MUZI: AN AFROPUNK DJ MIX (AND INTERVIEW)
September 6, 2019
Even before making his AFROPUNK debut at Joburg 2018, Muziwakhe Mazibuko, the 28 year-old producer from Empangeni, Kwa-Zulu Natal who records as Muzi, had become a staple around these parts. His music does one of the things that we want from music: it reflects both the time and place that gave birth to it, and a future that it can bring us into. AFROPUNK champions Muzi because the electronic music he makes, in his own words, “stands on the shoulders of giants and opens doors.”
Don’t believe us? Feast your ears on this new mix Muzi made for us ahead of his smash-hit appearance at AFROPUNK Brooklyn last month — filled, as he will be the first to tell you, with his own beats, and re-edits of SA classics. Then read the insightful words about his “mission” that he laid on us behind the Gold Stage. Muzi is one to watch, one to listen to, and — most importantly — one to dance to.
How did you get into electronic music? Tell me how you first started producing and DJing? Like, what were some of the vibes?
I grew up in a very musical family. My dad used to collect a lot of vinyls — he’d have like Faithless and Daft Punk and Coldplay and all these different genres. Also, I always used to bang on things as a kid, always very musical. I started making music when I was 11, rapping actually. I was writing lyrics, cause my brother used to rap. And then when I was 13, my mom bought a computer and my brother installed music production programs on there, and I just started. I got addicted to it. I was good academically, but I wasn’t really good at anything else, so I felt like that was my chance to be good at something else. So from the age of 13, I just started making music and producing [tracks] for artists in South Africa. And then, in 2013, I started doing Muzi live shows and DJing. DJing was initially a means for me to perform my own beats, which I still do; but they’re now almost like anthropology in a way, because I like taking from a genre or an age or era of forgotten South African music — music that didn’t go international — and I put that in my sets. When I travel, I play that.
Tell me a little bit about that, because one of the really interesting things about your music is that, on the one hand, it has the minimalism of so much current electronic music, but, on the other hand, it’s full of melodies and textures and song structure, all of which harken back to traditional South African music too. How do those elements come together in your creative brain?
So I think for me, because I’ve absorbed so much music — Brenda Fassie and Chicco Twalla and all these like legends, but also electronic music… It’s almost like I absorb all of it. And then I just try to create from a place of feeling. Usually, I like creating things that feel like light and sunshine — but if those are too harsh, they burn you, right? Yet if you keep it light and open and breathing, then it’s beautiful. So I try to do that same thing with the music: letting it all breathe. It’s almost like you can hear my music breathe, and then in the middle of that, there’s space for my soul to come through.
Right now feels a very special moment for South African producers and DJs and artists who work with beats — whether its house artists or rappers or the gqom scene. Tell me a little bit about where you think you fit into the whole South African rising?
I see myself as a bridge. I grew up in a very traditional household, and traditional music was part of the things I was hearing. But I feel like [contemporary South African artists] never got a chance to take the baton from our musical legends and continue their work. From Brenda Fassie, who to me was on the same level as a Madonna, and should’ve been as big as Madonna, from Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, and Sipho “Hotsticks” Mabuse, who was doing disco sounds in the 1980s. Or from kwaito, which was an original South African genre that, like hip-hop was formed through disco.
My thing is Modern African music. In that sense, [my] cup is already, like. three-quarters full with African music, and then I take electronic music and minimalism and the melodies and I add that on top so that someone can take from me and push it forward. A lot of people still think of African music as the 1970s and huts and guitars and shit, but we’ve had samplers for a long time, you know? You can listen to Harari and think you are listening to Daft Punk — it’s techno, but done in an African way. So I feel like my job is to open that door so that when people discover me and then discover the edits I make [of classic and traditional tracks], they discover those older artists. I feel like some of us as, like, African artists have moved too quickly, copying America and all of that. We still need to cherish our own, like how America cherishes its own, and then exports that so that we’re not always importing but we actually exporting new things that are happening at home.
You know, when you look at UK, you think of grime, garage, dubstep — you think of their original genres. For South Africa, it’s been so long. Then gqom came through, and now there’s another sound called amapiano, like a loungey sort of vibe, but like they never get the time of day because there’s a Westernized thing with media that forces artists to do that, so that they can get that PR. We just need more people that are doing original stuff from home. And then we export that.
That’s why it’s such a great energy right now. It feels like the ‘80s again, because people are doing their own thing, like we’re rebels against the Westernized culture. We are telling the story ourselves. You can’t come here and be like, “Oh yeah, this is what I saw in South Africa.” No, we will tell you what you see in South Africa. So it’s a different thing altogether. And that’s so exciting. That’s why when I’m performing [in the States] I don’t water down my thing. We have a mission to spread the word of dope things happening back at home. So, I can’t water [my music] down, because if I water it down, then what’s the point? Then anyone can do it. It’s so important to me — it has to be that potent shit,
NICE! Last one: What does the term “We see you” mean to you?
Acknowledgment, not just recognition. It’s probably what my career is, you know what I mean? When people see me, to see through me, and see the others that are at home. Like when you see me on that stage, you’re not just seeing Muzi, you’re seeing every other kid in South Africa or in Africa doing shit that’s really proper and progressive, but no one gives them the time of day because people want to put it in their European, Westernized genres. Like, “No, it’s not just afrobeats, not just deep house.” There’s so much more to the spectrum of African music. So when you see me, you see that, and that’s why it means a lot, because we’ve never been seen, — the people I look up to have never been seen. So now I get a chance to open a door for them and for myself and for the person that comes after.