With a voice like medicinal honey, meet one of the stand outs of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Ruva Ngwenya
Ruva Ngwenya made her debut on The Voice just this year, and already the 25 year old performer is embracing every opportunity she gets. With a voice that is strong and soothing as Manuka honey, Ruva is currently blowing people away in the smash hit show taking Sydney by storm, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Jessie Cunniffe profiles the woman with serious drive, and copious amounts of soul.
Passionate. Hard-working. Talented. Enthusiastic. Inspired. You need only watch Ruva Ngwenya on stage for a few minutes to know that she is all of the above. With her new solo single S.W.E.A.T dropping this Friday, a blossoming musical theatre career in the works, and “Grammy for Best New Artist” on her career to-do list, this dynamic young woman is one to watch.
If you get yourself along to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (and you really, really should), you’ll see the 25-year-old African Australian singer playing lead Shirelles singer Shirley Owens, with the not-to-be-taken-lightly responsibility of delivering 1960’s hit Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Standing in the spotlight with her fellow Shirelles bopping behind her, Ruva not only commands respect with her confident stranglehold on the technicalities of the song; she also oozes the kind of sensuality that can only come from being genuinely in love with music. It’s a combination that makes her captivating to watch and thrilling to listen to.
All this, from a woman who says musical theatre came into her life in “the most random way possible”. Ruva explains: “Disney’s The Lion King was doing open call auditions in Melbourne and I ignored the banners completely because I didn't think it was something I wanted to do. After being convinced to go and audition [and securing the part of Shenzi], The Lion King opened up a new door of possibility for me in musical theatre and I have never looked back!”
And why would she. “Growing up, music was always a massive part of my childhood. We listened to a lot of Bob Marley, UB40, Michael Jackson, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, along with some incredible international African artists like Brenda Fassie, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo & Angelique Kijo,” says Ruva. “I always said I wanted to be a singer, even as a child in primary school...I used to draw little microphones around my name.”
As well as surrounding her with music from a young age, Ruva credits her family with encouraging her creative and emotional development in each stage of her career - in particular, her mother, who moved to Australia from Zimbabwe before Ruva was born, to give her daughter the best possible start in life. “My mum is such an incredible woman and has achieved so much through her hard work and positive outlook on life,” says Ruva. “She has been so important in my development. I've always had the mindset "if she can do it, then so can I”.”
When she was accepted into the Victorian College of Arts Secondary School (VCASS) in her teens, Ruva was inspired by the creative environment she found there, and became serious about developing a solo identity and pursuing a career as a professional musician. After releasing her first EP, Riv & The Nu Front in 2014 (a jazzy RnB-pop fusion record), further inspiration came in the form of television singing competition The Voice. “Being on The Voice was an incredible experience,” says Ruva, who blitzed her blind audition (with Adele’s Hello, no less) and found herself on Kelly Rowland’s team in season six.
But while some artists choose to slip into oblivion after leaving the show, the experience only seems to have stoked Ruva’s creative fire. “I really loved the opportunity I was given to perform on that kind of a scale,” she says. “It gave me a taste of what the mainstream music industry is about and made me really hungry for the career I’ve always dreamed of having.”
There is no doubt she will work hard to get there, too. Songwriting is a disciplined activity for Ruva, who, once an idea takes hold, pursues her creative concepts tirelessly. “I’m inspired by things I know and have lived through - current social issues have been a big one for me, movements like #Lovewins and #blacklivesmatter,” she says. It is no surprise then, to find that Ruva usually completes songs in one or two sittings. “I’m not the type with a notebook of random ideas that float into my head while I’m on the train” she explains with a laugh.
Ruva's drive and passion for her career is infectious; the wholehearted authenticity in her work, her enthusiasm for the future. Her advice for other young women pursuing their musical dreams? “Work hard and say yes to any opportunity that comes your way! Always stay humble and always continue to improve what you got.”
It seems Ruva Ngwenya is following her own advice to a tee.