Africa has never been cool, until now.
Words by Alex Gwaze (Researcher)
Questions by Alex Gwaze and Terai Moyo (Journalist)
Between American superstar Beyonce collaborating with Nigerian superstar Wizkid to make the Grammy award winning single “Brown Skin Girls” and Burna Boy’s Grammy win, embracing Africanness has become something ‘cool’ to do in the West. However, in Africa, embracing Africanness is so common place it’s basically local now. This is because Africans have been representing themselves to each other for decades since before the P-Square Afrobeatz revolution and Black Panther’s (2018) Wakandafication of Africanness. So much so that Salif Keita, Fela Kuti, Cize, Pépé Kallé, Freddy Gwala, and Angélique Kidjo are just as common in Zimbabwe as Oliver Mtukudzi, Lovemore Majavaina, and Bhundu Boys are – to rising local artist, Mamozi.
Born Roben Mlauzi, Mamozi is an actor, comedian, dancer, percussionist, and singer whose talents were groomed at the Inkululeko Yabatsha School of Arts (IYASA), a creative drama group founded by Nkululeko Dube, mostly known as a dance group. Whilst at IYASA, Mamozi established himself as rule breaker whose unconventional dance moves captured the audience’s imagination. After leaving IYASA in 2015, Mamozi relocated to the Czech Republic and released his début single “Wongo”, from his forthcoming album.
“Wongo’s” distinct African sound exemplifies the magnetic lure of tradition music. And, it reminded us that there is power in where you are from – lest we forget there was a time when the phrase “you sound like an African” was less than a compliment. That’s why we decided to get a hold of Mamozi to talk about what it means to be African in this trending ’embracing Africanness’ moment.
TM: You started out as dancer, but now you are a musician. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a singer?
MM:Thank you for that question. I am not a dancer or singer, I’m an all-rounder artist. I say this because my career started out in the drama club and choir at school. In the drama club we did everything from music, dance, acting, and even playing instruments. All of these things at once! So I don’t see these art forms as separate things because from an early age I was always singing, dancing, and acting, at once. But, what I can say is that now I am solo artist, and music is another piece of my art. I still do theatre performances and still dance, but it’s no longer in different packages. It’s now all-in-one. So, if you see me in music, it’s Mamozi. If you see me dancing, it’s Mamozi dancing. Even in theatre and percussions – that’s me. Mamozi, the artist. I no longer limit myself to one thing.
AG: People are familiar with your work at IYASA, but they are still getting to know Mamozi, the solo artist. In your own words how would you describe ‘Mamozi’?
MM: When people recognise me as Mamozi they are recognising the Africa in me. Because, Mamozi stands for MA – (Malawi) – that’s where my father comes from. And, MO – (Mozambique) – that’s where my mother is from. And, ZI, is for Zimbabwe – where I was born and raised. So, MAMOZI is a very special word, or name, for me because it symbolized how all these three culture are in me, in one body.
AG: Wow, that’s very interesting. So, it’s kind of like even though you left the IYASA group you are still a group – in yourself (laughs). Let me not over read things. But, before we leave the group thing behind, tell me something – what lessons did you learn at IYASA that you use in solo career?
MM: IYASA is more than a dance group. If only people knew it is more than that. It is a whole school of Art. I think what I learnt from IYASA is to be humble, to work hard, and never stop dreaming. Just be yourself. Go for for whatever you want. And, there is always the family side of things. We are and always will be a family; but there is always a time to say I came, I learnt, and I have to say goodbye.
AG: You were known as the unconventional dancer at IYASA and even now you music is “different”, in all the right ways. What drives you to push the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm?
MM: Sometimes it’s about the confidence you have in what you really want to do. Deep down inside we all have something to give out here, and we just need to infuse it with our positive energy so it can reach the surface. I think for me, pushing the boundaries and going for those hard to reach places, is about giving out positive energy that makes a difference to someone, somewhere. I would like to be seen a s person who inspires and empower others.
TM: You first single “Wongo” touches on those themes of empowerment and positivity. You said it, “narrates the movements of your parents, who travelled to different countries in search for a better life”. I was very impressed with the song and the video. Where do you draw your inspiration for your art?
MM: “Wongo”, the song, was inspired by the songs we sang at home. Which are Nyanja songs. And, my general inspiration for my art comes from others. I have shared the stage with many African and European musicians. So my inspiration is drawn from my peers. In everything I do, I was inspired by someone else, so I’m always in this creative mood so I can take in the beautiful elements of all the musicians that I watch. And I watch a lot of musicians. You don’t have to look too far, you can be inspired by those around you.
AG: You live in the Czech Republic now. So it must be harder to stay inspired so far from the source of your sound. How do plan to keep on top of your craft being so far from home?
MM: True, I am far from home, but to build a successful career requires you to be creative. I have been in this industry for about 13 years plus. In that time I have patiently groomed the sound I want to bring out to the world inside me. The music in me is from home! And, I keep in touch with all the connections I have made over the years. So I am constantly watching others. I respect my talent and that of others in my industry. So I learn from them too. You always have to be humble, honest, and loyal if you want to stay inspired.
TM: Are there any artists you have been watching or talking to that you would like to collaborate with? What type of musician would you prefer to collaborate with?
MM: I have already collaborated with Futurelove on a new song called “Ingoma”. And, I can collaborate with anyone. Cause, for me music is music, and I live music! So anyone who wants a collaboration I’m always open to that. I don’t have a preference.
AG: You said once “I want people to reflect on what it means to be African” when they listen to your music. What does being African mean to you?
MM: Being African to me means actually being African. That means keeping our culture, preserving our history, and passing on our traditions. As well as keeping our beautiful natural wonders safe for the next generations. We must reflect the spirit of Africa in everything we do.
TM: Our last question. Migration is the new Zimbabwean norm and you’ve moved all the way to the Czech Republic. What African vibe, specifically a Zimbabwe vibe, have you brought into these foreign spaces?
MM: (laughs). Well, beside some food recipes, what I brought to the Czech Republic are the conversations about how we Zimbabweans live, our lifestyles – and the beauty of our country. I would like to believe that has genuinely inspired them to what to travel, visit us and see for themselves. But, mostly what I bring to these new spaces is in my Art. African Art is a gift for the human spirit.
FOLLOW MAMOZI at: https://www.facebook.com/mamozi.cz/