5 minutes with Thandiswa Mazwai

Veteran vocalist Thandiswa Mazwai is set to perform at the Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City this Saturday.
Veteran vocalist Thandiswa Mazwai is set to perform at the Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City this Saturday.
Image: Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo

Thandiswa Mazwai first broke into the music industry as a member of kwaito group Jack-knife in the ’90s. Since then she’s become a household name, synonymous with musical excellence. “King Tha” boasts over two decades in the music industry, has multiple awards under her belt and has collaborated with legendary artists like the late Hugh Masekela and Busi Mhlongo, as well as Stimela. King Tha is a force to be reckoned with behind the mic and her ballads often take fans on a spiritual and historical journey.

The singer is billed to perform at the Lyric Theatre in Gold Reef City at the finale of the 2019 series of Bassline Live Presents this weekend. We caught up with her to chat about reuniting with Bongo Maffin, longevity in the music industry, what travelling has taught her and more.

You have performed at Bassline Live several times. What has been your most memorable experience?

My favourite experiences were watching the greats like Tshepo Tshola and Hugh Masekela in a small venue when Bassline used to be in Melville.

What is your favourite song to perform and why?

It’s difficult to say but it’s very hard for me to do a show without opening with Thongo Lam’/Iyeza.

What do you enjoy the most about seeing a live performance?

The musicianship and the fellowship that happens between musicians and the audience.

Name four musicians you enjoy seeing perform.

I love seeing Madala Kunene and really enjoyed Grace Jones. I also absolutely adore Siya Makuzeni and Zoë Modiga.

How does it feel to have been in the cut-throat music industry for over two decades?

It is a great privilege to be able to make music and have people connect with it. My 2016 jazz album Belede honoured the great South African songbook - although it was not original music it was a really special project for me as it gave me much-needed healing from losing Mam’ Busi Mhlongo.

Last year you reunited with Bongo Maffin - what has it been like?

Reuniting with Bongo has been incredibly tricky. I had to learn how to write with a group again which meant to edit myself and allow space for three other voices to “speak”.

You have travelled a lot this year. What can’t you travel without?

I cannot travel without a good speaker or a book to read.

What has travelling taught you? 

 Travelling has shown me how beautiful Africa and her people are. It has shown me that we are all very similar; it is kindness that makes us human. It has taught me the importance of cultural and historical identities. It has also shown me that humans can be hateful, hating others because they are different from them or come from different lands.