Born Maya Wegerif in Shirley Village, in former Gazankulu (now part of Limpopo Province), Sho MadJozi grew up in a two-room rondavel. She lights up when recalling her intensely Tsonga childhood. As the third of five children of activist parents, she has fond memories of walking barefoot on red soil – and being immersed in sensory experiences like the tikhomba (initiation ritual for girls) and xiseveseve (rotating friendship parties), where it was the norm to see girls and women wearing xibelani skirts. For Mad Jozi, donning her colorful xibelani during live performances is more memory-work than a style statement. Sho MadJozi went on to call many different places home. Her late teens saw her move to Tanzania with her parents, a country she soon embraced as her second home. She says the experience expanded her mind, tested all the things she thought she knew and, above all, connected her to the rest of the continent. She became fluent in kiSwahili in six months and was also exposed to music from around the continent. From there, she headed to Senegal, where she learned French and fell in love with the local lifestyle and culture; especially the colourful, distinctive everyday garments and jewelry of the women and the way they wore their hair. – all proud statements of their identity. I decided to come back and find ways to truly be in my Tsonga-ness.’ Upon her return to South Africa, broke and needing a job, Mad Jozi applied for office work, but this option didn’t work out for her. Instead, confident in her writing abilities, she decided to write and sell raps. She first contacted OkmalumKoolKat, who invited her to write a few lines and feature on the Gqom hit Gqi. Following that, her career took off and she quickly made a name for herself not only because of her distinctive Xitsongaflow, but for performing in a xibelani – an unusual practice among mainstream artists. Although she received much praise for her look and sound, some people raised concern about her wearing this specific short, woollen xibelani, which had, in the majority, stopped being worn in the early ’90s. When missionaries came to the country in the colonial era, they banned xibelani. Then, when the skirts were allowed to be worn again, they were longer, to pander to European tastes. Africans have always been made to feel as if they’re too savage or too sexual.’ Madjozi is currently filming a documentary exploring the history and evolution of thexibelani. One of her objectives is to challenge the notion that there’s only one way of being African. ‘The thing that informs all my work, from songwriting to live performances– and is continually on my mind – is the question: “What would I be if there hadn’t been that interruption of colonialism, missionaries and apartheid?” I’d be globalized, of course, but on my own terms,’ she says. MadJozi talks about the long history of discrimination against her culture, and expresses that much of the love she receives comes from the pride shared by many of her fans when seeing their culture celebrated at this level of stardom, both locally and globally. ‘After each of my shows, without fail, at least one person will come and tell me how they used to be ashamed of their culture but now they embrace it. It’s incredible being part of that.’ Her single, Huku, connects her Tsonga and East African fans – something she says she’s always wanted to achieve – since its lyrics yield different interpretations in both Xitsonga and kiSwahili. Her first independently released album, Limpopo Champions League, was released on December 14, 2018, and was conceptualized specifically for both her international following and her African fans. Sho released her first clothing collection via Edgar’s Fashion in South Africa and has plans to take [her fashion] around the world. She adds that, as a female artist, it was also important to her to prove that she can write and produce hits in male-dominated genres such as hip-hop, gqom and dance. This, too, is part of the identity Sho’s determined to express, and she’d like it to be a clarion call to listeners to follow her lead. ‘I hope that when people listen to the album, they remember who they want to be – and go for it.
Instagram | Facebook | Spotify | Apple Music