Experimental artist Mx Blouse speaks to Helen Herimbi about bending genres at will

“I remember that I didn’t like playing with the kids outside,” Mx Blouse says before they burst into laughter. They’re reminiscing about being a bougie kid growing up between Richard’s Bay and Melmoth in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

“I remember playing tyres with the boys on the street, but then I’d get bored and I would go and play with the girls and I’d get bored there as well,” they remember. “Then, while staying with my paternal grandmother, I would share a room with my older cousin and I would take abonopoppie, my sister’s dolls and line them up and then I would teach them.”

Here, Mx Blouse raises both arms as if conducting a class, then continues: “I don’t know what I was teaching them, but they had to shut up and listen.”

Fast forward to two years ago, at the popular Kitcheners Bar in Johannesburg and instead of dolls, Mx Blouse was conducting a room of music lovers, commanding them to pay attention.

“I went to Thailand and Vietnam for two months,” Mx Blouse recalls. “And the whole time I was there, I was thinking: ‘when I get back home, I really don’t want to do anything I don’t want to do. I want to do something that will fulfil me and something I can do for the rest of my life.”

In a small town called Pai in Thailand, they just started writing to beats and put out a ditty called WTF (Squared) on Soundcloud. While in Vietnam a few weeks later, they were asked to perform that song at Kitcheners.

“I remember just standing in front of the audience and I was just like: wow, it feels like I’m on mushrooms or something,” Mx Blouse smiles. “It was an incredible high and it just felt right.”

Mx Blouse, whose real name is Sandiso Ngubane, hasn’t looked back since. The 30-year-old who describes themselves as an experimental artist put out a boombap-inspired EP called Believe the Bloom. The EP opens with Only Words Are Perfect, which sees the artist confess to fatigue for only living for likes.

“When I started, there was none of this influencer stuff and I was a fashion blogger because I loved it,” they say. “That’s why I say I am tired of living for likes and cutting myself short.”

With a soulful sonic bed that allowed others to label Mx Blouse too conscious, they decided they wanted to try out other genres and the journey has been a fruitful one. Mx Blouse’s late mother and their late aunt influenced their taste in music. From Incognito to early Toni Braxton. But it wasn’t until a winter school holiday spent staying with their father in Durban that Mx Blouse discovered an artist that made Mx Blouse believe maybe they could make music too.

“I don’t remember where my sister would be but I would be by myself in my dad’s flat, just looking through his CDs,” they tell me. “He had Kirk Franklin and other CDs that made me think: ‘ugh, dad listens to dumba** music’,” they laugh. “Somehow, I found Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation CD and was attracted to the cover. I didn’t know anything about Lauryn or The Fugees.”

“I listened and was blown away,” they exclaim. “I would stand in front of the mirror, reciting all her lyrics and singing along. I would imagine an audience just sitting and listening to me. I don’t know where the element of having an audience [being exciting] came from. It was around 2003, when my mom passed away, that Unplugged by Lauryn Hill became my saving grace,” Mx Blouse shares. “It comforted me and I started writing my own poetry.”

After matric, Mx Blouse toyed with the idea of studying DJing but the fear of scarcity in entertainment careers prevailed and they studied journalism instead. For a few years, Mx Blouse wrote and produced everything from hard news to fashion. Knowing Mx Blouse was too shy to try their hand at music, a friend, Joni Blud, sent them some beats and they began writing to them in secret.

Those beats wound up on Mx Blouse’s debut EP, Believe the Bloom, written in Thailand and released when the artist was still going by the name Mr Blouse.

Last month, Mx Blouse put out tongue-in-cheek Zulu raps over a dance beat on Isphukuphuku – a Zulu word meaning idiot. They namecheck our president and remember Marikana, they call out blesser culture and big up independence and they also proudly assert that likers of things should continue to be just that. Mx Blouse’s music is fun but it’s also thought-provoking.

“I didn’t realise I had so much politics in my music,” they laugh again. “But I think the artist’s duty is to reflect the times. I am quite politically conscious and it’s important to highlight issues whether it makes you popular or unpopular.”

“I use Cyril and Zuma in Isphukuphuku not to talk about them directly but to talk about the system of oppression,” they continue. “We talk about apartheid being about dispossession but when our leaders steal from us, that’s also dispossession because they are stealing from the poor.”

While Mx Blouse will continue speaking their mind, the genre will always bend to their will. There’s a house song on the horizon and a kwaito track called Papgeld that they are thrilled to debut this year.

“The sound changed from boombap because I think of myself as an experimental artist and I don’t want to water down what I stand for in order to appeal to the masses,” says Mx Blouse.