had many fears and anxiety about being on her own as she was used to having Ezinne and Soliat by her side. However, judging by her solo work so far, it’s become increasingly clear that she can hold her own. Her recent swing into the music industry as a full-fledged artist is something she’s always dreamed of — she’s been writing music since she was 14. “In 2014, after we wrapped up the CEO Dancers North America tour, I started to feel the urge to tap into my other talents; I was super inspired and hungry to grow. Everything I was experiencing with CEO Dancers was beautiful and life-changing, and I was growing as a performer. Thereafter, I made the decision to tap back into my other passion — music. I got into the studio and started playing around with sounds. Since then I knew I wanted to be an artist,” she narrates, explaining the genesis of her new lane.
The result is ‘Look At Her’, a vibrant, GQOM-infused track which she’s extremely proud of. “I still can’t believe [it’s] actually out, finally! It’s been so exciting. ‘Look At Her” has been well received, and I’m super happy with how organically it’s been growing and that people appreciate the sound and my vibe,” she excitedly gushes. Her sound — one she describes as a buoyant blend of Gqom, Afrobeats, and vogue — is simply music made for dancing. Even while she’s treading (not so) new waters, Nqobilé doesn’t veer too far from her first calling — dance. The stage is where she was born to be and she doesn’t forget that in a hurry.
As a true entertainer, Nqobilé has conquered the world of dance, and now she’s finding her voice as a full-fledged artist — a journey that’s far from over. She’s looking to release an EP soon; “I think we all deserve music that makes us feel good, especially with how challenging 2020 has been,” she affirms.
“How would you describe your career so far?” I finally ask her.
“My career has been nothing but one big blessing and I’m constantly challenged to grow and evolve. It’s been so rewarding and exciting for me. I’m all for black excellence, and I want for myself and other people around me to continue contributing to that.”