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.”