Mashaya shows up to Father Coffee just a few minutes late for our interview and he quickly allows me into the landscape of his life these days. He is fresh from AfroPunk in Paris and we fall into step chatting about his experiences in Paris.
He is refreshed and ready to work on more music, now on the other side of Amancamnce mixtape, released last year with a host of cosigns from the upper echeleons of the creative industries along with a feature from his friend uMalume KoolKati and a sampling of the original Urban Zulu Busi Mhlongo.
The Black Excellence Show first released in 2013 introduced Mashayabhuqe KaMamba as someone to watch, and be enthralled by, it presented him and his unique blend of the traditional and Zulu with the digital and urban. He has even been successful enough to have a few copycats, but he’s already onto the next concept, and scheming on greener pastures.
Mashaya occupies a niche space in South Africa’s music scene, his influences and style collide the past and the future, and his perspective is about walking in creative purpose and pushing the boundaries of what performance and urban music mean within this space. An individual steeped in his tradition and culture, with a mind opened to the global possibilities of his craft.
‘Why are you here? Am I here to make things that are acceptable to the community or am I here to challenge people’s minds?’
With that said this alchemist of modernity and Maskandi is doing it like it hasn’t been done in a minute, and he has worked with some of South Africa’s legends. I mean real legends; KingTha For The Babies, was a groundbreaking challenge for emerging artists to win a free feature from Le Grande Artiste herself, Thandiswa Mazwai. Mashayabuqhe won it. Now, they have a song, ‘Izayoni’ together. We both geek hard for a second. Then he says, ‘She’s amazing. I listen to the song and pinch myself all the time, her music moulded uMashaya, noBusi Mhlongo, no James Blake and Bon Iver…’
For a moment I consider Mashaya’s forebears and then him as the next bearer of the legacy both Busi Mhlongo and Thandiswa have built upon. That pioneering perspective that broke new ground and resonated with the culture of coming to Johannesburg to follow a dream and grappling with urbanity and modernity, dealing with the anonymity and isolation of the city while using it to propel yourself to new heights. It is not a new story, but it presents us with a new face, a new hero every so often; some of them shed their skin and make a whole new persona, eschewing their roots for a brighter future. Mashaya revels in his culture and eschews expectations and definitions, consistently curating his own style, always looking to do what the industry is too afraid to; break musical ground, bring the truth of South Africa to the fore using its culture and its current permutation as an outpost of western culture, to tell the story that we can relate to and be inspired by.
His energy, wonder and sincerity are on a hundred this crisp Jozi morning; he lets me in on how he grew up in a village eNkandla and how most of his English was studied from the television and music he was exposed to at his family’s home. Then he wound up working in television in Jozi with his most faithful friend uMatsoso who has supported Mashaya’s career from its infancy and continues to call him to this day to inform him of the latest copycat to appropriate Mashaya’s sound. These simple things, these pieces of his history give context to the person I see before me now, that understands and reconstructs the relations between art, technology and tradition and refuses to be pigeonholed or defined by anybody but himself. And he’s already onto the next one.
‘I just dropped Sun City flow, and there’s a lot of attachments to it, it could be the jail, or the casino, or any city in Africa because there’s always sun. This song is about sharing my experiences with the kids; letting them know that if you’re a raw talent, they will try to chain you.’
Mashayabhuque chooses substance and creativity when it comes to his art, thus staying true to the source to leave awe and imitators in his wake while the world waits and watches to see just how far he takes it.
Editorial image credits
Photography: Hanro Havenga
Styling: Jamal Nxedlana
Mashayabhuqe wears trousers by Diego Ranieri, beret by Crystal Birch. (Accessories stylist own)
Mashayabhuqe wears a shirt by Studio W, trousers by Diego Ranieri, beret by Crystal Birch. (Accessories stylist own)