“Sometimes I sound like gravel and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream”, said the high priestess of Soul, Nina Simone.
Like Miss Simone, Langa Mavuso describes his voice as possessing the capabilities of being both flawed, husky, and coarse as well as rich, sweet, and alluring.
When I first pressed play, the smoothness of the guitar put me at great ease. Langa’s voice then boldly complemented the tempo set by the electric flex of the cords. There is a distinct masterfulness that Langa has over his voice. Every note is used to delicately sift through the song thick with emotion. Towards the end, I had been coaxed into singing along. I immediately listened to every other song, watched every documented live performance and experienced great satisfaction by the online feedback; I was not the only one with the knowledge of this gifted black boy.
While Langa was singing along to Whitney Houston at the age of eight, Phumeza Mdabe muted Whitney so he could hear his voice. “I was like, ‘Shit, I’m hitting those notes’,” Langa exclaimed. After realising the magnitude of his gift, a significantly high pitched voice at the time, Langa kept it a secret because of juvenile heteronormative gender constraints that say girls should have high-pitched voices and boys the polar opposite. “I’m a boy who can sing like a girl, it felt embarrassing, especially at that time, when you’re in primary school…you just want to fit in with everyone.” Thanks be to the girl who heard Langa singing in the bathroom and reported back to their teacher, who insisted Langa share his voice with the entire class.
Today Langa is a singer, songwriter and performer. He has appeared on television, featured on radio, had various live performances, released a noteworthy EP called Liminal Sketches and more recently a collaborative EP with Red Bull Studios in Cape Town called Home.
However the route from childhood talent to a budding career was meandering. In high school, Langa studied contemporary music at the National School of the Arts (NSA) with his specialisation instruments being voice and piano. During his time at NSA, Langa’s interests branched out and he wanted to be a diplomat. So Politics, Economics and Mandarin were some of the subjects he studied at Rhodes University. After two months, Langa called begging his mother, who had been relieved that all musical aspirations had subsided, to transfer to study music at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Langa’s mother finally agreed but in his third year at UCT Langa suffered spiritually and mentally and came back home to Johannesburg. Here, Langa centred himself. He got a job as a writer and another as a content producer and social media manager. Then the faint whisper of his purpose began again and he responded accordingly. Langa left his job, finished music he had been writing for years and pursued his calling.
“I don’t think the music ever stopped in every instance where I was trying to run away from it. It was there but I was just trying not to make it the light of my life, y’know? But eventually, it was just like, you know this is the one thing you can do without anyone having to wake you up in the morning, without a pay cheque, you’ll do it, so that’s how it just happened, it was a natural progression,” Langa explained.
Nevertheless, the formal training that Langa went through enhanced how he brilliantly articulates and translates his thoughts, ideas and emotions into a three minute track. Langa writes about love in its different phases. In his first EP, he explored loss and heartbreak and in the other, Langa sings about infidelity.
“I’ve never had someone come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I don’t like your music’”. Based on observation and personal encounters, Langa believes that his music resonates with different generations. The manner in which Langa utilises his voice and pairs it with either jazzy rhythms or an electronic beat is skilful and exciting. However, Langa is certain that he does not comfortably fit into the South African music industry.
“I think I don’t fit in 100% but people appreciate the talent and they see something in it so there is an embrace of some sort but there are still people who are sort of, not reluctant, but like not too sure. It’s like the sound is a little too international. It sounds like very British Soul but then there is this African guitar and then there is this and that, which sort of brings you back to home and then you’re singing in Zulu, under this crazy electro beat by Spoek (Mathambo), like what is this?”
Yrsa Daley-Ward wrote, “If you have to fold to fit in, it ain’t right.” Subsequently, Langa has found that a space is opening up for him to be incorporated with help from mainstream music producers, like Black Coffee and Tweezy. “I’m not trying to fit in. I’m not interested in fitting in. I think we’re living in a creative time where we can be whatever we want to be and sort of teach people to assimilate into the ideas that we have.”
Langa has a cognisance of the power of human emotion. It is something that we innately share and probably why his music has a familiar comforting sweetness and light.
After the collaborative projects on the way and multiple singles Langa is working on, he hopes to be a household name when he releases his debut album a year from now. For now stay on Langa’s Soundcloud page.