Interview

The artwork for Kazi Ya Sanaa's debut EP 'Prephase'.

Interview: Kazi Ya Sanaa’s Debut EP ‘Prephase’ Is Rooted In Nostalgia & Honest Expression

The emerging South African duo Kazi Ya Sanaa blends vintage jazz and soul with relatable lyrics.

Kazi Ya Sanaa's subversion doesn't only lie in them favouring vintage genres, but also in their lyrics. Take for instance "Saturdays are the Worst" in which the emerging South African duo's vocalist sings, "People drink, they talk shit, think they better than everyone," in a song about the downside of going out.

But that was before the so-called new normal kicked in, and going out on a Saturday night was still an option. That's when Prephase, the duo's first release, started taking shape about a year ago. The two Kimberly-born artists Estelle "Moulan" Jacobs and Lebogang Kaziwa decided to join forces and form a duo after a few years of playing together.


Prephase combines carefree vocal performance and honest and relatable songwriting with varied production that references the blues ("Sacrifices"), soul ("Saturdays are the Worst", "There Goes My Heart") and jazz ("Someone I Knew").

Tying the project together is the theme of melancholy alongside the minimalist approach to creating music reminiscent of smoky jazz clubs and the cushioned sound of vinyl records.

Almost a month after the release of Prephase, OkayAfrica caught up with the duo's vocalist who spoke about the duo's inspiration, releasing music during the Covid-19 pandemic, their future plans and more.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


What does Kazi Ya Sanaa mean?

It's Swahili for "work of art". We're very creative people. Lebs is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays the flute and the guitar. And he knows basic stuff on others, but his main focus is flute and guitar. I used to play the trumpet when I was 14. And I am an illustrator and a singer.

Your music sounds vintage. Where does the inspiration come from?

Lebs and I are both old people in young bodies. We relate a lot to your Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, those old school artists. And we love jazz and funk. So, our influences are mostly on that side of the spectrum, and we try to make it our own. So we're trying to be like modern-day Miles and Bille.

Lebogang and Moulan walking in town. Lebogang and Moulan formed Kazi Ya Sanaa about a year ago. Image courtesy of artist.

The content of the EP is mostly melancholic.

The EP is about every aspect of our lives. It ranges from heartbreak to struggling with mental illness—depression and anxiety, and trying to find a way forward because it's really difficult when you're going through something that you don't understand. And now you have to live with it, you can't go back to your old self. You're a new and evolved person. "Saturdays are the Worst" [came about when] I was broke in my apartment, and I was alone a lot. And, when you go out, you just realize that people aren't really that dope. So you need to learn how to be with yourself and be in your own company. And "Somebody New," well, it's about getting dumped.

How do you incorporate his experiences into it?

So Lebs composes the music and I write the lyrics. He did write one song, "Somebody New," and I sang it. Me and Lebs are similar and compatible. Whatever I experience now, at a certain point he did. And the thing is our age difference is so big. He's 20 and I am 30.

You released your first project during a pandemic. How has that affected your roll out or just plans you had for the project?

The pandemic was a bummer. We had such big plans for us as Kazi Ya Sanaa. But one thing that I can say about the pandemic is that people want something to keep themselves entertained. They're realising now that artists are valuable, and we contribute to society. We have to find new ways of performing and getting our audience to know who we are as Kazi Ya Sanaa and not just listen to the music.

Artists are doing a lot of virtual shows, but they don't always make money. How do you guys work around that?

I know that money is a very big thing. We want to make money. But Kazi Ya Sanaa is still in its infant stage, and the focus at the moment is growing our following.

How do you feel about the response to the Prephase so far?

It is amazing. Me and Lebs were talking about it. The other day I was telling him, "Dude, I've never said thank you this much in one day." He's like, "Dude, I am exhausted." People are really enjoying it.

What are you currently doing now that you've put out the project?

We're working on more music for our album. And we're trying to get into funk now, but still maintaining the jazzy feel. And it's going to be dope.

Why funk particularly?

Because if I'm honest, I'm a big fan of this one band called Khruangbin. Their music always makes people dance. And that's what we're trying to do. We try to make upbeat stuff that makes you dance.

Stream Kazi Ya Sanaa's debut EP Prephase on Apple Music and Spotify.


Follow Kazi Ya Sanaa on Instagram.

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(Photo: Nichole Sobecki)

Kevin Mwachiro, journalist, queer activist, podcaster [Kenya]

"The reality of being queer is real. It is not a foreign thing. It is as Kenyan, as African as it may be, and it is ours. I remember I did an interview anonymously for the BBC back in 2006. And I told them, maybe within 50 years, I will see movement, it has happened so much faster. And not just in Kenya, but I've seen very many countries across Africa. And I am so, so happy that that is happening."

I was a church boy for a good part of my life. So, I was sometimes whore by night, Christian by day, if I can put it like that.

I had just come back from the UK where I did my masters and I knew I was not going to go back into the closet. I went to therapy and after going for over a year, I just got to accept myself for who I am. And I realized that I'm okay and I didn't want to come back and go back into the closet. I figure that closet stays in the U.K.

I was trying to find my space and a friend invited me to a group meeting. It was people talking about formalizing a movement or a way of coming together and it was fascinating. It just blew my mind. There were these people in the room and I'm like, "Fuck, these are all Kenyans." These are all Kenyans and I knew that I'd be fine.

And, along the way, being a journalist, I made sure that I would use the platform that I have to make sure that LGBTQI+ people are well represented. So I used to cover those stories shamelessly. People in the office wondered, 'Why is Kevin always doing the queer stories that no one wanted to touch?" I really didn't care. I figured I'm going to represent my people in the best way that I can.

But, Kenya is a lot more open now. It's amazing. I mean, it's fantastic to actually think that you can live a reasonable level of queerness here. Younger people are coming out, because it is possible. There are a lot more resources. There's a lot more support from what we had. There's a lot more, in some cases, visibility. There's community, there's a movement. There's, to some degree, health services. The internet has helped. There's visibility on TV and online.

But, we're not even out of the woods - far from it. But, there is light we're seeing. We've seen trans women being attacked, we've seen people being attacked in clubs. People being kicked out of their homes by landlords, there is still that. We've seen pushback in the arts. There was a movie called Rafiki which featured a lesbian couple - that got banned. And then we had Stories of Our Lives and that also got banned. I'm like, 'You motherfuckers!' They're silencing voices of not just queer people, but of talented Kenyans who want to see themselves represented in content created by Kenyans for Kenyans.

In 2011, there was a clinic in a town an hour away from me in a town called Mtwapa. Like a 'sexual productive' clinic that was targeting men who have sex with men, sex workers, etc. And they were very open about that. And then the community turned on them. Last year, I met one of the people who was at the forefront of this attack and they've made a total turnaround saying, "We acted on ignorance, these people are also a part of the community." These were Christian and Muslim faith leaders. And these same individuals are now engaging with other religious leaders to try and to ask them to be more accepting of the community so there is that. So for me, it's important that we recognize the good work that's been done, but also recognizing that we are far from out of the woods.

A key driver for me with my activism is to make sure that no one ever has to go through that feeling of loneliness as a queer person. No one has the right to go through that. No one. And I feel really sad when I hear of both the young and old killing themselves because of their sexuality. That shit should not be happening. That shit should not be happening anywhere in the world and should not be happening in Africa. I hope to work a lot more with young queer people, queer Africans, because I really want to show them and that it is possible to be black, African, and queer or just African.

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Kevin has recently been accepted into Amnesty International Kenya as their first openly gay board member. He has gone on to publish Invisible: Stories from Kenya's Queer Community, a collection of stories from Kenya's queer community, spoken at TEDx Programs and launced his own podcast Nipe Story (Tell me a Story).

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