Afro-jazz sensation Naima Kay, born Lungile Khumalo is a 2014 South African Music Award (Sama) Best Newcomer award winner and she has come a long way since then Naima was discovered by Touch Africa Records, at a jazz festival in Port Shepstone, where she grew up. Her stage name “Naima, an Arabic name which means ‘peace’, was given to me by my manager, who says I’m ‘different’. And Kay comes from the first letter of her surname.
She started singing and writing songs in her school choir, and met bab’ Ngcobo in 2009. “He approached me after I’d performed at the jazz festival and asked if I was signed with any company. “I think he liked the way I performed on stage.”
It was the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a great career. She released her debut album, the 12-track Umsebenzi, early last year, which she says both young and older people can relate to. “I write about love, life and things that happen around us. There’s also a gospel song on the album.”
Her musical inspiration is her grandmother, Selinah Khumalo. “She’s 83 now and has always been my pillar of strength. She’s very happy to hear me sing; she even cries when I sing. She’s the one who made me sing at church.”
Her brother, DJ Sammy, also provided his fair share of musical inspiration. “He would ask me to write songs and he would produce them in a small studio in his room,” she says. “I’ve actually always wanted be a singer. I realised I could go far with music when I was still in high school. My brother would invite me to gigs where he was DJing and I would perform with him.”
When she left school she didn’t think
music could generate enough income for her to financially assist her grandmother, who had raised her since the death of both her parents while she was still in primary school, so she got a job as a teller in the post office.
While there she also wrote songs, and after a few years she went for auditions for the Durban Jazz Festival – and made it. “And when my grandmother realised music could bring in money too, she supported me in my decision to leave my job.”
She ended up becoming one of the local artists to open the Durban Jazz Festival. But at the time she was certainly not bursting with confidence. “I’m a very shy person. I can express myself better through music. Even when I’m sad, if I write how I feel, I end up singing about it.”
And so far, the response from her fans has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s so exciting to hear them tell me I’m humble and ask me not to change who I am. I just thank my grandmother, because it means she did a good job.”