On her latest “mixtape”, What a Life, the flamboyant Sho Madjozi pays homage to her Tsonga roots, most poignantly in the track Shahumba which features the legendary Dr Thomas Chauke (sadly no relation, but my icon since childhood).
Shahumba (sometimes spelt Xahumba) is one of Chauke’s clan names and the repeated line “Se ni endla ti hit-i ka Shahumbo” throughout the song translates to “I am now making hits with Shahumbo,” revealing the young star’s own starstruck disbelief at this reality.
Chauke, on the other hand, reflects on his own gratitude and incredulity that he is still alive at the age of 69 and that he came from poverty to a successful music career.
It is a moment of extreme humility from the Limpopo maestro — the Michael Jackson of Xitsonga traditional music — who has multiple awards, including 16 Samas, 35 albums and an honorary doctorate to his name.
The doctorate, in African languages, is from the University of Venda for the role his music has played in the preservation and promotion of the Xitsonga language and culture in mainstream society.
It was therefore a big deal for Madjozi — the 29-year-old artist who was born Maya Christinah Xichavo Wegerif at the dawn of the democratic dispensation — when he agreed to work with her. As she told me, Chauke does not usually collaborate with others.
“It’s an incredible thing to happen. I walked into his studio in his home village of Saselamani, outside of Malamulele in Limpopo, and you know his children, some of them in their late 20s, were saying they have never seen another artist actually enter that space.”
She added that Chauke is a perfectionist whose “deep reverence” for his craft, genre and culture is something she admires and finds inspiring. “I guess he doesn’t want to just do things he would consider meaningless … that was a huge thing to be allowed there in that space to begin with.”
The collaboration encapsulated in Shahumba and its music video brings together two generations beautifully. It is essentially the transition from the old to the new, from the traditional to the modern, from the dapper to the funky.
Chauke is handing the torch to Madjozi to keep the fire of Tsonga music and culture burning bright.
“It is a blend of our two genres. So you have TT Boy The Flame playing the percussions on that, which are very dance music, and then you have him and two of his sons as well, playing guitar and playing very Xitsonga melodies, so it was like a real meeting together,” says Madjozi. “It’s such an honour for him to be open to such a thing, and then applying himself wholeheartedly is also really cool — and he didn’t just give me any random verse, he said something that was meaningful.”
Chauke was fully involved in the song’s creation, contributing to both sound and lyrics: “Once we had created the sound, you know, he looks at me and he goes: ‘So what do you want to write about?’”
Even though she has lots of notes with possible topics lying around, in that moment she was stunned. She just looked at him and said: “Uhm, I just can’t believe that I am standing here in your studio … I just did not think, you know, growing up, growing up where I grew up, the kind of life that I had, never ever, ever, ever did I think that I could build a life that would end up resulting in me standing in front of you.
“So then he kind of smiled and then went into the studio and was thinking for a bit, and then he was ready to record, he kind of just laid it down and it was so easy for him and so heartfelt and so genuine and later that night I wrote my verses.”
Madjozi has described Shahumba as being about their journeys as two musicians from rural Limpopo who have been able to achieve their dreams despite the challenges.
“I look up to Dr Thomas Chauke so much, so we decided to tell it as a sweet story of a father and his daughter. It’s a beautiful and heartwarming video about victory.”
The song is about a little girl (who appears in the video with signature pink braids and self-styled xibelani) and her father’s influence on her music as she grows up into a glittering star.
But, for me the song is much more about one taking stock of where one comes from. Also from Limpopo and being Tsonga myself, I am personally grateful to Sho Madjozi for this reflective piece which shows the long journey through struggle and pain to a celebration of life and success. It is an ode to us survivors and conquerors, a love song and tribute to the marginalised who keep trying even after life knocks them down over and over again.
The pre-chorus by Chauke, those meaningful words Madjozi mentioned, captures what this is about for me: “A niti tshembhi kuri hi mina, ninga yima kwala/ Meh a niti tshembhi kuri hi mina, ninga yima kwala/ La ni humaka kona ka tika/ Le ni humaku kona ka vava” (I cannot believe that this is me standing here/ The place from which I come is heavy, where I come from, it is painful).
For me Shahumba narrates my many trials and triumphs. It is a victorious dance and celebration of where I come from and where I am now as well as where I am going. It is also a tribute to my late mother, who adored Chauke. We listened to him on cassette and radio Munghana Lonene on a daily basis. He helped anchor my siblings and I in our Tsonga culture and identity; our main connection to most of our family and relatives who remained in Limpopo when my mother had to move to Pretoria to look for domestic work.
It was a pleasure to watch the music video for Shahumba with Madjozi and her loyal fans at the launch party. She was beaming with pride and it seems she is aware of the mantle placed over her life; to continue the representation of Tsonga people at home and abroad.
But she is quick to dismiss any notions of grandeur, opting rather for authenticity: “I do not surround myself with what people expect well-known people to be surrounded by. I walk around normally, I spend a lot of time with my grandmother; I just want to feel like another girl who happened to do well at what she put her mind to — just like anyone else here can do well and excel and they are still one of us, one of everyone here,” she says.
In fact she believes it was her genuine care and admiration for Chauke that got him to collaborate with her. She met him a few years ago and made sure to keep in touch with him, especially when she heard he wasn’t well.
“I really don’t like when we neglect these human libraries, these human museums. You know how much he’s seen and done? What he knows as well, I mean incredible wisdom inside that man, of Tsonga culture! And this is the kind of relationship I want to maintain, and it is important to check on people that we call legends and not pretend to be shocked when they are no more. So, it was important for me to maintain that relationship, keep up with him, keep in touch with him,” she says.
As to the future, the young artist is already working on her next mixtape and considering the direction of her music and art: “What is Sho Madjozi 2.0 going to look like? I am having a lot of fun reinventing myself and having a lot of fun creating,” she says.
To Sho Madjozi 1.0, I say: “In Shahumba you have captured so many emotions; that of pride, gratitude and the indomitable spirit that exists in African people.You have many fans from different races, genders and countries. We are all rooting for you. Your success is so inspirational to watch. Keep shining and growing. You still have higher levels to get to.