Thandiswa mazwai is one of the most influential musicians on the South African music scene today. She began her career in 1994 with one of the pioneering bands of the kwaito era. Her group bongo maffin still remains the one true conscious voice in the genre of kwaito and many young people have used their sound to redefine themselves and rediscover their own ‘consciousness’.
She was awarded artist of the decade in 2008 for her work since our emancipation in 1993.she has always been a conscious musician, whose work has made us all think about our pride and ‘African-ness’. Her song ‘nizalwa ngobani’ not only earned her numerous awards on the continent and aboard, but was also awarded the song of the decade by the South African language board in 2008.
She championed, among the youth, the move towards self-acceptance as proud, beautiful, and culturally rich people of the African soil. At a time when the inferiority complex had totally consumed our people she managed to make music that spoke to our pride and strength. In her dress sense and expression of beauty she hoped to overturn the then popular idea that beauty could only be seen through a western aesthetic. She is extremely critical about many things and therefore wanted to engage people about concepts of beauty as well, which was of course part of a greater discourse about blackness and freedom. She wore Xhosa traditional wear with pride when all in her field were attracted by the foreign style of American video culture and other foreign standards of beauty. She plaited her hair, in Fulani, himba, dreadlock and natural styles, when her peers and generation were brainwashed to relax (straighten) their hair and adhere to the western ideas of beauty.
Her work has always been inspired by the writings of people like Biko and fanon, Achebe and Nkrumah, she says ‘my work gave me an opportunity to share my thoughts and have a meaningful conversation with my generation about blackness, African-ness, and about some of the social ills that plague us, also about freedom and joy. Music gave me an opportunity to feed my revolutionary self’
She was born in a small village in the eastern cape (emqanduli), raised in Soweto (mofolo, pimville, meadowlands) and now lives in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Johannesburg, so her sound travels through the village into the ghetto and raises the roof in the city.
Born the year of the revolution, she has always felt that she has the soul of a rebel and that she is a ‘red baby’. Both her parents were journalists and were highly politicized. She recollects that her home was filled with books, articles and thick with political discussions. It was this environment that nurtured her perspective as an artist. She also studied at Wits University, reading African and English literature as well as international relations; this further fueled her love for words and politics.
She says of her new album, ‘this was a spiritual labour for me. i have never felt so touched by the great spirit of music as I felt while doing this music. i sing in voices even I don’t recognize. my ancestors where the true writers of some of this music and I am grateful that it was my instrument, my voice, that got the opportunity to sing them.’
In her career she has released 6 albums with the legendary group bongo maffin and two solo albums.
Her first solo album, zabalaza, reached double platinum status and won numerous awards including a Kora award for best African female and four sama awards, including best album. It was also nominated for the BBC radio3 planet awards. Her new album, ‘Ibokwe’ has been on the top of the national charts since its release in February 2009 and reached gold status in the first few weeks.
She is the voice of the conscious youth and her music is appreciated across age, gender, class, and race. She is the voice of our freedom.
Hers is undeniably a South African music as important and as authentic as all the greats.
This is what she says on her work and perspective.
‘My music is for those of us who seek to decolonize our minds and remember.it is very much about memory. Remembering what my mother taught me, and also remembering what my ancestors knew. That’s where the soul of my creativity lives, inside that collective memory of pain and pride, oppression and freedom, mysticism and faith.
‘I praise the Great Spirit. I praise life. I make sound and dance to evoke memory and energy. This is how I sustain my spirit. I also love to dream and daydream.’
And on the process.
‘What I do is try to let go of my ego and listen. Only that way is it possible for me to do what I do, what I think I was born to do. To be a vessel for songs to make their way into people’s lives and settle where they will.