Photo courtesy of Universal Studios.

In Conversation: Mafikizolo Speaks on a Legacy of Creating Unforgettable African Anthems

The South African duo talks about their big break, their smash hits, and what the next decade looks like.

Mafikizolo is the iconic South African duo comprising Nhlanhla Ncize and Theo Kgosinkwe. After bursting onto the scene back in the late 90s under the tutelage of veteran artist and record producer Oskido, the Afro-pop duo has given South Africans (and Africans) unforgettable anthems over the past two decades. It's indisputable that their wildly successful 2003 hit "Emlanjeni" set the standard for African love songs while their 2007 hit "Ndihamba Nawe" has become a staple at almost every wedding celebration across the continent.

With nine studio albums under their belt, and another album set to be released next year, the duo continues to produce hit records with an ever-evolving sound. For them, it's about creating a lasting musical legacy that will remain relevant and endearing long after they've left the music scene. Their collaborations with equally incredible artists including Tresor, DJ Maphorisa and Davido (to name but a few), are a testament to that legacy.

However, the duo admits that it wasn't an easy journey. It took three albums for them to start becoming a household name in South Africa and even that was almost cut short after they were involved in a horrific road accident in the early 2000s.

Following a string of awards, like the South African Music Awards (SAMAs) and MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs), to name a few, Mafikizolo have their sights set on even bigger musical feats for the coming decade. We sat down with them at Universal Studios to talk about their careers first as individual artists and hen as a duo, their musical journey thus far and what they still have in store for their fans.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did Mafizikolo first come together?

Theo: Both Nhlanhla and myself are from the same township. I think a love and interest for music is what brought us together after we met at a township concert. She was always traveling with the parents who were her managers. I approached her one day, and I said, "Look, I saw you doing your own thing and performing. Come join our crew. We can do this so let's start something together."

Our record CEO then said to us, "How about I put another guy, maybe in the middle and then you become Mafikizolo?" That's how we started out. They introduced Tebogo to us and that's when we started recording together.

Why did you decide to continue as a duo after your third member Tebogo Madingoane passed away?

Nhlanhla: In the early years of Mafikizolo, we struggled very hard. Then, when the doors were opening for us and success was coming, we lost a member. It was very difficult for us because we struggled together and now that we were achieving, one of us was gone. It was quite a difficult decision to make, but we felt like we didn't want to replace him. I think even the record label felt the same; we all took the unanimous decision that weren't replacing Tebogo. I think his legacy is living through us. I feel like if there was another member, it would have erased his legacy.

Your 1997 track "Lotto" became a national sensation but you reportedly weren't fans of the song. Why?

Nhlanhla: I wasn't. I think for me, at the time I felt like, "Why are we singing this one line throughout the song?" It didn't make sense to me. I felt like we are so much more than just one line, it just didn't make sense for me. I love singing and I love beautiful melodies, and I felt like there were better songs in the album, like "Majika" for instance.

Theo: I was a fan of it because I love the African sound. For me it wasn't about the lyrics because I think the lottery system was just starting in South Africa and we were all excited about it. As someone who writes and listens to music, I was very excited about it despite the lyrics. I liked the beat, the drums, the melody and the chants on that song.

MAFIKIZOLO - Lotto www.youtube.com

When would you say Mafikizolo officially broke into the music industry?

Theo: It's a spiritual thing and a spiritual moment that led us to our success. We just came back from a performance and I think at that time, we were very busy and very excited.

Nhlanhla: We were young. We were having fun.

Theo: We were young, we were having fun, we were all over the place. I guess somehow God said, "Stop."

Nhlanhla: You need to calm down.

Theo: We were driving on our way to another show and we got into a huge accident that almost took our lives. The car rolled over and they had to use the jaws of life to remove certain members from the car. Immediately after the accident, we kept on visiting each other. Sometimes it was a struggle, sometimes I would go see her with my neck in a brace.

But on this one day, God gave me a song and I sang it to a friend. And then we performed it for Nhlanhla because she's the one who authorizes the songs. So when we finally got to the studio, our producers gave us the freedom for the first time to compose music for ourselves. That freedom led to the success. That's why we named the album Sibongile meaning "God, we are grateful for what you have done for us."

I realized that on that particular album, Sibongile, we changed our image as well because we had struggled with that for some time.

In 2003, you come up with "Emlanjeni". Did the success of that song surprise you?

Nhlanhla: The song picked up so nicely. It almost didn't and we were shocked. We were surprised. But to date, the surprise is that it's still one of the biggest songs. You know, it's actually the song that won the Metro FM "Song of the Decade." It competed with so many other amazing songs and won, which was just amazing. It did take us all by surprise though.

Emlanjeni Mafikizolo (Meet Me At the River) www.youtube.com

There have been many South African bands: Boom Shaka, TKZee, Trompies and Malika. What do you think has been the major key to your longevity as Mafikizolo?

Nhlanhla: I would definitely say, first of all, like you said, we struggled for so many years, that at times we thought of doing something else outside of music. Our parents were like, "We can't afford to support you anymore". During that time, we had the opportunity of traveling with other bands and other artists. So in a way, we got to see how the industry works and we got to learn from other artists: their successes, the mistakes they made. During those years we saw people becoming big superstars and people falling through those years as well.

So I feel like God was preparing us for something big, but he wanted us to learn and to respect the craft first. We learned to respect the industry. We learned to respect each other also.

"We learned that it's important if you're in a band to respect each other because egos don't work at all."

We've seen bands breaking up even back then because of egos. Also what kept us going was the belief that our producers had, especially Oskido. He always said, "Maybe it's not your time now, but your time is going to come."

In 2013, you release "Khona". There was something very distinctive sound-wise about that song. Would you say it was intentional or would you say it was just a natural evolution for Mafikizolo?

Nhlanhla: Everything that we do is not always planned. Some of the things happened whilst we were in studio and were just like, "Oh let's do this". What I can tell you and what people don't know is that we've actually always loved the West African sound.

One night, we were like, "Let's listen to what we've done so far." The songs were very good. But you know when you kind of feel that you don't have that song but you don't want to admit it because you don't want to bring people's spirits down? Our producer then pressed a song by mistake and we were like, "Go back to that song." We listened to this song and were blown away. We recorded the song and little did we know that the song was going to become an African anthem.

Official MAFIKIZOLO ft Uhuru KHONA www.youtube.com

What would you say has been your best work thus far?

Theo: I think I'll still go back to Sibongile because it was one of our best albums and a classic album. No album can replace that album; even today it's years and years afterwards and we get so humbled that people are still dancing to "Ndihamba Nawe". People in Australia are even dancing to "Ndihamba Nawe", whether they're getting married or whether they're doing any kind of celebration really. It's a classic song. It's a forever song. Yes, "Emlanjeni" is big, "Khona" is big, but I always say our best work will always be "Ndihamba Nawe".

Nhlanhla: I think for me, I would say "Ngeke Balunge", our current single, simply because we've both, in our personal capacities been through so much. We've also been through so much together as a band, and I feel like it really does take a special person to still be here and still be standing. Through life's hardships, and the obstacles and challenges of everyday life and everything that we've been through, I feel like this song speaks about that because it's a victorious song. It really speaks about the wins and the challenges, but at the end of the day, it says you are victorious.

Ndihamba Nawe www.youtube.com

What would you say the next 10 to 20 years look like for you?

Theo: We love music and it's difficult to leave music. Even if we retire from our music, I will probably do something around music, I just don't know what. The reality is that there will come a time where we will say, "We've done everything now, let's produce other artists. Let's open doors for other artists as well."

It's always nice to retire on that high note and do our final shows like Mafikizolo doing an African tour. There are other things that are involved as you grow up. You've got kids, you've got a family, you've got other things that you now need to take care of, and you'll continue to celebrate music and your legacy in a good way.

Nhlanhla: The most important thing for us has always been helping and developing young people of our country, so we will be continuing to play that role and helping in the way that we can. It's about just making sure that we give them the chance or the platform that we were given and support them and their dreams just as much as ours were supported.

Photo Credit: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Image

5 Artists We Discovered at Frieze New York

From Ludovitch Nkoth to Cassi Nomandi, here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

The best way to start Summer in New York City is with Frieze New York.

Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary in New York, with a legacy partner Deutsche Bank, the three day art extravaganza brings artists, collectors, and cultural purveyors from all over the world to Midtown Manhattan at the Shed to enjoy the various mediums of art on display.

We took some time to uncover the fair, noticing the artists with rich cultures and poignant narratives that drove a resonating message for the audience.

Here are five amazing artists we took note of at the 2021 Frieze New York festival.

1) Ludovitch Nkoth

Young and talented, Nkoth, 28, is a trailblazer with the eyes of an old soul. His work was carefully placed next to Cassi Nomandi, bringing forth rich textures and deep colors ranging from reds, blues, and yellows. Originally from Cameroon, Nkoth is inspired by his immigrant experience, using his wand to paint pictures of the black immigrants crossing overseas in the water pulling inspiration from family history, tradition, and the legacy of colonialism. Success is here for the young artist with most of his work sold out and exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

2) Luiz Roque

Paying tribute to marginalized cultures, Luiz Roque’s film, S, was an outlier at the fair. A film encapsulated in a dim lit room at the corner of the walkway, it created a mysterious darkness that resonated with a few viewers, though many were jaunted by the artist’s rawness of sexuality and queerness. The film kept us curious on what the voguing and vivid imagery meant to Roque. The artist’s 20 year tenure is an exploration of race, class, politics, ecology, modernism, and science fiction.

3) Cassi Nomandi

Originally from Mozambique, Cassi Nomandi, 34, is a woman with a sharp vision yet subtle hands. With her work, she creates a trance of raw emotion and pleasure. Nomandi studied Cinematography at the Academy of Art University San Francisco. She exhibited her first show in 2017 which put her on the map. In 2020, Cassi was commissioned by Vogue Italia to create the cover art for the magazine’s January 2020 Issue, fusing her love for fashion, photography, film, and cultural anthology.

4) Sydney Cain

San Francisco native Sydney Cain, 31, is a mythical being with over a decade of experience creating and expressing herself through art. We spoke with Sydney briefly to learn how it feels to show at a big fair such as Frieze. “It’s exciting to share work in the east coast being from the Bay Area. I want the work to resonate across the diaspora,” Cain said.

Cain drew on her bloodline and ancestry tapping into the things unseen leaning from lightness to darkness, erasing, subtracting, shifting dust away to define clarity for what she wants to convey in her art. Her energy, while drawing her pieces comes from her courageousness to dive into beings of mortality, expressing things that are stuck here in America, spirits that have our back. She is set to start at Yale studying her MFA this fall.

5) Barbara Wagner

Walking into the fair is the beautiful photo compilation by Wagner, hailing from Brazil. The installation catches your eye because of the humans in the shot, real and authentic, Wagner does a great job of bringing the essence of brazillian culture into the person cast. The installation, In Search of Fifth Element, was a show stopper and gave viewers a real glance at the real people of brazil.

Photo Credit: Netflix

The Stars of 'Blood Sisters' Talk About Becoming Netflix's Biggest Hit

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about shooting Blood Sisters, acting in Nollywood, what's next, and more.

Earlier this month, Netflix's "first original series" from Nigeria was released. The limited series, Blood Sisters directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, follows two friends, Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), as they go on the run after the death of Sarah's fiance, Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon).

The show explores familial dysfunction, murder, the meaning of sisterhood, and how valuable friendships can be, with its central premise around domestic violence, a theme known to many.

Since its release, the four-part crime thriller has received praises, with Variety calling its first episode "explosive" and "hard-pressed to walk away." After its first week of release, the limited series sat at number nine on the list of most-watched TV shows globally, with over 11,070,000 hours of viewing, making it a first for Nigeria. This comes after Netflix’s first Nollywood film of the year —Chief Daddy — faced harsh criticisms from viewers and critics alike.

The success of Blood Sisters shows that cinematography isn’t the only selling point of Nollywood. And for Nollywood content to thrive on Netflix, there should be an investment in all areas, from the storytelling down to the marketing.

For Ini Dima-Okojie starring alongside some of Nollywood's big names — like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, and Uche Jombo — was surreal because these are the people she watched growing up. "But when it came to filming, it didn't matter if you've been in the industry for just four years or 30 years," Dima-Okojie said. "All that mattered was everyone was ready to work."

Like Dima-Okojie, Nancy Isime also loved acting alongside them, even though it wasn't her first time working with some of them. "I was there for work and understood that it was bigger than just being Nancy Isime. It was me at work."

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about what it was like behind the scenes, acting in Nollywood, what's next for them, and more.

Blood Sisters | Trailer | Netflix

What's one thing you learned while shooting this series?

Ini Dima-Okojie: One thing I learned for sure is that Nigeria is ready to tell its authentic stories to a global audience. We're not just prepared; we're capable of standing behind any industry. I could feel that from being on set, with the professionalism I encountered. I also learned that it is good to be kind, deliberate, and mindful of what people are going through because what we do has an impact.

Nancy Isime: For me, I learned it's possible to have good production in Nigeria. I've been blessed to be in a couple, and this was one of them. And it's a highlight so far. I also learned about the characters.

Nancy Isime,

Photo Credit: Nancy Isime,

What was it like playing your roles, and how did you get it?

Dima-Okojie: When I got the audition file for Sarah, I went on my knees and told God, "I want this." You can tell from the size alone, and I think that has happened to me only three times in my career because it doesn't often happen as an actor. A week or two after I sent in my audition tape, I got an email telling me to send another tape, but this time, it was for a different character, Timeyin. Altogether, I auditioned for Kemi, Sarah, and Timeyin.

I was so excited playing Sarah. I felt so lucky because, at the end of the day, an actor is only as good as the opportunities they are given. So playing Sarah had me go deep into the character, asking questions and putting myself into her shoes.

Isime: It was wonderful playing my role. I had gotten an email asking to read for Sarah, not for Kemi. So I made my tape and sent it in. Then, I was called in for a private audition and read through with everybody. However, I was called back and was told that Netflix wanted me to play Kemi, and I was like, "What is a Kemi?" Because I never read for her. So I was reluctant to accept because I didn't know who the character was and if she'd have the opportunity to show her acting range. But I took it, and when I read the script, I was like, "Yes, Kemi. Yes, baby, let's do this."

What was your favorite scene to film?

Dima-Okojie: My favorite scene? That's hard. I had so many unforgettable moments. However, I think one monumental period I'd like to pick on is probably when Sarah stood up to her abuser Kola and told him, "No!" because that was very big. She barely speaks up and is so used to being bullied, whether for good or bad, even in her beautiful friendship with Kemi, where she's always being told what to do. But in that scene, she had found the strength and was finally able to speak up, even though she knew what his reaction was going to be.

She spoke up for herself at that moment, and I think it was a huge moment for Sarah. It was a huge moment for people who may have experienced [domestic violence] because if there's one thing I realized from research, it didn't matter where people who are susceptible to abuse are from. Whether they were black or white, old or young, it was a triumph for Sarah and everyone going through any form of abuse.

Isime: I loved every single scene of playing Kemi because, as you noticed, there's no scene she's in that is a usual scene. In fact, no scene in Blood Sisters could have been done away with if you noticed because every scene is putting you on edge the entire time. Coming to set every day, I was like, "we're h-a-p-p-y," because yes, I was happy.

Ini Dima-Okojie wearing white sneakers

Photo Credit: Ini Dima-Okojie

What was the most challenging scene?

Dima-Okojie: For the challenging scene, I'll like to break it into physical and emotional parts. It was very physically challenging for Sarah. From when they decided to go on the run, physically, we were in Makoko, running all over the community, jumping from canoe to canoe. We also went to Epe, where we were barefooted. It was grueling as an actor and a character because this wasn't a fit character. Emotionally, I had to understand everything that Sarah was going through. I had to chip away from who I am as Ini to connect with what she was going through, which can be draining. But thank God I was surrounded by amazing people and directors who eased the process and were there to pick me up anytime I was down.

The series is a global hit on Netflix; how does that make you feel?

Dima-Okojie: Honestly, it's surreal. It makes me emotional half the time because, as a performer, all you want is for people to watch your work and for it to resonate. Being an actor, people see the glitz and the glam, but it's a lot of work. You chip away part of yourself to give a character life, but it's worth it.

Isime: Floating. Floating in a bubble, floating in gratitude. It feels so good. Imagine having 11 million hours of watch time in five days? It's no easy feat. I don't think any African show has been able to do that. So for that to come from Nigeria, and for me to be lead? I don't think I'll ever come down from this high that I'm on.

You are both a part of a new generation of Nollywood actors doing amazing if I say so myself. What is that like?

Dima-Okojie: Generally, I think being an actor in the world today is incredible. Nollywood has gone through much because we were in a time where we didn't have financing and institutionally there's no backing. So being able to be in a world today where everything is global, and I can do something here in Lagos, while people from Japan, Belgium, and Qatar, are sending texts telling me they watched me and loved it, I don't think there's a better time to act than now. It's a fantastic time to be a Nigerian actor.

Isime: It feels good to be recognized for something I'm passionate about and love. I feel blessed because Nollywood is bigger than I am. It goes beyond ego and wanting to be the best because we're all part of something way bigger than us. And I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this industry, leave my prints in the sand of time, and say that yes, there was a time I was not just a Nollywood actor, but every single person can confirm. I mean, it's one thing to say you're an actor, and people start asking, "which film you act?" "this one too na actress?" but you can't say that when it comes to me. And it also feels good to be recognized by the AMVCA, which is a huge organization.


Photo Credit: Netflix

Now, let's go behind the scenes: did anything funny, sad, or surprising happen while filming?

Dima-Okojie: There were so many exciting moments, not necessarily sad moments. We filmed for over two months at the height of COVID-19, so you can imagine all the craziness that must have happened.

I remember while filming the dinner scene after we had our COVID-19 test, they told us a cast member had the virus, causing us to reschedule. Another moment was when Ramsey Nouah brought a crocodile for us to eat while filming in Epe, and it was delicious. I honestly had lots of happy moments.

Isime: I feel like all these emotions happen naturally because I was happy every day I was on set. But something interesting that happened was the fact that Ini and I got so into the characters that we took it just beyond acting. We felt every emotion that the characters went through. We had one crying scene together, and I promise you that they cleared the room for us because we had to cry to get it out for a while. Because in reality, when something happens to you and you cry, you don't just cry for a bit. You have to let it out, and that was us. We were Kemi and Sarah and needed time to grieve. To let it out. It was an interesting event, and I had so many times I was tired, mentally and physically.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Dima-Okojie: There are so many exciting things in the works. First of all, I am getting married. Immediately after that, in June, I am going right back to set for the second season of Smart Money Woman. There are a couple more projects in the work that I'm not allowed to speak about yet, but there are exciting times ahead.

Isime: I love that question, and I also don't love that question because I don't know what's next. I'm just living my purpose, taking one day at a time, and grateful for every part of my journey. If you had told me five years ago that I'd be here, I would say it's a lie because I was probably sure that I knew where I was going. So what's next for me is a beautiful life, more projects, and more fantastic performances.

My show, The Nancy Isime Show, is also doing very well and happens to be one of the most-watched talk shows in the country, so I'm hoping that expands better. I'm also hoping to bring about a few more creations to life.


The 4 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Mavin Records, L.A.X, Moonchild Sanelly, Nissi, Major League and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

Keep reading... Show less
Arts + Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Timi Nathus Is Making Digital Art Mainstream

The Nigerian artist NAZQUIAT is on a mission to make his futuristic collection of NFTs the norm in his home country.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian multidisciplinary digital artist, Timi Nathus aka NAZQUIAT. Nathus's shares his #Afrotroves NFT collection with us, and explains it as "Each NFT was made from sacred artifacts that were previously stolen and haven't set foot in Africa hundreds of years". Nathus and a cohort of digital artists are reclaiming the images and stories that were stolen, and instead using them to empower and inform his own communities. By breaking the mold of traditional art and storytelling, Nathus's decision to establish this collection as a series of NFTS is shifting the power struggle and encourages the celebrations of the old and new.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox


Rwanda's Salima Mukansanga Sets Historic Sights On FIFA World Cup 2022

The Rwandan official has been named as one of the first female referees in history to officiate at the men's FIFA World Cup.

It’s A New Dawn for Young Jonn

Young Jonn tells us why he switched to singing, dishes on his relationship with Olamide and provides all the details about his debut project Love Is Not Enough.

BOJ Gets Personal with ‘Gbagada Express’

The singer reflects on lockdown, Alte culture, and his present state of mind in this new interview.

Spotlight: Mozambican Lizette Chirrime On Stumbling Into Artistry

Chirrime's latest exhibition, Rituals for Soul Search embodies the artist's desire to bring audience members closer to nature, the Universe, and their souls.


Mmuso Maxwell Designers on Winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation

We met up with Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, the duo behind South African brand Mmuso Maxwell. We spoke about their upbringing, winning the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation, and more.