‘It’s reading the entire script and then getting a back story. Getting the history of the character and it’s not getting it through asking the, producer, director and the writer but forming a story on my own, in my head. So if this girl is a certain way, why does she act like this? There must be a story from the top, so I usually use that and make up a story, make up a history for my characters and that way it gives me a way forward’, she explains.
Catch Qondi on Isibaya every week day at 20:30 on Mzansi Magic Dstv channel 161.
Exclusive: Mafikizolo Share Style Secrets, Inspo, Evolution!
The iconic duo reveal the genesis of their fashion, the old school Mzansi groups that inspired their style, and the secret Mama Abigail Kubheka once shared with them!
2019 came with the immense privilege of being able to have a refreshingly authentic and inspiring conversation with iconic South African Afro-Pop duo, Mafikizolo.
In a length interview, Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgozinkwe distilled their more than two decades in the music business, unpacked the inner workings that have sustained their longevity, as well as insights on their looming album, which is slated for release sometime this year.
When Mafikizolo is not dominating the charts with their rich discography of timeless classics and ever banging dance bops, the group is constantly turning heads for their fashion.
And with a few style awards in their bag, and Nhlanhla’s NN Vintage clothing line in the mix, it’s unsurprising that fashion, aesthetic, personal branding and image have always been top of mind for them.
In the year 2000, Mafikizolo had already ascended to the forefront of pop culture with their bujwa street style. The look was all the rage at the time, and their visual delivery of their breakout hit single Lotto became a colourful showcase of their interpretation of the look.
Yet for their next project, Van Toeka Af, they’d already dove into the Sophiatown era. Departing from the popular styles of the time, the Ndihambe Nawe hitmakers were already sourcing vintage ideas from the rich and retro repertoire of 1960s and 1970’s South African trends.
And while they are now known as style icons who’ve stood the test of time, both in terms of their musical performance and their ever evolving style, it didn’t always look so well put together!
“It was funny style wise at first”, Theo told us, unable to hold back the laughter. “It was funny, but I guess we were growing up and we were still finding our feet, as much as we were still finding our feet with the music. As we grew we got to find our unique way of dress and as we grew we started to maintain. And… here we are today!”
Even with these style hits and misses on their way into the music industry, the group had already been mindful of the role played by styling in the elevation of stage presence.
“Fashion has always been important to us, it’s always played a big role”, Nhlanhla revealed.
“I remember when we were started out, we were surrounded by megastars at Kalawa, you know your Boom Shakas, Trompies, Brothers of Peace… just to name a few. And the only thing we had when we shared the stage with them was the image and the stage presentation.”
“People didn’t know our songs and we had o share a role with these giants. That’s where image came in and played a big role. That’s where stage presentation in terms of the dance routines and having dancers played a big role.”
It’s something the up and coming artists of this generation can learn. The importance of cultivating and refining a cohesive style book for the performances, as well inspired fashion themes for their musical eras.
“With us, we’ve always been inspired by the bands before us, both local and international. Your Boom Shaka, Bongo Maffin, even Trompies. We knew that when you get onstage you just go in. You need to go backstage, you need to change. You actually need an attire!” Nhlanhla added.
Learning from the legends of the game is also essential, as Nhlanhla revealed.
“Mama Abogail Kubheka once said me this one time, “You know how I get rid of the nerves? I always look my best.” Every time you get onstage you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know if people will love you or not. So the most important thing to do is to grab people’s attention by how you look before even opening your mouth to sing. That kinda stuck with in my head.”
As with the music, Mafikizolo found their inspiration from acts that came before them. In the late 1990s, RnB groups and solo acts were all the rage, and so were their looks. The Sibongile hitmakers had already modelled their visual presence on the day’s most popular atcs.
“We started this thing even before going in the music industry. He was performing in a boy band, Boys II Men”, Nhlanhla, reminiscing on their beginnings in Soweto.
“I was doing my own thing, Toni Braxton! I was cutting my hair short like Toni Braxton. I would get a similar dress and they would make sure they get their Boys II Men suits and those flower ties. They’d wear these white shirts and flower ties. It’s something we learned even before entering the music industry.”
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INTERVIEW: Wanda Baloyi On Finding Her Voice
Wanda Baloyi’s musical evolution has been a thrill to witness.
Having started out as a member of popular girl group ‘Ghetto Luv’, she quickly transitioned out of the definitive early 2000’s upbeat Kwaito era to a jazzier sound.
The songbird was raised in a musical family, a journey which was heavily influenced by her father Jaco Maria, a Cape Town singer and lead vocalist for 1980’s group Ozila. As such, it was inevitable that Wanda would sooner unleash her creative agility.
On her debut album Voices, Baloyi let go of the fierce hooks that had characterised her initial musical era, and started slowing down the tempo to showcase her beautiful vocals over delightful melodies.
And while that was almost two decades ago, the songstress maintains that music must be a platform for authentic storytelling. “Our people want to know about us”, she says. “They want to know what the issues we are dealing with are, our story, our language and our rhythm.”
After taking a breather and retreating from the trappings of popular culture and the zeitgeist, as it where, Wanda makes a triumphant to the spotlight with new music.
This season, which kicks off with ‘Umendo’, finds her content and assured in who she is.
“What’s new about me as an artist, and as a woman, is I’m more content about who and where I am. I’ve accepted things that I cannot change.”
Consistent with her commitment to telling stories that help others relate and find a sense of healing, ‘Umendo’ gives a voice to the blowback African women face when leaving marriages.
“It talks about a failed marriage and the expectations of the wife in the African cultural content, and the shame of having to go back home and face your family, face the community with that title of coming from a failed marriage”, she tells us.
In this interview, Wanda Baloyi reflects on the treasures of experiences that have shaped her new outlook on life, how she has found her voice, as well as how the new music aims to shine a light on parts of ourselves that yearn to be known.
Q: It’s always fascinating finding out about the frenzy that follows the release of new music for an artist…
Because I haven’t been doing it for a while, it feels a little bit new. But for me, it’s obviously just a process that you have to get through. So it’s fun and exciting to get people to know what you’ve been working on and what the project is about.
Q: Obviously it’s a different feeling from the day just before you release new work. What is that like, the emotions before releasing a new song?
It’s mixed emotions. There’s this anxious feeling because you’ve been creating this baby, you’ve been in studio doing whatever you can do to make this baby sound proper, and you are happy with it… you are excited!
But now taking it to the next step and to the audience… it’s like literally stripping yourself naked and expecting people to be like “Woah! Hot body!” (Laughs) So it’s a bit scary and exciting because before you let go, you, yourself are content and happy with it. If it starts with your happiness, the rest is not in your control.
Q: Is that possibly the scariest thing about being an artist?
There are many scary things about being an artist. Being an artist in itself is scary! Being able to release and let go of your projects to the world is scary. Being onstage is scary. Being unproductive and not being relevant in terms of being loyal to your craft, is scary because you feel God has blessed you with this talent, so why aren’t you doing anything with it?
That’s scary on its own. Just the fact that you are haunted by this gift on a daily basis is scary because it also affects your relationships and a whole lot of things. It’s a very selfish talent, by the way. It demands so much of you that whoever is with you is going to have to be with ya’ll.
There also many scary elements of the industry itself, but in that scariness its exciting and fun! There’s no day that you wake up with nothing to do… There’s a bit of both in it, and I think that in life, if you don’t do anything scary, you won’t do anything exciting.
Q: Your latest single Umendo. Tell us about the genesis of the song
First of all, I worked with a really amazing talent. Dr. Sipho Sithole who has worked with amazing artists in South Africa.
That’s on its own was an exciting collaboration.
I had given him the vision of what I wanted to do on the project, and I think because he was long ready to work with me, he was like, ‘I got you!’ From the first day when we recorded the first song, till the last, it was a breeze. It was an amazing experience. It was more fun than it was work.
I wanted the project to have meaning in terms of the messages we are talking about in the songs. I wanted it to have depth in the storytelling.
And not only stories that are personal to myself, but things we go through in society, in the continent, in the world. As a woman, as a black woman and as Africans. I wanted the issues to be topical.
In this case ‘Umendo’ talks about marriage. I’m not married by the way, not yet! (Laughs).
What I love about the topic is it talks about a failed marriage and the expectations of the wife in the African cultural content, and the shame of having to go back home and face your family, face the community with that title of coming from a failed marriage.
It’s about having to take your children back and having to explain. The whole issue of it being difficult for a woman to remove herself from a situation while being judged.
It’s expected for you because ‘Hawu, you are married mos. Stay there! Hold on. Fight for it!’ But there are certain things that take so much from you that you have to free yourself. Already in the country, we are dealing with gender based violence and so many issues, that the stories are not being voiced in song.
This is a song that creates and provokes conversation. It gets people to talk about it. Someone sitting somewhere will be like, ‘yo I’m in this situation and I can get out of it.’
Q: Do you feel that in the South African music industry and the space we take up in the world, that we are telling our authentic stories?
I think we are now. I’m inspired by the new talent. They are very fearless, and decisive about what they want to say in their songs. I can make an example about Samthing Soweto and Sjava. Those artists are talking about real issues.
I think what connects them to people is the audience is that realness. Someone sitting elokshini or wherever would be like ‘uSjava ukhuluma ngami’ (Sjava is talking about me), or is talking about an issue that I can deeply relate to because this is my reality.
So I think we are. We are delving into ourselves. We have revisited our roots and gone back to the source. Our people want to know about us. They want to know what the issues we are dealing with are, our story, our language and our rhythm.
Q: People completely evolve every five years. This being the beginning of a new era for you, what is new about as a person as an artist?
What’s new about me as an artist and as a woman is I’m more content about who and where I am. I’ve accepted things that I cannot change. I’m truer to myself than I was before.
I think maturing, growing and going through experiences, trials and tribulations, puts you in a space where you become a complete package of yourself. These things are not comparable to anyone else. It’s a personal space where you find contentment and fulfilment with yourself.
And I must say, I’ve become a little more spiritual and I think that brings you there. The world can be so hectic. The world can easily lead you astray if you don’t have a sense of focus and coming back to your sanity and alignment. For me it’s prayer, it’s my mom. She is a constant reminder of what I can become. Also, it’s okay for you to express yourself and tell your stories in a manner that is comfortable for you.
Q: What inspires you, ultimately?
Life. I’m inspired by life, I’m inspired by truth and I’m inspired by many things! I love coming back to my experiences, and that’s my truth. I’m inspired by pain because I relate to it, I recognise it, I’m familiar with it. That can be a little bit good, because it forces you to come out of it.
Pain in the same way as depression is a reminder of where you aren’t supposed to be, or what you don’t want. So when you feel that, go in. It’s healing, when you face your pain. I’m also inspired by people in general, by other musicians
Q: You grew up in a musical family. What was that moment for you when you knew music is certainly what you want to do?
Yes, I’m from a musical family. My dad is a musician, he’s an amazing vocalist. I think growing up in a musical family, I didn’t really know I was going to be a musician. It’s just something that was there. I was surrounded by it. I loved it and there was always some time of excitement.
As I grew older, I started to find my voice and passion and I was like, ‘This space makes me happy.’ But it wasn’t something where I sat down and decided, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this’. It just captured me.
Q: What’s been the most definitive moment in your career so far?
The realisation that I can not live without it. In whatever shape or form.
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INTERVIEW: Mafikizolo Talks Staying Power, Milestones And New Single
The iconic duo can’t stress enough the importance of respecting one’s craft.
Back in 2015 on the Boomtown stage at the Durban July, I had the privilege of experiencing first hand the magic that informs the staying power that has sustained Mafikizolo’s chart dominance since they first entered the music scene, with their bhujwa swag, in the late 90’s.
Midway through the performance of their #1 hit Khona, Nhlanhla’s shoelaces started coming off, threatening to set in motion a devastating series of events that would have seen her take a tumble and plunge into the crowd.
Instead, what happened next would become a watershed moment that can school any formation about the power of authentic synergy. Theo quickly went down on his knees to tighten the shoelaces without disrupting the flow of their energetic delivery.
All this was done without missing a beat.
It’s this laser sharp focus and a display of teamwork that would see one of South Africa’s best selling music acts of all time cultivate not only a discography like no other, but also the rare ability to stay relevant for more than two decades.
“We don’t want to limit ourselves based on our past victories.”
And while we are sure the iconic duo, consisting of Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgosinkwe, can publish several books detailing the trade secrets that have given them more than nine lives, humility and maintaining respect for one’s craft are the keys behind Mafikizolo’s success.
“We never feel like we’ve arrived”, says Nhlanhla, despite the duo’s global success, which includes their work being displayed at Grammy Museum alongside the likes of Micheal Jackson, Elton John and Elvis Presley.
Despite the unprecedented milestones, their blockbuster catalogue and their status as one of Africa’s most celebrated living legends, Mafikizolo are plotting their next move. We caught up with the duo as they distilled their 22 years of unleashing street anthems while influencing the soundscape through their multiple reinventions.
Congrats on the new single, ‘Ngeke Balunge’. How did the song come about?
Theo: We collaborated with Mondli Ngcobo on this track. He produced it. I think it’s because we’ve always had a relationship with him. He’s always wanted to write something for us a long time ago. I guess he’s always wanted to write that one particular song.
He’s always said, “I want to work with you guys but I want to write that perfect song for you.” So I think the timing is perfect. He’s actually got two songs for us. He came to Joburg and presented the two songs. We recorded the songs and we chose this one as the first single. That’s how it all came about. I think it’s because he’s been following Mafikizolo for a long time. He’s been our fan and we’ve been fans of his work.
From the songs, how did you decide on this one to be the first single?
Nhlanhla: Well, we knew definitely that we wanted to go back to our original sound. We missed the days of Emlanjeni, Mas’thokoze, Ubahlula Bonke… you know? The days of ballads. I mean, we know and understand that there’s Gqom, there’s House and Amapiano that have taken over. Still, we wanted something that will be different from what everyone else is doing. We loved the two tracks that he presented to us but the first single is the one that blew everyone away. It blew us away!
What’s funny is that the track – because every time I get a track I would just go around and play for people – I played the two tracks to see which one they loved the most. And funny enough, even the younger people… because we thought we are targeting the older audience, but even the younger people are crazy about the song. So it was really easy for us to decide.
Real talk, it’s such a beautiful song…
Theo: Indeed! And just adding on Nhlanhla and what she was saying. You know, when Khona came out… there’s something about the song that you don’t know what it is about it that makes people move. It’s a spiritual thing because you don’t know what it is about the song that moves you so much… you can’t figure it out. Because, I thought when we were busy posting the song, I thought ‘Ah this is an urban Zulu song.’ And then you get people from Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe singing and posting the song! They love the song. They might not understand it, but they love it. They’ve been saying, ‘What a spiritual song!’
Nhlanhla: Even South Africans are like, ‘thing song does somethings to me, emotionally. I get so emotional and sometimes I wanna cry when I listen to the song.’ That was not even our intention, we just wanted to do a love song. Some people don’t even know that it’s actually a love song. They are thinking it’s like… impi (war).
Theo: Let me add to this. If they don’t miss out on this, this song could be a perfect song for Amabhokobhoko (The Springboks). It’s a perfect victory song for them because they can say… (sings) ’Abadede impela, kufike izingwazi’. It’s got that chant!
So if you had to choose a perfect song that is relevant for the victory that we brought as South Africa and Amabhokobhoko. It might be a love song, but it’s one that unites. (Breaks into song again) Angeke bas’xelele abayeke umona. It unites and at the same time it’s about love and celebration. I’m punting the song to be the official theme. If anyone is looking for a song to celebrate Amabhokobhoko, this is the song!
Nhlanhla: Or any victory! Even you as a person. You can say, I’m trying do this and there are people around me who are not rooting for me and are negative towards what I’m trying to do. You are saying ‘Ngeke balunge’, you know? Ngeke bangiqede. Abadede! Its a victory song more than anything
With the victory theme, I got a sense that the song paid homage to how resilient Mafikizolo has been. As people who’ve worked together for so long, how have you managed to continue working together well for this long?
Theo: I think the dream of success never really died. We don’t want to limit ourselves based on our past victories because there are new challenges to be won and new goals to be reached. We keep reinventing ourselves and wanting to work with different producers who can bring a different sound. On our previous album, we worked with DJ Maphorisa. This time around we were blessed to work with Mondli Ngcobo and as we plan for our album next year, we plan to work with other emerging producers and songwriters. We love reinventing ourselves.
For us to have this staying power, it’s because we love reinvention. We always challenge ourselves and be like, ‘What can we come with that can be new without losing ourselves?’ Even though it might be a new sound to our fans, but we don’t lose our core as Mafikizolo. Like I said, there are a lot of challenges. We still have victories to win. We want to conquer Africa, we want to conquer Europe and the world.
Nhlanhla: Also being open to learning. Always! We never feel like we’ve arrived. We’ve never, even when we’ve had some of the biggest songs previously. We are always open to learning to better ourselves and our sound, which is the most important thing. Also, when I quote the Bible, God says, ‘Lift yourself up and I shall humble you. Humble yourself and I should lift you up.’ I think for a younger person it may like ‘Oh, abantu abadala.’ But it really goes a long way – being humble, respecting your craft and respecting fans, and yourself, and remaining humble no matter what you become.
It is a distinct sound… There’s that Mafikizolo element, but it certainly sounds elevated. Does this now inform the sound of the new era, with the new album coming out next year?
Theo: We never really want to box ourselves around a particular sound and it’s always been like that from day one. Since we started recording with Kalawa in 1997, we’ve never said, like ‘Okay now, we are doing a love ballad album and we are staying there.’ Or ‘Now, we are doing Afro Pop.’ Like, we gooi! If it sounds good and it’s not totally opposite our sound…
Nhlanhla: Yeah, I mean we are a Pop band so we are very much opening to trying new things and experimenting with new sounds. I think also with this particular song, when we heard it, the influences were many, you know? We’ve always been influenced by musicians from earlier days. Like your Mam’ Letta (Letta Mbuli) and Tat’u Caiphus Semenya and Mama Miriam Makeba. We were always inspired by them. When you listen to Chicco… the Dalom Kids…
You can actually pick these influences that we grew up listening to, but also the old Mafikizolo. So I think it was perfect because we love old songs. But like Theo said, we really love experimenting with new sounds. Even when we heard this song, yes, it has that Mafikizolo touch but there’s something in there we’ve never done before. So we went ahead and did it.
Already, we’ve worked on other songs, which you will get to know about next year, along with the people we’ve worked with. It’s things we’ve never done and people you’d never think we would get to work with. It’s always interesting and it’s a part of reinvention.
What do young artists need to know about staying power?
Theo: I’ll go back to what Nhlanhla said before, and what we always uphold. It’s humility and respect. Humility becomes before honour. We always feel like even if you are a superstar, stay humble. Stay humble and God will lift you up. Don’t let your fame change you. It can be a confusing thing because you’ve just arrived, and you are singing everywhere. People who were never your friends are now your friends. You are getting money you never got. Sadly, the record companies don’t tell you these things. They don’t tell you that you will be famous and have a lot of money, and then these things will start happening to you… save your money, don’t act this way.
They are just excited that you are successful. And then, because no one ever sat you down, spoke to you or coached you about fame, you tend to have the ego thing. You don’t wanna take pictures with people anymore, you don’t respect your craft onstage, you don’t do interviews or you arrive late for them. It can change you and it can be a confusing stage for you. We always say, remain humble, stay passionate about your work. That’s the most important thing, which we always emphasise. Being humble will keep you for a very long time.
What have been the biggest milestone for Mafikizolo so far?
Nhlanhla (Laughs) Yoh! (To Theo…) Do you wanna start? There’s just so, so, so that much has happened. So many bad things have happened as well. Honestly, I can’t just think of one…
Theo: Yes, there’s a few. I think it’s an honour always to perform for people who are in higher places. Like when you have to go and perform for a President, and the President stands up and dances to your song… You feel like ‘wow, we are in the presence of honour’. For us to perform for the 46664 back in the days of our late President, Nelson Mandela… To meet him officially. Not only did we perform in South Africa but we also performed in Norway for him.
And I think for Nhlanhla – the highlight that she might not remember – was when she was dancing with the President of Uganda. Presidents are always stiff (laughs) but… for the first time! People were like, ‘how did you manage to dance with the President!?’ We’ve performed for Presidents… we’ve done the Davos Economic Forum, where all the leaders of the world were there and we had to perform. We had to perform ‘Ndihamba Nawe’.
I remember Mama Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was also there. They were very proud. They stood up and danced. Other Presidents… from Germany, ambassadors. Everyone stood up and dance. We’ve performed for royalty and we’ve travelled the world. For us it’s been an honour. We’ve shared stages with big international artists. Our work was displayed at the Grammy Museum. The way that we dress and our music was featured next to your Micheal Jacksons, your Elton Johns and your Elvis Presley.
It’s some of the things that our South African people might not know about, but we feel very honoured by the opportunity that God has blessed us with, to be able to touch so many people. When we travel, we have sold out shows. We are like ‘Wow! We are in Canada, sold out! We are in Australia, sold out!’ We have achieved a lot and we feel there’s a lot that still needs to be achieved.
What can fans expect from the upcoming album?
Theo: It’s going to be a beautiful album. I’m glad that we’ve grabbed the attention of our fans who’ve been fans from Emlanjeni. The more mature audience might have felt like we’ve probably lost them, and we thought we probably thought we lost them. They might be like, ‘Hawu, where are they!?” We thought they are gone, but they haven’t left. Even when we released Khona, they were still there. We’ve realised that every time we do a show, most fans who come have been there since the Lotto days. They are very loyal and excited about this single. We promise them beautiful love songs.
The younger audience who has just joined us… we promise them a very versatile album. It’s all about love! We celebrate love all the time! There will be dance tracks, there will be Afro Pop and love ballads on the album. It’s the same Mafikizolo, but on another level.
Ngeke Balunge is out now! Stream it here