Thandiswa Mazwai

Musician - Johannesburg
Thandiswa Mazwai


Thandiswa Mazwai is hot news in South Africa and beyond. Striking and sassy, her career came to the national limelight around 1996. The immensely popular singer shot to fame as the hip member of the equally popular Bongo Maffin. This was one of South Africa’s hardest Kwaito bands.

Thandiswa Nyameka Mazwai is a South African musician, and is also the lead vocalist and songwriter of Bongo Maffin. She is also known as King Tha. In 2004, her first solo project Zabalaza album attained double platinum status and her album also got nominated for Planet Awards on BBC Radio 3.

Today, Thandiswa ranks among the most influential female musicians on the nation’s scene with a huge Instagram following. Her lyrical compositions include Kwaito, Mbaqanga, traditional Xhosa rhythms, reggae, funk, and jazz. Mazwai straddles the rural and urban, effortlessly blending the modern with the traditional.

Born in 1976 in Eastern Cape, Thandiswa Mazwai grew up in Soweto, Johannesburg. 1976 was also the year that witnessed the Soweto Uprising, and she grew up amidst the heavy apartheid-related township violence seen in South Africa in the 1980s. Her parents were both anti-apartheid political activists and journalists. She recollects that their home was packed with articles, books, and full of political discussions. This was the environment that nurtured the young girl’s perspective as an artist. The future star attended Wits University, studying International Relations and English literature. She claims that her inspiration came from her mother, who passed away when Thandiswa Mazwai was only 15 years old. Other inspirations come from the works of people like Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, and Chinua Achebe.

The first attempt by this budding musician to get noticed was at the Shell Road Fame to Talent Show. She didn’t, sadly, even make it far as she failed to reach the semi-finals round. She, however, did catch the eye of Don Laka, musician, and producer who arranged to have her included in one of his ongoing projects. After studying for a B.A. degree in international relations and English, she put all her school and church choir experience to great use making her professional singing debut at the Market Theatre in 1993 in a production called SA Love.

Thandiswa Mazwai songs are many and varied. Her musical compositions are often deeply political, and they include Mbaqanga, reggae, traditional rhythms, Kwaito, and funk as well as jazz sounds. For example, in 2009 she released an amazing Thandiswa Mazwai ibokwe album which featured songs like Thongo I am ( Iyeza ) and Ngimkhinzile.

Together with Themba Smuts and Kimon Webster, she was a member of the Jack-Knife band. The trio is widely regarded as the Kwaito movement pioneers, and some of their songs such as "Chommie" and "Fester" were huge club hits. The group went on to become one of South Africa’s most successful Kwaito groups.

She began her professional career with Bongo Maffin in 1998. This is counted among the pioneering Kwaito bands in South Africa. The band was widely recognized as the conscious voice for the youth in South Africa. Their compositions combined thought-provoking lyrics with dance floor favorites. They got invited to perform in various cities across the globe, sharing the stage with notable musical icons such as Marley Clan, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sean Paul, Skunk Anansie, Steel Pulse, among others. The Bongo Maffin contribution to South Africa’s musical collection earned them numerous awards. These include South African Music Awards, the Metro FM Music Awards, and the Kora All Africa Music Awards.

The ace musician decided to go solo after doing five albums with the group Bongo Maffin. Her first solo project was the Thandiswa Mazwai Zabalaza album in 2004. It not only attained double platinum status but won several awards such as the Best African Female Kora award and 4 South African Music Awards, one being for Best Album. The album also got nominated for Planet Awards on BBC Radio 3. Ibokwe, her second album, was produced in 2009, and it reached gold status within the first couple of weeks after its release. Her live Dance of the Forgotten produced in 2010 clinched Best Live DVD and Best Female Artist (2011). She was called the finest female contemporary singer in South Africa by the Guardian. In 2004, to mark the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s independence, she released the Thandiswa Mazwai Zabalaza album. This was a stunning collection of genre-bending, soulful songs documenting a contemporary African identity. It marries the traditional Xhosa chants, harmonies, and instruments with the gospel, modern Kwaito, and jazz sounds.


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