Ahead of her first appearance at Oppikoppi, Sho Madjozi speaks to Helen Herimbi about creativity, culture and competition
A few weeks after we’ve had the following interview, I’m talking to Sho Madjozi behind the stage at the Global Citizen press conference, where Beyonce has been announced as the headliner for the concert.
A girl who looks barely out of her teens interrupts our conversation to say: “I love you so much. You are my biggest inspiration.”
Her arms are already around Sho Madjozi’s waist and her ponytail rests on Sho Madjozi’s chest when the girl remembers to ask: “Can I hug you?” Before Sho Madjozi has responded, the girl continues: “Okay, let me tell you my story.”
Sure, the girl has no boundaries and needs to be taught about consent, but the way that Sho Madjozi embraces her reminds me that the rapper who has taken the nation by storm by simply being herself is giving others – particularly women who are younger than she is – permission to be themselves too.
A few weeks before this press conference – where she makes it clear that African youth are tired of being portrayed as poor and needy and that they also deserve nice things – we are sitting in the sun at a table outside a Melville eatery.
I need the sun because it’s chilly. She needs it because she’s hungover.
She’s telling me: “I’ve never been to Oppi and the first time I go is as a performer and it’s in Limpopo, how lit is that?”
Sporting a T-shirt featuring African barbershop-style drawings of her face in her many popular hairstyles, the Dumi Hi Phone star is in a good mood despite being “in that second part of the hangover, after you think you are fine but you’re not”.
She’s just come back from a shoot with major brand that she stays mum about. A couple of weeks later, we find out that she was shooting with Trace as she is the music television channel’s new mobile ambassador. Sho Madjozi is getting paid extremely well for bringing XiTsonga tradition to pop culture through her raps and inspiring many in the process. She has found and is allowed a freedom reserved for rockstars.
It’s endearing because it’s a part of her life she began to consciously access at a much later stage of her artist journey.
The 26-year-old was born Maya Wegerif to a Tsonga mother and a white father, and has lived in places like Limpopo and Tanzania. She then became Maya The Poet, but that ceased to feed her artistically.
“I’m not going to bash the medium,” she starts. “But for me, it was only able to cater to my identity issues and sociopolitical commentary and it wasn’t really catering to the fact that while I am somebody who does think a lot about social justice and issues of that nature, I am also a young person who spends a lot of time drinking and partying. A lot.”
“So, in a way, I wouldn’t say it was disengenious but poetry was only showcasing that side of me but Sho Madjozi showcases the other side which is a little more carefree. I think it’s important, politically in itself, because so often, as black creatives, we spend all of our creativity trying to fight to be heard and respected and treated as equal instead of just being creative.”
Her creativity has seen her crack jokes, on DJ Maphorisa’s Probleme, about men who want to get her attention, while all she wants to do is sit in the tavern and drink her quarts. It has seen her flex about having no fucks to give because she thinks she left it in the car and spent the festive season in Dakar (after she left a political office job) on Ms Cosmo’s Ay Baby.
Sho Madjozi’s style is humourous, flippant even. But she also peppers some seriousness in songs like Wanlov the Kubolor’s No Borders and parts of pH’s A Mi Ku Yini. Sho Madjozi wears Xibelani with Air Max sneakers and her solo hit, Huku, is ubiquitous. In short: she has been able to escape the trope that women who rap must initially be one-dimensional or the “female version of so-and-so”.
“When I came out, I came out with something that nobody else was doing,” she tells me. “So people focused more on that. It wasn’t like there was already a Tsonga guy rapping on gqom. What was at the forefront was me rapping in XiTsonga, full bars, not dropping in words here and there. On a cultural level, that became more important than the fact that I’m a woman. Because there is no one to compare me to, it has helped me not to be grouped.”
Some have drawn parallels between her and dancer/rapper Fiesta Black, who rapped over dance beats before disappearing from the limelight years ago. I ask her if her immense success is likely to breed at best, rappers who are inspired and at worst, copycats.
Sho Madjozi says: “They have started (copying). I don’t know if it will be good or bad for me to have other people come in but I have already seen Tsonga rappers coming up more, which makes me happy because I want there to be a whole industry of that genre.”
“I also have to be honest and say most XiTsonga rap I’ve heard is trash and most rap, in general, is trash,” she laughs out loud. “But there’s a young girl who is obviously inspired by me. Her name is Xisomisani and so far, she’s the best of this new era I’ve inspired of people rapping full-on in XiTsonga.”
“I embrace it because it means I don’t have to carry the whole thing on my shoulders because it means I don’t have to feel bad if I want to do a kiSwahili song or a French song because then Tsonga people can’t say: ‘Now there’s nothing for us to listen to.’”
“The other thing is I’m mixed and obviously, I get light-skin priviledge and I don’t want it to be that the only successful Tsonga person we’re going to acknowledge is a person who is actually mixed. People must try do it,” she puts her hand up, grins then continues. “So that the people who think I’m only getting this far because I’m light-skinned can also see flames. I’m really good at rapping. I’m not being a dick, I actually studied verse writing and have every interest in working meticulously on every single line I say. I want people to try do this to see that it’s not my light skin; I’m really good.”