South Africa

Ready to dazzle: Afro-soul singer Thandiswa Mazwai releases ‘Sankofa’ album

Thandiswa Mazwai Sankofa

The advent of the global Covid scourge, which hit the music industry the hardest, failed to invoke despair in revered award-winning South African Afro-soul singer Thandiswa Mazwai.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Citizen, on the eve of the launch on Saturday of her new album Sankofa, Mazwai said the crisis provided her with “a quiet moment to scribble my thoughts about my new album”.

The impetus

Mazwai, who is expected to dazzle crowds at Carnival City’s Big Top Arena, said Covid gave her “impetus”. “The impetus probably came from Covid – a moment to be quiet and I began to start scribbling.”

“This is what brought this whole thing on and I started being ready after 12 years of releasing an album,” said Mazwai.

“Daily, I am in the studio and have been working on this project for two years, with the first session having happened in May 2022,” she added.

ALSO READ: ‘I cannot believe it’s been 20 years’ – Thandiswa Mazwai on new album and 20 years of ‘Zabalaza’

Album influences

In typical Mazwai musical rendition with an African touch, music enthusiasts attending the show, can look forward to a special treat.

“What you can expect to hear musically from the album, are few recordings I got from the International Library of African Music, which is at Rhodes University.

“They gave me few recordings of traditional Xhosa music and I used that as the bedrock of the album – sampling small beats of umgubhe (traditional dance) and uhadi (traditional instrument).

“I went to Dakar in Senegal to record, because I wanted to include traditional instruments from West Africa like bokura and N’goni in the music.

“I also had sessions in New York, which cemented this kind of three-dimensional conversation between South Africa, Senegal and the US.

“The concept started to speak to the trans-Atlantic human trafficking, which happened during the slave trade.

“That connection with Africans in the diaspora – South Africans, Senegalese and African Americans in the north Americas, cemented a conversation I had with people in those places,” said Mazwai.

ALSO READ: New York to be wrapped in the sounds of Thandiswa Mazwai’s new album this weekend

Thami and Belede’s offspring

Daughter to legendary journalists Thami and Belede Mazwai, she has found a musical expression on her mother’s passing.

Said Mazwai “The inspiration to all my work has been brought by the trauma of losing my mother Belede, when I was 16 years old.

“In my work, I try to convey all that and understand my feelings – in many ways trying to memorialise my mother.

“I have deep passion for the music and my country, its people and that of the continent – things that drive me.

“One of my favourite quotes is that of Che Guava on there being no greater revolution without love.”

“Through the revolution of love, I try to share my ideas and thoughts about being an African and I try to share my vision of how Africa could look like in the future.”

“I think this is what has appealed to the people over years.”


While in her 20s, some of the older musicians would admire her. “They would say to me it feels so nostalgic – I remind them of Sophiatown.

“I think there is always something in my work connecting the old and traditional – but very current, endearing me to people.”

Born in the Eastern Cape in 1976 – the height of the student uprising against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, Mazwai grew up in Soweto – later studying English Literature International Relations at Wits University.

“I was born of two teenage parents, who could not hold me in their arms. “Apart from that, I had a pretty normal upbringing, having grown up in Soweto with my parents.

“I had a normal and privileged childhood because we got proper school shoes instead of plastic,” she recalled.

She has shared the stage with such musical icons as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among others.

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