/ 20 February 2023

Award-winning artist Thandiswa Mazwai brings ‘A Letter To Azania’ to Cape Town

Thandiswa Mazwai, Cwgs
South African musician, Thandiswa Mazwai, who is known for lauding women who have shaped the woman that she is, during one of her performances.

Calling Thandiswa Mazwai a soulful musician feels like an understatement. Mazwai’s vocal depth, riveting lyrics and her ability to embed indigenous instruments, melodies and harmonies in her songs is nothing short of quintessential. Her performances are a spiritual experience that reflect on the past, evaluate the present and explore the hopes of the future. 

“Soul music is memories, it’s everyday life, it’s easy to consume. I think it’s that the soul, the spirit, resides in Africa so soul music here could also mean the beating of a drum because that’s how we invoke our soul,” Mazwai told BET International on what defines the African sound.  

Born in the Eastern Cape, Mazwai’s formative years and early youth were spent living in Soweto with her siblings and parents. During the 1970s and 1980s, her mother and father were journalists and anti-apartheid activists who raised their children surrounded by books, journals and discussions on politics. It is these texts that would later influence the kind of artist she would become.

The former Bongo Maffin lead singer, affectionately known King Tha, later enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and English Literature, inspired mainly by her late mother, Belede Mazwai, who passed away when the singer was 15 years old. Mazwai’s influences included anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, political philosopher Frantz Fanon, Ghanaian politician Kwame Nkrumah and Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe.

In a recent sit down interview with Unpopular Opinion the artist spoke about the healing properties of music and how her approach to song creation is both unique and most times unintentional. 

“The processes are different for every album. Nothing is ever deliberate. Making art for me is one step in front of the next. You don’t begin with a full art work, you begin with one stroke and then you go. And you ask what else can I do until it’s a full picture,” says the mother-of-one. 

Following five albums with Bongo Maffin, the lead singer embarked on her solo career releasing Zabalaza in 2004 as her first solo project named after the compilation’s lead single. The 15-track record infused various sounds from Kwaito, Mbaqanga, traditional Xhosa music, reggae and gospel scoring the musician a South African Music Award for Female Artist of the Year in 2005 and cementing her solo career.

“When we were doing Zabalaza, Sipho Sithole was the producer so he assumed the full spectrum of that role and I assumed the vocalist and songwriter (roles) and then I would do the lyrics. I had just came out of making a lot of Kwaito music, alot of Afro pop music so I really didn’t want it to sound like any of that stuff, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to sound like .Sipho was great in that he was willing try a few different things before we arrived at that one thing where I was like ‘this is it’,” Mazwai said.  

After selling out her A Letter To Azania show in Johannesburg and Durban she is finally bringing the performance to Cape Town. The production taking place at The Artscape Theatre is curated as a note Mazwai journeys through about the land of freedom, Azania, which she says “takes the audience on a sonic exploration of the utopian idea of Azania while expressing the melancholy that comes with a dream deferred”. 

“The revolution is driven by great feelings of love,” spoken by Cuban revolutionist Ché Guevara and the opening words of the show to which Mazwai adds “a love for the people, a love for country, and a love for justice. They form the basis for what the production is about using audio visual elements to stimulate imagination and explore history while moulding a new world. 

A Letter To Azania will take place on 25 February 2023 at The Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. You can purchase tickets here.