5 minutes with Thandiswa Mazwai

Thandiswa Mazwai
Image: Veli Nhlapo

You said that A Letter to Azania will be different from your other shows because it will be a much more intimate performance.

Why did you decide to do that?

I felt like because it’s happening in a contained space, there is a certain intimacy that can only be generated from small spaces. The idea of Azania has been a thread throughout my career, in all my work. I don’t think there is an album I have made that doesn’t mention Azania somehow.

Why did you think of doing it now then?

I don’t know if there is a reason. I’ve had these words scribbled in my journal from like five years ago, just like ... a letter to Azania. There is a conversation I want to have about this Azanian dream.

Which songs can we expect you to perform at the concert?

Why don’t you just come? [Laughter]

Do you have a ritual that you follow just before a big performance?

When I’m going to have any performance I have to get myself mentally ready for the spiritual stuff that can happen on stage. So I don’t know if that’s necessarily a ritual but it’s something I’m very, very aware of it. Right before the show, I get extremely nervous, so I usually just kinda block myself up and silence everything around me.

One wouldn’t say that you are nervous before a performance…

[Laughter] There is this thing when you are becoming a traditional doctor, it’s called, Ukuvuma ukufa. You agree to die. Which means, when you finally ready [to accept your ancestral calling], you shed your old self and you suddenly die; and you agree to now build a new self. So I feel like every time I go on stage, ndivuma ukufa. I’m like okay I get I’m going to die tonight, but I agree to it. I have to surrender myself to it, because anything can happen. I have to surrender myself to whatever might happen.

Which South African up-and-coming artist are you most excited about right now?

I have a naughty streak. I like the naughty kids. I Like Moonchild, Faka and Nakhane. There are lots of bands that I love that are still up-and-coming and others that have blown up, like Urban Village.

Yeah I have seen you and Nakhane talking via social media….

Yeah…I have a bit of a crush on that guy… [Laughter]…He is too much…. [More laughter]

And is there a musician, anywhere in the world, that you would still like to collaborate with?

I would still love to collaborate with Grace Jones and Salif Keita. I would still love to collaborate with those hip hop cats, so I could do a proper hip hop album.

2018 saw you reunite with your old band mates. When can we expect the release the album?

The album is going to come out in March.

What about your next solo project?

I’m trying to convince Me'Shell NdegéOcello to come and work with me. She is amazing and I would love to work with her. I’m trying to convince her like listen, let’s make an album, you and I.

Good luck. I’d love to hear what that collaboration would be like.

I think it might be magic actually. And for the past few years now I’ve been saying that I am working on an erotic album. Just a little bit of a sexually charged album….

Well, I guess Ingoma showed us that you have the ability to do [such an album] people will love…

[Laughter] I might do a full album. Just because people are so strange about sexuality and I think once you are an adult, then you should be able to talk about it. It’s actually a very powerful part of being human. It’s a powerful creative energy and it’s a restorative action when there’s consent.

Where is the best place to collect your thoughts if you need time out from everything?

Ultimately you realise that peace is not a geographical location, but a spiritual one. If I’m looking for any kind of peace I have to find it in the quiet of my own self. It has to be a daily exercise of taking back my power, of exercising my peace. So it’s not a place I go to.

And where is your favourite holiday destination?

I have many favourite holiday destinations. It’s tough. I love West Africa. I love Jamaica. I go to Jamaica all the time. I love New York. I go to New York all the time. But I love finding myself in a little village somewhere. I would say that my favourite travel experience was going to Mali, just because there is so much history there. It’s thousands of years of history.

What would you want your fans to remember you for?

I was reading somewhere and somebody said ‘we all live in the hopes of becoming a memory’. We just all live in the hope of not being forgotten; so as long as they remember me I’m fine. Whatever they remember doesn’t matter.

  • Mazwai will present A Letter to Azania at the Lyric Theatre in Johannesburg on Saturday.
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