Newly named the South African with the Most Innovative Style, musician, Sho Madjozi speaks to Helen Herimbi

The last time I saw Sho Madjozi, we were in a large studio space where she was shooting a special for a popular brand she endorses. She swaggered in and, like a magnet, she drew everyone’s attention.

Wearing grey sweatpants, a Sotho-inspired Butan Mountain Panther sweater and a pair of Air Max 1 Atmos Safari, it was clear that the clothes didn’t make her. All of that was mere enhancement on the natural cool of the 26-year-old artist born Maya Wegerif.

An aesthetic that resonates to the point of people across the nation flocking to salons to have their hair braided like hers. So it was not much of a surprise that Sho Madjozi is given the Most Innovative Style award at the 22nd annual SA Style Awards.

The awards, which are powered by Alfa Romeo, take place at Sandton City’s Diamond Walk tonight. About the honour, Sho Madjozi says: “I think the combination of sportswear and traditional wear is what I’ve tried to bring forward.”

Sho Madjozi, who has performed at Global Citizen and Afropunk New York, entered the entertainment realm as a poet but it was when she reinvented herself as a rapper that she took the world by storm. She believes the title of Innovative Style is befitting beyond fashion.

“Right at the beginning, I said I’m going to make music in my own language,” she shares. “It doesn’t matter if I’m famous in Limpopo alone. As long as my cousins can bop to my music and get what I’m talking about.”

“The other thing is when you look at qgom, we brought in a whole innovation where we put in more lyrics than there ever was before,” she continues. “I literally come and drop 16 bars on songs like Dumi Hi Phone and Huku. I used a hip hop structure on gqom beats. I was told people wouldn’t listen to gqom that’s so packed with lyrics but the music that has come after has had more lyrics in it.”

Most recently, Sho Madjozi has appeared alongside Sjava and Lady Zamar on Ganja Beatz’s Night and Day. There, she raps about someone who loves umswenko. “The idea of that song was supposed to be alter egos. I’m a village girl and my parents are very humble. My parents were about doing community development and humanitarian work, never about material things. But now, I’m balling. So it’s like my upbringing is pulling me in one direction but at the same time, now I am experiencing nice things and I like it,” she laughs.

In her lyrics, Sho Madjozi name drops Comme de Garcons as well as Carvela – foreign brands that represent very different classes in South Africa. She wears Moschino on magazine covers and recently collaborated with Edgars to release a clothing line that will include Xibelani (referring to traditional dance and the skirts the dance is performed in) for kids and other apparel for adults.

It’s through the commissioned song heard on the Edgars ad that Sho Madjozi makes her stance on blurring the line that separates classes, ages and tradition. She defiantly says: Don’t Tell Me What To Do.

“I’m literally half white and half black,” she explains. “The hip hop world sees me as part of them and the gqom world sees me as a part of them. Even the alternative world. I’m so village but also urban.”

“There is a part of me that has rejected the notion that you have to be divided. I have broken many rules regarding wearing Xibelani – I’m not allowed to wear Xibelani that is above my knee. So it’ not like I am embracing Xitsonga culture as it is. But the fastest way we’ll make culture relevant is to try and preserve it in an old form.”

For now, Sho Madjozi aims to ready her highly anticipated debut, Limpopo Champions League, and rack on the Ws on the way. She says this award is “really cool and it’s because I’m a performer but also getting that acknowledgement for my style side is nice because I pay attention to what I wear and how I present myself.”