Having been referred to as the pioneer of digital maskandi, Mashayabhuqe KaMamba is swiftly making an authentic impact on this long-standing music genre. The young artist, real name Nsikelelo Christian Ndlovu, who hails from Kwa-Zulu Natal has introduced an original perspective on maskandi music with lyricism that challenges topics such as polygamy, initiation and religion. Mashayabhuqe’s music reflects the influences received from moving through different towns during his childhood and essentially helps his fans understand his roots.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your name.
Mashayabhuqe means Gods Of Art; its a name that my father gave to me after seeing my moves in High School. I was pretty much “slaying” when it comes to Art. I did drama, performance art and music.
In what ways do you relate to the world as Nsikelelo Christian Ndlovu in contrast to Mashayabhuqe KaMamba?
Nsikelelo Ndlovu just recently resigned from his TV gig and he has more issues than Mashayabhuqe KaMamba. He cares a lot about the family and is always fighting for a better life for all. He’s more human than Mashayabhuqe. The world is exposed to Mashaya, his aura, presence, and energy on stage, his rare interviews and the music. It’s a crazy situation but I hope one day the masses will see the difference.
You will be performing at Afropunk festival in Paris. How did the opportunity to perform at the Afropunk Fest come about?
It was one of the things on my “wish-list” and I was really lucky to be picked up by a Canadian manager who’s working in correlation with my South African manager.
Maskandi is a long-standing music genre in South Africa. What inspired you to explore a style of “digital maskandi”?
It has been a part of my childhood, we sing when a new-born is being introduced to the family, we sing when we are sad, we sing when we have rituals or functions. It has been part of my happy moments and hard times in the village. It made so much sense to use it as a tool to carry out this entire task, to teach kids about our culture and the importance of knowing about your heritage.
How do you maintain traditional beliefs and practices within an African society which is highly influenced by globalisation?
I still burn incense in my small flat in Randburg, I still wake up and pray to God, I still push the envelope and carry on with my beliefs through all of this westernized life in Joburg. I still correct some of my friends when they start pronouncing Mbali as Mbarrrlie, I know it might sound lekker to the kids in the North. But I have so much love for my culture and I cringe every time someone says something silly about Nguni cultures. So for me, nothing has changed, I might be mingling with women of different races and getting DM’s from them too but it doesn’t mean I must forget about what molded me.
How did moving through different towns during your childhood influence you musically?
It has a great deal of influence, I was exposed to pop, rap and rock music when I was in Grade R,1,2,3 and 4, then I had to move to a place that is isolated from everything, Oyaya/Nkandla where I got to learn about Indlamu, Zulu dance and praises and everything that had to do with Heritage... So now I’m exposed to Maskandi, Scathamiya and still get a chance to listen to East Coast radio for other stuff which reminds me of eMandeni (where I used to stay). I then moved up to the city (Durban) with my second mother uMaGcaba, there you’ll find that everyone is losing their minds to Gqom and DKM, so you can imagine [all these different influences]. I’m glad I chose my own path, I couldn’t fit in anywhere. People had to make room for me and accept me because of my background.
Tell us about your experience growing up in Durban.
It was a crazy vibe in terms of lifestyle and trends. I learnt a lot about diversity within the fashion industry and I also learnt a lot about macking on A1 chicks. If I didn’t move to Durban from Nkandla I don’t think I’d be able to even have these kinds of answers. It was an interesting environment. Berea and Glenwood will always be close to my heart.
How does your perspective of life in Johannesburg contrast from the one you knew growing up in Durban?
There are more cultured and grounded people in Durban compared to Joburg and it kills my vibe to be around “fake” people sometimes but unfortunately it’s the industry I’m in. I guess it changes people or people change to be accepted in the industry, it’s crazy and sad.
How do the people back home receive your music?
They feel well represented and the youth see me as one of their role models. It’s humbling to be in this position but hey, I just hope they would not put me on a pedestal and treat me like Beyonce. I’m human… it’s just the music that is kinda out there.
You explore the topic of initiation in your track ‘Hallelujah to the G^ds’. Tell us a bit more about your portrayal of this age-old African tradition.
It was the most daring thing to do as an artist given a fact that I don’t have to go through this like my fellow Ngunis. I’m a Zulu man, and in our culture we don’t really go to the mountains but that’s just us as tribe. Other tribes like Xhosas still have to carry that out and make sure it’s being taken care of so that one can become a man and have access to all sorts of things that comes with being a man. I was moved by an inbox on Facebook from a fan who was about to leave home and go to the mountains. Unfortunately I never heard from him and we read in the news about the deceased. So for me to sing and put out a song based on that had to be weirdest thing ever and all I needed was a lil bit of extra help from the government. These things are being kept as a secret and no one speaks about what happens in the mountains but we still mourning the death of these young boys who could have been something in our society.
How does your music attract a young audience whilst keeping the mature audience interested in digital maskandi?
I believe it’s the sounds that I am cultivating, the vision that I have for this genre and the aura of Mashayabhuqe KaMamba…that keeps every young kid entertained regardless of colour or language. They sometimes don’t get the whole story behind my songs but somehow you’ll find that they can’t let go or mute the song. They have given me a chance to be myself in a place where everyone is trying to fit in or clone the next me to become something. I owe it to the Digital kids for real, we can’t lose right now. The world is watching.
How do you sustain traditional maskandi elements whilst exploring with contemporary genres?
It’s all in the soul, I can ask bab’Madala Kunene to work with Britney Spears or Carl Thomas but trust me, you’ll still get those maskandi elements on each song. This is something you can’t go to school for or get a tutorial. It’s in the soul.
Which artists do you see yourself collaborating with?
I’ve collaborated with Thandiswa Mazwai for a song titled Izayoni which is on Itunes and I’ve worked with Young Fathers (UK). I think Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) or James Blake would make sense for me right now. We still got more work to do with Okmalumkoolkat & uSanele from Boyzn Bucks.
What/who keeps you motivated to make music?
My background is the main source of all this, my family and my nephew Mandela. And when it comes to who inspires me, I can mention a few people, Madala Kunene, Thandiswa Mazwai, James Blake, Bon Iver and the late great mam’Busi Mhlongo.
Photography: Anthony Bila
Interview: Sesona Mahlahla
Printed shawl and sweater: Funduzi