Multi award-winning singer/ songwriter Thandiswa Mazwai recently released her third album and first studio album Belede named after her late mother. The album is a jazz tribute album that revisits songs of some iconic South African musicians some of which she has had the privilege to be mentored by. We speak to her about her personal style, her icon status and the power of art.
Your sound and your fashion sense has a distinct African feel and has been that way since the days of Bongo Muffin. How has conveying your African identity in your music and style helped you navigate the world?
Fashion can be a revolutionary choice in a world that accepts only one aesthetic view. I grew up in a time when blk beauty meant assimilation to a white supremacist standard of beauty. I chose to rebel against that and represent the beauty that me and my people posses.This has allowed me to gain a sense of being unapologetic about my non-conformist beauty ideas.I love beads and embellished hairstyles. I like to mix all the fashion classics including cultural ones. Bringing this identity into the music helped to set me apart from my contemporaries and gave me a unique advantage.
Your career spans almost 20 years, what would you say is your secret to longevity and relevance?
I would attribute this to receiving good advice and accepting it from a very young age. Also I came up at a time when music wasn't yet about celebrity but about what the kids today call "woke". I have never taken myself too seriously and I love music authentically. It is my life's calling and I am blessed to have it.
You have named the album after your late mother. What role did she play in your artistic journey? And what role have the women in your life played in bringing you to where you are today?
My mother was the first image of a rebel to me.Her spirit permeates every part of my life. I am blessed to have had her as a mother.Almost every song I have ever written has been about longing for her or trying to make her proud. Woman have always played a pivotal role in my life. Whenever I have needed true strength,I have looked to them.
You have very strong opinions about specific political and gender based issues in South Africa, how do you hope that addressing these issues can help alleviate them?
I don't know how any art alleviates any pain,as an artist all I do is live out loud in the hopes that my story will illuminate those of others or at least find a reflection.But music itself has unbound power so we never know how it heals but we know it does.
How does it feel to be regarded as an icon at such a young age, and do you feel pressure to keep out doing yourself?
"The news of my being an icon has been grossly exaggerated" to paraphrase an already paraphrased quote by Mark Twain.
I am humbled.
Are there any up-and-coming local musicians that you feel are the ones to watch?
Mashayebhuqa, Thandi Ntuli, NastyC, Nduduzo Makhathini...there are many bbz
Creative Direction & interview : Phendu Kuta
Photography: Andile Buka
Make-up: Nikkita Naidoo
Styling Assistant: Jami Ella
Location: Lizamore Gallery (Rosebank)