The Kwaito Story: An Exclusive Mafikizolo Interview

By EliChep & Eve Chege

Recently at a press conference attended by replay254 held at Mayfair Hotel, a day after the successful Blankets&Wine@50 Festival, we had an opportunity to sit with the South African music duo Mafikizolo in an exclusive and entertaining interview. Mafikizolo talked about the meaning of “Khona”, and how the MayD collaboration came about. Check it out!

Mafikizolo and MDQ during the press briefing at Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel, Nairobi.
Mafikizolo and MDQ during the press briefing at Southern Sun Mayfair Hotel, Nairobi.

EliChep: What does Mafikizolo mean? Why did you choose this name for your group?

Nhlanhla Mafu: Mafikizolo was actually one of the songs that we did on our demo tape with the help of a lady called Lido, she took our demo to Oscar who is one of the biggest producers in Jo’burg, who works for Kalawa Jazzme Records and he loved the demo so much, particularly that song Mafikizolo, and he decided why don’t you call yourselves Mafikizolo because we didn’t want a fancy name, an English name, we just wanted something raw, something local, something that would fit into the Kwaito industry, and that’s how the name came about.

Theo: And the name Mafikizolo simply means ‘new kids on the block’, I think we were the youngest group to be signed then by Kalawa Jazzme records, so he said we choose a name that will go along with the music that we were interested in doing because we do Kwaito music, Kwaito music is a township music, so he needed a name that would associate with the music we are doing.

Eve Chege: But now that name does not represent you anymore because you’re not new guys on the block, you’re amongst Africa’s hit bangers & music favorites.

Nhlanhla Mafu: A couple of people have suggested that we change the name to something else but we’ve worked so hard to build the name and we’re still trying very hard to make it a brand so it’s not easy for us to change the name into something else because people associate us with the name now.

Eve Chege: Please introduce yourselves and tell us how you got into the music business.

My name is Nonhlanhla Mafu and I’m from a township called Kagiso right at the heart of Johannesburg. I started singing since my primary school and I sang in my high school years and I also sing in church occasionally and I met Theo first at a talent search competition and he’s actually the person who came up with the idea of starting a group.

My name is Theo, Nhlanhla and I are neighbours, she stays in the same street, not very far from each other. So I had this idea of wanting to be in the music industry because I was attending a lot of talent search shows and I was imitating dancers but I said to myself I have to take this thing further and one day I decided that I want to form a group, I want to form a band. The reason why I wanted to form a band is that I’m so talented like in terms of writing songs and everything, you know it’s a god given talent and I wanted to expose that but I couldn’t do it without having a band or without having other people to sing the songs that I’ve written. So I met Nhlanhla at the talent search competition, thereafter invited her to my house, I wanted to hear her voice and I was impressed and I told her about the idea of forming a group together and then we started cutting a demo together.

EliChep: Kwaito? What does it mean to you and to the youth of South Africa today?

Nhlanhla Mafu: Kwaito is very South African, it’s something that represents the youth of South Africa basically and especially from the townships. It’s the way that township youth express themselves in music.

Theo: I would just say that in our country South Africa during the struggle young people didn’t really have the time to enjoy themselves because they were more focused on the struggle and then after the release of our late former President Nelson Mandela in a form of you know, rejoicing, and enjoying the freedom, this music genre called Kwaito started with artists like Brothers of Peace, Arthur Mafokate and other artists who were there long before us started formulating this music that we have today. In their songs they will talk about dancing, about the way they were brought up etc. It’s a way for young people from the townships to express themselves, after all this struggle and everything, it is a way of saying you know we’ve worked so hard.

Eve Chege: What sort of relationship does Johannesburg’s music expression have with, on the one hand house, and on the other hand, hip hop?

Theo: House and hip hop are very influential on Kwaito music in a way that Kwaito is a dance music and house music is a dance music as well so in the use of computers and samples it borrows certain elements from house and in the use of rap it borrows certain elements from hip hop. But the lyrics remain South African, the people always express themselves with their own indigenous language. Whether it’s Zulu or Tswana or Sotho, because we’ve got so many different cultures in South Africa.

In America house and hip hop are virtually opposed to each other, almost in opposition as it were. Whereas there Kwaito has fused the two beautifully, peacefully.

Nhlanhla Mafu: Kwaito is so broad. When you look at Kwaito you look at it as an umbrella, there’s other music coming out from that umbrella of Kwaito, like you find your Afro-Pop, you find your Afro-House, you find traditional African music under Kwaito as well. So actually you’re not limited when you’re doing Kwaito, you can play around with the music, instruments and lyrics too.

Theo: A lot of people again thought that Kwaito is for young people only but Kwaito is not for only young people. We as a band, Mafikizolo, the kind of music that we play is Kwaito, but the music that we do incorporates young people and it also incorporates older people. Even though it is Kwaito it is also appealing to the older market. So Kwaito now is very broad. Zulu is the language that really dominates there because in terms of the numbers of people in South Africa, I would say the Zulu nation’s numbers are huge and thus it is the language that really dominates in the country. So Mafikizolo is a Zulu word and therefore everybody will be familiar with what it means.

EliChep: What inspired the look of one of your new videos and the album cover which is a retro look at Sophiatown of the fifties?

Nhlanhla Mafu: After we recorded that album we sat down and we were trying to figure out what the theme of the album was going to be so we decided on a fifties theme. It was influenced by the first track on the album which is called Marabi. Marabi is basically music from the fifties in South Africa where you had a Sophiatown and we also went back to our history and we just wanted to celebrate the fifties artists and the fifties music and just bring it back to today because a lot of people our age in South Africa don’t know what used to happen in the fifties, what kind of image they used to have, the style of clothing, the style of music. We believe that the fifties musicians contributed a lot into the South African musical heritage so we sat down and came up with this tribute to the fifties period. You can see on the cover of the album that we are in our fifties outfits.

Theo: Actually when we do something we sit down together and share some ideas so that I’ve got mine & Nhlanhla as well so we complement each other. Most of the time I’m the songwriter, although each of us has our own songwriting styles, so we always talk, sit down and discuss everything together.

Nhlanhla Mafu: Basically I’m the lead vocalist and Theo is the chief song writer so we fit together perfectly as a team.

Eve Chege: Who is in charge of your production?

Theo: Kalawa Jazzme Records is doing our music production since we started with them four or five years ago. We have Oscar, the main man, aka ‘Oskido’ who is the producer for Mafikizolo.

Eli Chep: We see a lot of the past in your video clip and also sampled now in the music and the remakes and re-mixes, but what is the future of Kwaito?

Nhlanhla Mafu: I think we are growing so much as Kwaito musicians, some of our music is being exported. On our third album there was a song called Loot which was re-mixed by Lil’ Louis Vega who is one of the top deejays in the States. Now we are starting to perform with live musicians because previously we performed with lowly credible artistes only and got a lot of criticism for that so as musicians we are growing.


Theo: I think the future of Kwaito is very bright, we did a track called Bangradesh with Indian melodies but the lyrics were still Zulu and if you take that track and go play it overseas or in India people will still dance to the song. So I think it is for us as artists to learn other languages and when we write music we should incorporate other languages, for example if I know German I would sing a song in German but it would still be Kwaito so that it could get the opportunity to be exported overseas, if I know Swahili then I can write a song in Swahili but it would still be Kwaito. So, I think if one can only stay focused and not limit their potential to only Zulu or Sotho. We have to just expand our knowledge and expand our perimeters and say we want to do something that has never been done before. We have to just learn to experiment and broaden our knowledge and our minds and our talents. There is still so much room for Kwaito to expand to become a global music.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dickson Oduor says:

    Good work on enlightening to the urban Kenyan all about Mafikizolo. Keep it up & God bless you & the work of your hands.

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