Sho Madjozi needs no introduction to many across the world and although it has been a long time coming, her first ever interview with us explained why. We dialed in on a late weekday evening for our cover interview with the What A Life hitmaker and from the moment she picked up the telephone she set the pace and direction for the conversation from the get go (even though I was asking the questions).
Sho Madjozi, whose real name is Maya Wegerif, is on the cover of our International Women’s Day edition and the theme for this year is “Women in Leadership” – and few artists of this generation embody leadership like Sho Madjozi. Not only has she established herself as a trail blazing, globally acclaimed artist, but in the process she has inspired a generation of listeners to repaint the rules of engagement across the continent.
On this International Women’s Day, which falls at a time when Africa needs fresh, young and energised leadership more than ever, Sho Madjozi represents the hope of what the future may hold. From her career, to her life’s journey, to her interests – the artist handles every challenge with boldness, with expression and with a view beyond any we’ve ever seen.
It’s great to be speaking to you during Level 1 in South Africa! How has 2021 been treating you so far?
The year started off very well, I was in East Africa for the first month or so. I spent a lot of time in Tanzania taking in the different environment and working with a few artists from that side as well. After that I took some time off to think about what I want to do for the next album and my career in general. By the time I came back to South Africa I was excited and refreshed and so hyped for people to hear what the next wave is going to be.
What’s it like when you visit Tanzania?
I spent a lot of my childhood in Tanzania, so it’s somewhere that feels like home to me. Our music is huge that side because so much of it is in Kiswahili. And yeah the people and the environment are great. I really love it there.
Do you deliberately like to start the year on a quiet note?
Well, every year me and my team go away to celebrate all the work we’ve put in in the year gone by and as we’ve gone on from strength to strength that has become kind of like our tradition. So yeah, it’s our thing.
Like we just touched on, level 1 is here and hopefully events/live performances will be back soon. Are you looking forward to getting back on stage?
To be honest with you, my plan for the next few months is to keep my head down. I released a project titled What a Life towards the end of 2020 and that was really for myself and my day 1 fans to just have something to enjoy while I go back to the studio and start working on my next project. So these next few months I won’t be on stage (that much) and I’ll try not to spend too much time in the limelight. I’ll be away from the noise and working on this next project.
How do you prepare to take a creative retreat like this and what’s the process of turning ideas into a body of work?
Well, actually it’s kind of new to me! Because this is the first time where I’ll be approaching a project where I’m not a “new” artist anymore. Or I’m not an upcoming artist anymore. Previously I had to do so many shows that music had to be squeezed in between that. Last year I signed a deal with Epic Records and now I have a lot of the platforms and resources I always worked towards and I also have [pauses] time! I have time to sit back and think about it and craft it, so it’s kind of new territory for me. I’m extremely blessed that at this stage of my career I can actually sit it out and think about what the next phase of my career is going to be.
It feels great to have grown and say I’m not a little girl anymore! We’ve been doing this for four years now and we’ve come a long way. It’s a great feeling for sure. But at the same time, there’s still so much of Sho Madjozi that people don’t know! As much as they’ve gotten to know me during this time, there’s still plenty about me, even beyond the music and delving into my other interests.
It’s incredible to reach this point and still seem so grounded. How has it not overawed you?
Well I’ve done a lot! I think an advantage that I have is that when my music career began, I was already very self-actualised. I had studied and graduated, I had travelled across the continent to many, many, many African countries – and that’s something I really want more black South Africans to get to do. I had also worked as a writer. I had done a lot and already knew myself quite really well as opposed to maybe starting out in the industry and trying to find myself. So I’m grateful for the way things worked out.
Another thing I admire is how well-spoken you are on key issues, from colourism to xenophobia, especially at times when musicians are becoming less and less political. How have you shaped your views?
I’ve always been a bit of an oddball if I can say that! Instead of “following” my own path, I created my own path and travelling and learning about myself has helped with that process. I’ve always wanted to know a lot of languages.
This is why I’m able to comment on certain (for example African) issues because I’ve been to the countries, I’ve seen it, I’ve studied it – I am speaking from a position of being informed and I try to stay away from speaking on things I am not informed about.
Everything you do, you tend to do it well – from creativity with your image to your love for sports like the NBA. What are some of your other interests and is it important for you to pursue ALL of them?
I’ve also always been inspired by hair. From a young age I always wanted to be creative and out there with the way that I style my hair and that’s obviously become something that people have now started to look up to me for!
As for sport, I’ve always been a big sports lover – I play basketball, I play soccer, and I think it’s just a love that carries through to other areas of my life and it’s visible in my music (I mean my debut album was called Limpopo Champions League, come on!).
More than anything though, I just like to show that you’re allowed to be multifaceted. You don’t have to be one thing, and only one thing – especially as a woman and a girl on this continent. You can make it work in the most unorthodox ways but still be killing it.
People are inspired by exactly these kinds of ideas. Is it a lot of pressure to have people look up to you or do you embrace it?
Well I am not
blind that my journey has inspired other women, girls and other people in
general. I will see what life has in store for me but if I can be known for two
things when my legacy is looked back on, it would be:
1. For girls and women to not need to feel like they have to be “pretty”, or desirable or ever feel the need to make themselves small. There is so much more that women can do and be than to just simply be attractive to men. And if that’s your lane, fine– but just like how men have so many options of what they can be outside of just being sexy, women should too.
2. Disproving this notion that Africa has never contributed intellectually or creatively to the world, and that we are instead just the home of raw materials. You can’t tell me that Africans have not contributed to mainstream fashion, beauty and art.
As today is International Women’s Day, do you have any closing thoughts for the women of Africa?
I met an amazing young woman Phumzile who owns a fresh produce delivery start-up called The Crop Box and I was so inspired. She got in touch with young urban farmers many of whom are women and created this service. Go out there get your hands dirty. WORK. Don’t sit back. Work. Speak up. Give your ideas a chance. Don’t let men steal your ideas and call them their own. As my favorite poet Koleka Putuma famously said “You owe your dreams your courage.”