Afrofuturism à la Sho Madjozi
SHE’S THE RISING STAR OF SOUTH AFRICAN HIP-HOP.
Rapper Sho Madjozi, the pseudonym of South Africa poet and writer Maya Wegerif, was conceived in the studio: the love child of her formal literary training in America and her African roots.
She'd originally planned to audition as a ghostwriter for Okmalumkoolkat, a South African rapper, but was instead asked to get behind the mic. The rest is history, and Sho Madjozi is beloved for her rhymes probing race, culture and politics, and her bubbly style – bright neon and pastels from braid-beads to lipstick and sneakers, what she calls her own personal expression of Afrofuturism.
Her big international break came in December 2018 when she took the same stage as Beyoncé & Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Pharrell Williams at the Global Citizen Festival, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday.
Maya has cultivated a wide fan base touring across the African continent. She has also lived in Senegal and Tanzania, speaks French, Swahili and English fluently, and raps about abolishing borders and visa fees: “I want to wake up in Kampala, go to sleep in Mombasa, bust that ass in Kinshasa, catch a bus to Lusaka.”
She is the daughter of a black mother and a white father, born in South Africa's northern Limpopo province in 1992, as negotiations on reforms to end apartheid raged. Navigating racial politics and identity quickly came to shape Maya's childhood.
She is half-Tsonga, an ethnic minority known in South Africa for its misconstrued tribal traditions. Spread across northern South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the Tsonga comprises various tribal identities, leading some to lament the loss of their distinct cultural narratives in the course of colonial history.
So even in an overwhelmingly black community, Maya was always the Tsonga girl. Kids called her albino for her light bi-racial skin.
Being Tsonga has become the centerpiece of Maya’s art, the antithesis of the "many Tsonga people who hide the fact that they're Tsonga," she says.
She proudly raps in her native tongue and dons a modern, swaggy version of the xibelani skirt in many of her music videos: A colorful, layered dress that accentuates the hips during the shimmy and bounce of Tsonga dance. In March 2018, Madjozi released a trailer for “The History of Xibelani,” a documentary she directed addressing stereotypes about Tsonga people and their traditional dress.
"How would we live today, if we wasn't so fucked over?"
"I often just look at my grandmother's clothes, I look at my mom's clothes, and I just could never understand why people aren't wearing this on the regular," she says.
Celebrating the Tsonga language and dress, and global black culture with her braids – which regularly change in their styling but always maintain Maya’s personal take on Fulani braids – is a self-exploration of what it means to be African today, she says.
"Where were we before white people arrived?" she asks. "What would we sound like today, how would we live today, how would we do our hair today, if we wasn't so fucked over?"
In her music video for "Dumi Hi Phone," cultural pride meets modern turn up and female empowerment – underscored by electric pinks, rose-colored lighting and voguing groupies.
Maya’s unapologetic passion for her culture catapulted her into the spotlight after just a few short years.
"I think a lot of Jo-burg guys are so focused on the appearance rather than the content of stuff," she says. "I'm trying to be a kind of revolutionary that's also honest to ourselves."
Discover more South African female rappers in the playlist below.