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Photography by Hanro Havenga

Maya the Poet becomes Sho Madjozi!: Tsonga rap and the preservation of home

Maya has always been a writer. She has always been interested in different kinds of writing. However, because she is young and is a woman of colour, she felt that she was boxed into the persona of a spoken word poet. For a long time she felt the pressure to just be Maya the Poet. But at the same time, she was writing raps.

Caught up in this box she felt she had been pushed into, Maya never imagined that she could become a rapper but she did want something to come of the rap she was able to write. So she had the idea that she would become a ghostwriter. With that decision she contacted one of her favourites in the industry, Okmalumkoolkat. After sending through some of her verses, they decided to work together. Maya was excited to work with him on his upcoming album, Mlazi Milano. “So I showed up at studio and he was like ‘Are you ready to hop on the song?’ and I was like ‘No’. And he said ‘Wait aren’t you a rapper?’ And I said ‘No’. So he goes ‘Are you a singer?’ and I said ‘No’. So he says ‘Why are you here?’ and I said ‘To write’ you know. And he says ‘For who?!'”. Amused by her own boldness in offering to write for Okmalumkoolkat, she clearly realized that the ghostwriting thing was not going to happen. So she took to the mic and became the voice for her own verses. She confessed to me that rapping was something she had always wanted to do, and so being featured on three of Okmalumkoolkat’s tracks added fuel to a fire that had been burning inside her for a while. She will be featured on the album by her rapper stage name Sho Madjozi!. Even more special for her, is the fact that she raps in her home language, Tsonga. “I think it [Tsonga] sounds really dope on rap! And it has never been explored in the way that I am doing now,” Maya explained when describing the rhythmic qualities that Tsonga holds. Coming from the small rural of Shirley in Limpopo, she explains how people are confused by her audacity to rap in Tsonga. However, she is determined to take her language and culture with her, and “swag it out”. She is also encouraged by the idea that people from her home will be excited to hear their own words in mainstream music.

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In sticking with taking home with her, at the album preview for Mlazi Milano, Sho Madjozi performed in her xibelani, the traditional skirt worn for the dance also referred to as xibelani. For her the skirt stands as a symbol of her identity but is also a sign that her culture is not frozen in time. Through telling me the evolution of the xibelani skirt, she articulates how this is an indication of the evolution of her culture. This ties into her philosophy of integrating “Africanness” into our everyday lives. “I don’t like this notion that we come to Joburg and we become these other people…When you miss some aspect of yourself or you miss your food, you have to go out to the village or township and find it… Traditional attire must not be relegated to public holidays,” Maya expressed. She highlighted that she wants to grow her culture and wants to interrogate what it means to be an African today.

She has also recently become the Africa rep for New York-film company Flourish and Multiply which involves organizing people for the company to work with, as well as being an assistant director in some of their projects on the continent. Maya has also become the youngest person to be awarded the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study Writing Fellowship. Re-thinking what a fellowship should be used for, she pitched to write a film which will be based in Limpopo around her village. Adding to her mixed bag of projects, she will soon be launching a line of bags under the label Machagani (@machaganibags). What ties all of her work together is reminding people of colour that our languages and cultures “are dope”.

Be sure to have a listen to the tracks she is featured on in Okmalumkoolkat’s upcoming album Mlazi Milano. Sho Madjozi herself is trying to create a sound that is a combination of Tsonga and trap. She also let us in on the fact that she will be working on an EP title “My life is a movie” to be released sometime next year. Check out @shomadjozi on Instagram and @mayawegerif on Twitter to keep up to date with her work.

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