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Muzi. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Muzi’s ‘Afrovision’ Album is the Soundtrack to "Real-Life Wakanda"

We talk to the South African producer about his latest record Afrovision, one of the best albums of the year so far.

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.

South African artist and producer Muzi released what is one of the best albums this year. Afrovision lives up to its name—the artist blends his electronic production with sounds from various parts of the continent, including afrobeat, Afro-pop, kwaito, hip-hop, house, among others.

The album features like-minded artists such as Una Rams, OkMalumKoolKat, Seaba, Black Rose, Langa Mavuso and Tiro.

After bubbling under for a few years, and scoring production credits on albums by South African hip-hop artists such as Patty Monroe, Riky Rick and Reason, among a few others, Muzi is slowly claiming his place in South Africa's exciting music scene.

The producer is a bubbly character, and his music represents him accurately, from his dress sense to what he's trying to achieve in his journey.

We caught up with Muzi to discuss Afrovision, his influences, his thoughts on South African music, working with OkMalumKoolKat and his history as a rapper, among other things.


You used to stay in Berlin. What were you doing there?

I went to learn. I wanted to learn more about electronic music and I wanted to see the scenes, and experience it from where they say it came from.

What did you come back with?

With ideas. I needed to be back home. The people I needed to inspire, I wasn't seeing. I felt, especially towards the end of the two years, very disconnected. Like, I'm tryna do black music, but I'm surrounded by white people.

And there's this prevalent perception that artists like yourself are celebrated more abroad than here at home. What do you make of that?

I think it's because of the way the market is set up. The market here is really genre-specific. It's either you're doing hip-hop or house—gqom being under house. So there's that, but there are always people who are always trying to find that cutting edge, new shit, that maybe in SA it's not the case. Here, the market seems to be a lot safer. They are trying to find what already works, instead of breaking new grounds.


Do you think artists could be doing more to change that?

Yeah. We could be. There's no tour circuit, that's like the first. Artists in South Africa get booked, but they don't really book themselves and do a whole tour. So maybe I do one show in Cape Town, another in Pretoria, also the small cities, and then you get your following that way and build your circuit. So artists could be doing that instead of crying, if promoters are not booking you, be your own promoter. Find ways to book out a venue, even if that means you just doing a house party and performing there.

With this project, you reference a lot of music from the continent. Not that you never did that with your previous work, but it's so blatant with this one. Was that something you'd always wanted to do, or you just stumbled upon it?

I've always wanted to do it, I just didn't know how to. And I was not confident enough to do it. I loved electronic music because I, as a producer, could just go out and perform. But in hip-hop, the producer is always at the back, and you give all your music to an artist, so they might not respect you. Going to Berlin, coming back immersing myself ekhaya, and going to Kenya, and doing all these things, reconnecting as I felt disconnected when I was abroad, I got confident enough to do the music I have always wanted to do, after growing up listening to Chicco Twala, Hugh Masekela, and all those artists.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

And the singing on some of the songs? Was that always a hidden talent you had?

My voice, it is an instrument vele. So that's what I was using it as. Sometimes the idea needs that level of expression. And at times I feel like I'm the only one who can pull it off, with regards to that song. It's all about me finding ways to express myself. Sometimes features can add on, and sometimes they can take away. So I decided to feature myself. One other reason is because I couldn't afford features. (Laughs)

So that means the way you made music changed, especially in terms of setup?

I've always had these little vocal things, even on Boom Shaka, but they weren't prominent. It was a fear thing. But now I've grown up. And some people say the music sound mature. Even though I still got a rebel in me, I'm not that rebellious kid I used to be anymore. I just wanna make music I can play for my mom, or play while driving or some shit. I was just trying to express myself, using all the influences I have to make an honest project.

Read: Future Africa Wants to Make Traditional Sounds Cool Again

And with the different types of sounds that you tap into in Afrovision, is there a specific sound that you were gunning for?

If you go through my phone, you'll find a lot of voice notes. The music comes to me. I don't even use keyboards or anything like that 'cause I feel like it fucks with the process. I hear the song in my head. The beat for "Sweet Chocolate," I heard it in my head. We were recording Una Rams' verses when Seaba started humming the chorus, and I'm like, 'yo, record.' So it's always natural. I've never sat and thought, 'I'm making afrobeat,' 'I'm making house.'


Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

Do you collect sounds, do you sample?

I do collect sounds. Just like recording random guitars emgwaqweni, whatever. I've made beats for a long time, what I do is I sample myself. So, say, I had a nice beat that had a really nice progression, but I couldn't express it fully then, so I take it and sample it. That's why some of the songs, have that oldie feel to it, because I have sampled an old beat of mine.

With a lot of artists who go to Europe or America, they always feel pressured by that environment and people to express their African-ness, did you ever feel any of that while in Berlin?

Yes. It felt like I was alone. My manager and I would count how many black people we'd see. So I felt like I had to represent, but it wasn't really pressure from Europeans; I didn't try to be as tribal as I could. It was just like a pressure of me representing my people, which translated into the music.

In terms of the response to the album, were you expecting it to be this positive?

I read a book, I read it like The Bible, it's called Ego is the Enemy. So I let go of things like that. I just make the dopest art I can, and then after that, I let it go. Gone are the days when I was still attached to my art after releasing it. You gotta allow people to receive it how ever way; some will love it, others won't. The reception has been super great, but I knew I had a dope project because I had put my heart and soul in it.

How do you pick the artists you collaborate it? Is it about whoever is accessible?

It's usually accessibility and relationships. I like working across, like if I know that you're a singer, I will be like, 'come through, let's hear,' it has to be organic to me, because that brings about a good song.


What are your thoughts on where South African music, especially black music, is at the moment?

House is doing great. There's anew wave of black artists that aren't scared to be themselves, the likes of Una Rams, Langa Mavuso, Espacio Dios, Jackie Queens, Da Capo, Culoe de Song, Black Coffee. There's a lot of artists expressing who they are in a modernized way, meaning that we are growing as a people, which is cool. Our music has always been dope, don't get it twisted.

I'm also a fan of hip-hop, and I wish that it was joining us on that. In 2014, it happened. Like, I was hearing a bit of kwaito, but it was modern, and then we went back to copying.

So when you started making beats, were you making hip-hop?

I started off as a rapper. My brother used to rap. At home, one of my brothers used to play hip-hop, another used to play R&B, my mother used to play gospel, and my daddy used to play electronic music, so I have always been influenced by all that. But hip-hop is where it started, because it was easier and less daunting compared to other genres—you can just get a mic, and be good in poetry, then take it from there. I started off rapping, but then realized I wasn't that good at it. I was in a group, Witness The Funk, so I let the other guy just be because he was really good at rapping.

You were part of WTF?

Yeah (laughs). I felt like Moshine had to rap and shine, and then I ended up leaving to do my thing.


Where did you record this album?

I recorded most of the songs in Durban. Some, in East London (Eastern Cape); I went to the Eastern Cape, I was trying to get away from the noise, to get away from the city. I rented a spot for like, two, three months. I would probably do it again. I understand why Kanye and them go to Wyoming and all that. You need to respect the time when making an album. If I make another album, I wouldn't do it while I'm touring or on the road, I will respect that process, and devote all my attention to it.

How long did it take to complete the album?

Approximately 15 months.

The title Afrovision is pretty dope, and it captures the music. How did you come up with it?

It was just trying to find words that explain what me and many other artists are trying to do—us telling our own stories, like, this is the vision we have for Africa, not the vision you keep telling us about. This is me adding my 2 cents to the whole landscape of really dope African acts. So I'm saying, 'this is the music that's coming out of Africa, I'm not the only one, hence there are features.'

And the artists featured on there, are for that vision.

Yeah, that's why the new wave is so exciting to me. It's less copious culture; it's more like real-life Wakanda vibes. I like saying that. (Laughs) Bu t Black Panther really brought that to the forefront.

When Black Panther came out, you were done with the album?

I was. So it was like, 'oh yeah, we all on the same vibe.' It's like a collective consciousness thing.

On the album, on the song "New Day," you worked with OkMalumKoolKat, who a lot of people have cancelled since his sexual harassment case. And every artist who works with him is seen as a rape apologist of some sort. What do you make of that?

[His case] is a very serious thing. It also exposed the toxic masculinity that we were brought up in. It's easy to point fingers, but at times we also have to look at our lives and ask, 'were we actually brought up like this?' Especially with hip-hop and the environment it brings. For him, though, because I've known him since his Dirty Paraffin days, not as a means to excuse him for what he did, but I think his apology was in actions. He wrote that letter, and it didn't go down well. But I think his apology was in his actions, and I had to respect that he wanted to do better. I respected him for that, instead of going back to whatever mindset he was in at that time. When I met him in Durban to talk about "New Day," he was doing a series of shows against women abuse. We chopped it up, and he wanted to do better. Even though it wasn't my place to forgive him, I had to respect him for that.

Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

What do you think of the culture of canceling people?

I think it's hypocritical. Because people on the Internet, they try to act perfect until they're caught for some shit. Obviously, people think different things, but everyone should be allowed the chance to grow. We all have our own bullshit. People who talk crap against cheating, for instance, you find that they themselves are cheating, but the public just doesn't know. Not to say that people shouldn't be accountable or responsible, but people learn differently, none of us are perfect, so I'm not gonna judge.

You are independent, but you also have a deal with Sony Music Entertainment Africa. Please explain that.

I'm still independent. The deal is just licensing and marketing. I have a team in the UK, a label called K7 that does my marketing and distribution there. And then for sub-Saharan Africa, I have Sony.

And then in terms of touring?

I have a booking agent in London called Earth Agency. I have an 8-stop UK tour this month.

What are you working on, moving forward?

I'm gonna drop another version of "Questions." It was actually the first version, it just didn't flow well with the album. I'm gonna drop that via Red Bull. And I'm working on season 2 of #MuziMondays. I also wanna do limited edition vinyl. And a bit of merchandise.

Follow Muzi on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and stream Afrovision below and/or download it here.



Interview
Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Watch South African R&B artist Elaine's music video for 'You're the One.'

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Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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