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Keep On Playing Thandiswa Mazwai

Thandiswa Mazwai has been a music icon in South Africa for 27 years and counting.

She began her music career in '96 with Jack Knife and Bongo Maffin,the pioneers of Kwaito. After 6 albums with Bongo Maffin, her solo career soared with Zabalaza reaching double platinum in 2004. Her albums “Ibokwe” (2009) and “Belede” (2016) earned gold status fast. With her music mixing funk, jazz, and reggae, she's performed globally, from FIFA 2010 to Carnegie Hall in New York, to collaborating with greats like Hugh Masekela and DJ Black Coffee.

Thandiswa recently released her new album titled Sankofa blending Xhosa, jazz, and West African music, here she talks about her new album as well as her musical journey and influences.


Glamour: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new album?

Thandiswa Mazwai: This album is about reclamation and healing. It is about unifying the African voice here, with that of the diaspora in North America.

G:How does this album differ from your previous works, especially considering your success with Zabalaza and Ibokwe?

TM: All my work is different. I like experimenting with new things and I really love the idea of inserting my voice into new worlds. Sankofa was recorded in Johannesburg, Dakar, Senegal and New York and so the musicians in all these cities brought their own sonic point of view as a response to the

G: What themes or messages can listeners expect to find in this new album?

TM: The main themes are healing and reclamation. As the name suggests it’s really about going back and fetching what has been left behind.

G: In what ways do you think this album will resonate with your fans and new listeners alike?

TM: Hard to say. The only thing any artist can do is to create something authentic and hope that their truth or their point of view resonates with those who encounter their work.

G: Are there any collaborations or special features on the album that you are particularly excited about?

TM: Thandi Ntuli features on a song called “Xa ndibona wena” Nduduzo Makhathini features as pianist, vocalist and producer on Kulungile and other songs on the album. Meshell Ndengeocello produced the New York sessions and that was a dream come true for me. I have great respect for her musicality and perspective.

Special mention to Tendai Shoko,Deantoni Parks, Tarus Mateen, Julius Rodriguez, Peter Pearlson, Etienne Diop, and the team at GB’ juke joint in New York.

G:How do you see your music evolving and growing with this new release?

TM: Well I’m always experimenting with new sounds and new ways of using my instrument. This album was about going beyond South Africa into the rest of the continent and beyond ,to the diaspora. I recorded in Joburg, Dakar and New York so the music is infused with the sounds of each place. You can hear things like umrhubhe, uhadi, the kora and the ngoni from west Africa in the music.

G: Can you speak to the role of activism and social commentary in your music, and how you use your platform to address important societal issues?

TM: Mostly what I do though my music is live boldly and proudly as an African, a black woman and a queer person. This unapologetic love of self becomes the rebellion against all those who seek to take away my right to be here. It also becomes the impetus for others to fiercely defend who they are too.

G: Can you give us a glimpse into the production style and sound that defines this upcoming album?

TM: The bedrock of the album is field recordings of the Xhosa umrhubhe mouth bow which we got from the international library of African music at Rhodes university. Everyone who worked on the album was really responding to that archive. Nduduzo brought in a jazz sensibility that I love, and Meshell, with her always futuristic view, brought a much needed tension and lushness to the music. I did all the pre-production with my friend and collaborator Tendai Shoko who is a young bass player from Zimbabwe.

G:How do you nurture creativity and inspiration in your daily life, and what sources of inspiration do you draw from when creating music?

TM: I have an innate childlike quality and think this helps me to create. I also have a lot of journals and I like to write down a lot of my thoughts and even if I never go back to that journal the act of writing cements it to my mind and I’m able to access it right when it’s needed. I also love to watch cartoons. When I’m creating I’m usually thinking about my late mother or my many ways they are my muses.

G: Who are some of your biggest musical influences and how have they shaped your sound and style?


  • Busi Mhlongo - for teaching me how to make a sacred space on stage
  • Fela Kuti - for his rebelliousness
  • Miles Davis - for his experimentation
  • Miriam Makeba - for her grace
  • Old African women who sing and dance- for the history in their voices.

G:How have your travels and experiences around the world influenced your music and creativity?

TM: Travel opens your eyes to the world and to the sounds of other places. I've been to such incredible places in terms of music such as Cuba, Mali, India, Senegal, Jamaica, New York, Belin, London. The list is endless. All of them influence how I see the world and interact with my art. Are there any specific projects outside of music that you are passionate about or involved in? Healing my family, praying that they suffer less tragedies. This has consumed me for years now.

G:How has your family background or upbringing impacted your musical journey and artistic expression?

TM: It has influenced my politics and my pan Africanist point of view. Some of the tragedies were the impetus for my becoming an artist.

G: In what ways does your music reflect your identity as an African artist and storyteller?

TM: I think it’s pretty stalk. It’s in the language, the instrumentation, the cadence. It’s in my voice. I am undeniably African.

G: How important is it for you to incorporate elements of African history and culture into your music?

TM: What’s important to me is memory and all my music engaged that subject in one way or another. History, culture, these things speak to memory and how it lives in the present.

G: What do you believe sets South African music apart and how do you see it evolving on a global scale?

TM: Our secret weapon in South Africa is the diversity that we have in the music and the really wide exceptionalism in all the genres. Be it jazz, traditional, house, amapiano, Afro soul..whatever SA touches is gold!

G: Looking ahead, what are your future aspirations and goals within the music industry and beyond?

TM: I just want to keep making music that heals/restores and brings a sense of pride and joy.

Reflecting on your career thus far, what have been some of the most significant challenges you've faced and how have they shaped you as an artist and individual? One of the biggest things an artist has to do is survive the artist mind, with all its insecurities and angst.

G:How do you navigate the balance between staying true to your artistic vision and adapting to the changing landscape of the music industry?

TM: I only do what I love and pay very little attention to what the industry does. My solo album was recorded while I had a huge career as a Kwaito artist , but I made music that was a complete departure from that. The truest thing we can do as artists is trust our own voice and our unique perspective.

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