Following the release of his new album, Muzi speaks to Helen Herimbi about being alternative and Africans in space
His rolled-up spottie. That’s about the only thing that’s predictable about the producer, songwriter, singer who simply goes by the name of Muzi. Sometimes it’s black. Other times it’s a military green. But it is always rolled up to just above his ears and way above his eyebrows.
The uniform helps to identify the 27-year-old artist who was born Muzi Mazibuko, but that’s where it ends. His music is ever changing.
First, he was entrenched in the glossy trappings of mainstream rap.
“I used to make beats for rappers when I was like 19-years-old,” he tells me when I sit down with him for coffee. “So I would make beats for people like JR, Psyfo, Kabelo Mabalane and others. I made that Muntu song for JR, I did work for Reason, and when Cassper performed at the Metros (Awards), and there was that Doc Shebeleza edit at the end, I made that. I made a remix for Amantombazane for Riky Rick – which he used to open his performance sets,” he says, nonchalantly.
But that didn’t go very well for him. Muzi wasn’t entirely in his element.
“It didn’t go well because I didn’t like the dynamic of making stuff and having to wait to get paid and stuff like that,” he admits. “So in 2013, I started doing my own stuff. I started DJing.”
He still calls KwaZulu-Natal’s Empangeni township home but had moved to Jozi to make beats.
“Then I found out this is where your heart can get broken,” he swings his chain when he says this. Then he went back home, worked on a solo career that led him to live in Berlin and then this March, he only officially moved back to Joburg.
While drinking a grande cappuccino – which he admits is bad for him – Muzi laughs easily about the milestones in his musical journey. His signature spottie is firmly planted on his head and if our conversation is anything to go by, he’s got a good head planted on his shoulders.
This is the reason he has the confidence to merge worlds that don’t always go together in his music and in his life. He wears a beshu and rides a skateboard in videos, for instance.
“I was always into that,” he explains. “I was a kid from Empangeni who was skateboarding, and everybody thought I was weird. I was insecure about it and thought: ‘am I really weird?’ I love umemulo, I love the drums, but I also love skateboarding and ‘white music’.”
“I was just being myself and tried bringing it to the hip-hop realm, but there was just a lot of discouragement from people I looked up to back then. I grew my confidence and decided to make the music I want to anyway, because at least if they critique that, then they’re critiquing the honest me.”
As a solo act, Muzi’s confidence took him in the direction of dance music. He experimented with EDM and even toyed around with gqom, a mixture which resulted in projects such as Boom Shaka. That only came after a seminal song called Nizogcwala. With vocals resembling a heavily auto-tuned Mashayabhuqe ka Mamba, Nizogcwala was the first Muzi song I ever heard.
“I was so happy after making Nizogcwala, and I thought it was super good,” he says. “I was like: ‘I’m going to show them – Nizogcwala.’ And that was the track that started a lot of things from me. I got my publishing deal from BMG Chrysalis (the publishing house with offices in America, Sweden and the UK) through that one track.”
He took his publishing advance and moved to Berlin and Boom Shaka – which features a rejigged version of Nizogcwala – was born. Now, his second album, Afrovision, is a departure from the sound. Such a departure into the realm of house that some people have referred to him as the South African Kaytranada.
Afrovision opens with Kini, where he sings about how his family misses him. The first song on Boom Shaka is called Ekhaya, and similarly, the first song on Afrovision is called Kini, and they both address his family.
“uMa would always ask me when I was coming back home,” the last born of four remembers. “Kini is all about that because I wrote that song when I was coming back. Berlin was cool, but you miss certain things – like the taxis. I came back to KZN in 2017, and then I booked myself a place in the Eastern Cape for three months and started the process of writing Afrovision because I wanted to be alone so I could make my purest work possible.”
On Afrovision, the Zulu guitar is prominent and themes about relationships and Africans in space are prominent.
“Zulu Skywalker and Bantu Space Odyssey are two sides of the same journey,” he says and then smiles. “This idea I have of black people being in space before Nasa. It’s in our language – Amazulu, people of the sky. I am obsessed with the Dogon tribe, with pyramids being aligned with the stars – we didn’t learn that in Grade 5 science! Zulu Skywalker (which has no lyrics) is very Earth, Wind and Fire and feels like you’re levitating into space.”
Featured acts on this album include Soulistic signees, Langa Mavuso (on a childish song about best friends) and Una Rams (on a melanin love song called Chocolate Dreams) as well as Seaba, Tiro and Black Rose. But ultimately, although this is his second offering, Afrovision is Muzi’s outing to South Africans on a more prominent scale.
I have to ask him though: what is his afro-vision for his music?
“There is an aspect of how people will receive this album, but this is just me making the best music I can, me putting on the best shows I can and just giving people quality,” he says, “that’s my vision. All that other stuff ? I am not in control of that.”