Photo: Trevor Stuurman.

Msaki's New Album Is a Bold, Complex Conversation Between Protest & Love

Msaki didn't set out to create a double album for her sophomore release. But in manifesting the ambitious project, the South African singer shares so much more of the courageous way she sees the world.

One afternoon earlier this year, Msaki found herself in an Uber in Cape Town, with anxiety mounting in her chest. She'd just seen her friend and producer Neo Muyanga off at the airport, after a long session of working on songs for her next album — a protest album. They were taking a break after spending a week getting deeper into the string arrangements for the new songs; a week of going deeper into the emotions brought up by writing about gender-based violence and racial inequality in South Africa.

"I'd been consumed by a stream of acidic songs, spinning out of a haze of confusion and anger, processing the heartbreak of realising there had never been a rainbow," she says. "Nor was it safe to be black or poor or a woman here [in this country]."

The track "Born in a Taxi" happened to come over the radio — a track Muyanga had written with his Malawian-born Blk Sonshine bandmate, Masauko Chipembere, some 20 years ago. In that moment, Msaki heard it for what it was: "a love song, an attempt to stay supple." It was the start of her heart cracking open, the beginning of what would become the second part of her sophomore album — the love songs part.

When Msaki later figured out "Born in a Taxi" on the guitar and sang it, she gave herself permission to feel more than what she'd been feeling before. "I wasn't expecting for a song that [Neo] wrote when he was 19 to be the one that opened me up to remember there is a softness in all this, we can still find some kind of gentleness," she tells OkayAfrica over Zoom from Johannesburg. "That's the main thing, fighting so that the heart doesn't become completely numb and sink to the bottom of the ocean. We still need to be able to feel, even though we're disillusioned sometimes, disappointed sometimes, and that song miraculously turned me around."

Keep reading...Show less

Interview: Exploring Msaki's Genre-Defying Voice

We talk to Msaki about her recent singles—"Blood Guns and Revolutions" and "Marry Me" with Black Motion—as well as her upcoming album, PLATINUMB HEART: Of Love and Protest.

Asanda Mvana, better known as Msaki, remembers trying out for the school choir twice and not quite fitting in. The first time she was in Grade Four. "I remember getting a fright from the size of my voice," she tells OkayAfrica, over the phone from East London. "I have a low speaking voice and I had a big alto for such a little girl. And my voice coming out of my body gave me a bit of a shock. It was just out of place because everybody was singing like sweet little birds."

She tried again in Grade 8. But still, nobody could figure out where to place her. "They put me in alto, then they moved me to descant," she says. "I had a chest voice that was quite soft, and I had a falsetto, and I had this other big voice that would just come out. And nobody really knew what to do with all those textures."

It's these very textures that helped turn Mvana into Msaki, the artist we know and love today. Textures that have allowed her to play in between the worlds of dance music and folk songs, between improvisation and composition, between the spaces of pain and gratitude. It's what allows for the layers in her songs, from the fervent urgency of "Blood, Guns and Revolutions" to the buttery thrill of "Marry Me," her most recent collaboration with Black Motion. And it's what will go into her forthcoming album, PLATINUMB HEART: Of Love and Protest, due for release early next year.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox


These are 2019’s Most Shazamed South African Songs

"Fetch Your Life" by Prince Kaybee and Msaki was the most Shazamed song of 2019 in South Africa.

Watch Prince Kaybee and Msaki’s Motivational Music Video For ‘Fetch Your Life’

The visuals for Prince Kaybee and Msaki's collaboration are here.


#katarasessions Is The NPR Tiny Desk Concert Of South Africa

If you've always wanted to see South African musicians performing stripped-down and personal shows, we got you.