Before her music topped the charts of South Africa’s industry; before she heard her name announced as a SAMA-award-nominee, even before we knew her as Azana – Makhosazana Masango was a young singer from Durban with great talent and even greater levels of shyness.
“I was so soft-spoken, but I loved to sing,” she reveals during our remote interview which would go on to become this cover feature. Makhosazana, who grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal, was always one of the voices in the choir and even though she knew she had talent, she admits that her bashfulness meant that not everybody knew just how much talent she was holding back.
Fast-forward to 2022 and Azana is 2-years into an illustrious career that has seen her become one of the most renowned and revered vocalists in South Africa. Having witnessed the success of her 2020 debut record, Ingoma, which scored her multiple charting hits and recognition at the highest level of music.
With everything she’s already achieved in the music industry, it’s easy to forget that Azana is still only 22 years of age. The young songbird has a resume which would look impressive in the hands of singers even twice her age, and she typifies a resurgence in youth leadership across South Africa.
Leadership has always been a key aspect of South Africa’s youngest generations. From the youth of 1976, who will be observed throughout the course of June, to the young people who rally the masses to influence brands and lawmakers in 2022.
Azana – who is reinventing herself as Igagu: the leader of the choir in the next chapter of her career – is just the latest young South African to answer the calling to lead with her gift.
Azana – Singing From The Front
How does it feel to have survived a pandemic, multiple lockdowns and still come out of it as an award-winning singer?
I love the journey I’ve been on. I like my job, I like where I am, I like what I was called on and destined to do. Everything has always been about timing and despite the crazy last few years we’ve had. Nobody could have predicted that the last 2 years would be as they’ve been but all we could all do is adapt and make the most of it. Something I feel like I’ve done.
Around that time you had just released your debut album, Ingoma. Did you anticipate that it would do this well?
Not even. I didn’t even have clear expectations, I was just happy to be making my debut at the time. Now, as I prepare for the release of my second album, I look back at just how well Ingoma did and I’m still blown away! When I came into the industry, I didn’t know what made a good album. I just knew how to sing. I didn’t know what to expect, but now I have a much better idea.
What was the point when you realised that, not only can you sing but, you’re actually onto something and you have a chance at becoming someone even bigger.
Definitely when I saw the sales going up day by day, week by week. When I saw the numbers for myself, that changed everything. Because you know when you look at YouTube it’s a completely different thing. You just assume that views are something anyone can get you know? But when you start getting streams, and sales, and you start charting and all that, it starts to take on a completely different shape.
There’s something special about music for me. I feel like as an artist you are the vessel for the music to come out, and then what happens from there is up to the listener.
What has been one of the most fascinating parts of your journey so far?
Well one thing I’ve been getting from the moment my career kicked off is a lot of comments from people who believe that I was an international singer. There’s always been a lot of “Oh wait you’re from here?” and then people really start enjoying the rest of my music. I always take it as a compliment though.
Let’s fast forward to 2022 – now all eyes are on the upcoming second album and it’s different to the first time around. Is there a sense of expectation now that you’re not an unknown rising star?
I did feel a little bit of pressure because I can see that SA music is going in a lot of exciting different directions, but my sound is also unique so I did sometimes wonder if the country would be ready for this sound. But I realised that the music that we all make is classic. It’s timeless. It’s not music that you listen and get tired of, so I have really good faith in the sound that we’ve put together and we’re excited to see come together.
How would you describe the sound of this album?
Well, I’ve always had afropop roots and South African afropop sounds so you can still expect quite a bit of that on this album. As you heard on some prior releases like Abafazi I can also make house music so you can expect a return to that on this upcoming album as well. There’s also one song on the new album that will be a bit deep-house-like as well.
Outside of the project, at some point in the future, I’m going to collaborate with amapiano artists as well to explore different sounds, it’s a really exciting time!
What is it about Durban that allows afropop sounds to thrive?
I think because a lot of us singers coming out of Durban, you know, myself, Simmy, Nomfundo Moh, and a whole host of other talents, we’re all still really rooted in our upbringing and our culture. So the sound you hear is the result of our proximity to culture, as well as our proximity to sounds like maskandi, whose influence you can somewhat hear when you listen to certain afropop. So that’s probably my theory on it.
Back to the album – does it have a title, does it have a release date?
It definitely has a title – iGagu.
When were were growing up, there would always be someone in a choir setting who would always sing first, and then others join them. This person would be known as iGagu. Whether they are singing at church, in a bus on the way somewhere, in a stadium – wherever people are singing together, the person who is ready to lead them and kick off the chorus is iGagu.
It’s a personal meaning for me because growing up I used to be quite shy and a little bit reserved, you know? I used to see iGagu on our school bus and she always inspired me, I looked up to her so much despite my shyness. So now to be the person who has the confidence to take the lead and lead the choir is a great and powerful journey for me because I see it as breaking free from my younger, more fearful self.
As for the release date… let’s just say soon! I’ll definitely be keeping you posted.
Are there any names you can tease as features?
ALL I CAN SAY is that I really wanted a really wholesome project and that’s what I strived to create. So when it came to potential collaborators, I wanted people who could add to that vision. So you’re going to hear a few big names as well as a few new names who have lots of talent and I can’t wait for you to hear how it comes together!
Now that we’re living in our “new normal”, gigs are back on the menu which hopefully means a chance for fans to hear your work. Do you plan to tour once the new album comes out?
Without a doubt. I love that now we can take the music to the people and we plan to do that. We’ve got plans to tour the whole country as well as the likes of Botswana and other Southern African countries. I always want to bring the music to the schools and even to prisons, I really can’t wait for it all to unfold – and I hope some of the Moziak family will be in the audience to support when the show does hit the road!
Until then, watch this space.