With “Water” singer Tyla growing in popularity after being nominated for a Grammy and collaborating with Travis Scott on the remix of the breakout hit, fans are rightfully more curious about the 21-year-old Johannesburg native than ever. However, as discussions on social media have shown, as global music becomes more popular in the United States, music fans will also be experiencing more culture shock as they encounter different perspectives from around the world (like the metric system).
One of the questions that fans have been asking since Tyla’s breakout is whether the South African singer is Black. With bios identifying her heritage as Indian, Irish, Mauritian, and Zulu, there are more than a few fans who have found confusion in the classification, especially as two different viewpoints on race clash. While in the US, the South Africa-born artist would be considered Black, which is broadly a descriptor for people of native African descent, in South Africa, she would be considered “coloured,” a somewhat dated designation reserved for people of mixed ancestry.
Although the term was enforced by a now-defunct colonial government, its impact remains in how people see themselves and classify race in South Africa (a stark reminder that race is just a construct, and a very clunky one at that). While “colored” remains a charged term in the US due to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, South Africa is far less removed from its history of apartheid segregation (which only ended 30 years ago). The two nations have largely separate views of race, but the one thing that both should agree on is that all people deserve respect and basic human dignity despite their origins or skin color (or whether a pencil sticks in their hair).
The important thing to focus on is Tyla’s musical success, though. She’s the first South African artist to chart in the US in over 50 years; that’s impressive no matter who someone is.