Interview
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."

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