Sho Madjozi performs at Capsule festival in 2017. Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

In The Lab: Sho Madjozi on Poetry, Gqom, and Upcoming Album

We hang out with South African hip-hop sensation, Sho Madjozi in the lab.

This profile is part of OkayAfrica's ongoing series, THE WAV 2019, following the young artists shaping the future of the South Africa's music scene. You can read more profiles and interviews here.

Sho Madjozi is one of South Africa's most exciting artists at the moment. She has churned out hits like "Dumi HiPhone" and 'Huku," in which she blends hip-hop and gqom. She has collaborated with the likes of Wanlov The Kubolor, PH, Ms Cosmo, OkMalumKoolKat, and a few more.

She has captured the attention of South Africans with her style and personality. But more than anything, what sets her apart is how she managed to bring the Xitsonga language into the mainstream music scene, especially hip-hop.

Sho Madjozi with Classic Keys and T Boy Da Flame. Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

There's more to Sho Madjozi than catchy rhymes over gqom beats, though. She is currently working on her debut album, which will showcase more of her abilities and tastes.

"People are gonna get to know me a lot more," says the artist as she prepares to record a single at her home studio in Johannesburg. "I'll be more full in my sound. [It will be] an album that showcases what's going on in my world—I don't only listen to gqom; it's not the only influence I have. There's xibelani, Xitsonga music, Shangaan electro, xingondo—which is the Venda and Zimbabwean music… those influences. So I wanna get more live instruments, those traditional guitars and stuff.

"I've started working on the album, but I will go full out on it around June/July, and hopefully have it out in September or October."

Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

Today, though, she is recording a single with two young producers, Classic Keys and T Boy Da Flame, who are third-year medicine students at the University of Witwatersrand. The duo has been thriving in the parody scene. Their parody of a parliament incident in which former South African president Jacob Zuma was referred to as "uBaba kaDuduzani," went viral. They turned those clips from parliament into a viral gqom hit that is currently sitting at 1,3 million views.

"They hollered at me on Instagram," says Sho Madjozi. "I'm getting beats now because 'Dumi HiPhone' went viral," she says.

Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

After a few takes in the booth, she feels the song they're working on today needs more of a knock. The duo modify the beat on the spot until both parties feel it's headed in the right direction. She's also struggling with vocals as last night was her birthday party, and her voice is failing her.

A framed cover of #Trending, the City Press' arts and culture section sits comfortably in Sho Madjozi's studio. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Sho Madjozi may be making a lot of gqom-oriented hits now, but only a few know she started out as a poet. Just a few years ago, performing under the name Maya The Poet, she was a completely different artist.

"I recently got a booking request to perform in a poetry festival in Argentina," she says. "It's tricky because the Sho Madjozi thing is more consuming, I don't have a lot of time to work on other things."

In the booth. Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

I ask her if we will see a return of Maya The Poet on her upcoming album. She doesn't give a straight answer, but from her response, it's highly unlikely.

"I got a bit tired of the poetry scene," she says. "It can be a bit insular and elitist, because when I was doing poetry, none of my cousins in the village knew what I was talking about.

"And, [as a poet,] you can be very outspoken, but a lot of the time, you are talking to people who already agree with you—you are in a room full of people who already hold the same view. When you talk about patriarchy, women abuse… just all sorts of social ills, generally anyone who goes to a poetry session is not your target audience, these are already woke people. So now, how do I reach the people that I believe I was always trying to reach as a poet?"

Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

Poetry is cool, but me and thousands of fans are glad she left it behind. And clearly so is she. "The Sho Madjozi thing has gotten such a strong reaction from people, in such a way that it's overwhelming," she says on her latest alter ego. "It touched a nerve, and I'm still trying to figure out the extent of it. People are dedicated to this movement, partly the language thing."

She might be a thriving as a rapper now, but she didn't see herself becoming a rapper starting out.

"I don't have the same lifestyle as all the rappers I saw at that time," she says. "And as a woman, it seemed there were only two ways to be a rapper. You either have to be really really sexy or be masculine, and I'm neither. I'm not into rap culture that much, I prefer xibelani as far as parties go. I've only recently gotten into club culture, because they never used to allow me to wear sneakers. But now they do, because I'm famous. So now I can go to a club."

She chuckles after the last sentence, and it's time to go back into the booth.

Follow Sho Madjozi on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and check out some of her tunes below:

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.

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How CKay's 'Love Nwantiti' Became the World's Song

Nigerian singer and producer CKay talks to OkayAfrica about the rise of his international chart-topping single "Love Nwantiti," his genre-defying sound and the reasons behind this era of afrobeats dominance.