Rising from the ashes

2009-04-24 00:00

“People will always talk. That’s what people do, talk. I walk,” says poet Ntsiki Mazwai.

“To be honest with you, I’d rather live my life according to my standards and wishes than be overly concerned with what people say about me.”

The 29-year-old, who recently performed at the Winston Churchill Theatre in Pietermaritzburg, is no stranger to talk. Mazwai has frequently featured in the gossip pages of newspapers and magazines over the years.

From the media uproar over her nude photos in last year’s Marie Claire anti-woman abuse campaign to the commercial failure of her debut album, Mazwai spoke to Weekend Witness to set the record straight.

“My generation of poets really did well. We brought the spotlight to poetry. We brought the hype to poetry. I am really honoured to have been part of this crew.”

Having been one of the founding performers of spoken word poetry in South Africa, Mazwai worked closely with the likes of Lebo Mashile and Napo Masheane to create a platform for “women’s voices to be heard”.

Since her explosion on to the scene, Mazwai has worked with some of the best-known artists in the industry. However, despite her rise to fame, the Soweto girl’s commercial success has not yet followed.

“I don’t have TV, radio or print media behind me, but I still have a formidable brand in the music industry,” she said. “I would say that makes me quite a clever little girl, wouldn’t you agree?

“I was lucky to be a spoken word artist and be signed by a major record label. I was really very blessed, especially since spoken word in music is still an emerging genre,” she said.

“But I was really unhappy about the marketing efforts. The budget all goes to the American acts because Gallo is an American company. So who am I, as a poet, to want a marketing plan for my product?”

She feels that her album ultimately didn’t have an infrastructure to support it. “A lot of people didn’t even know I had my own album,” she said.

Despite all of this, her album was nominated for a South African Music Award for best urban pop album in 2008. “I don’t think that album was really about the numbers, but rather the experience.”

Mazwai caused quite a stir last year when she appeared completely naked for Marie Claire’s anti-rape calendar. Many slammed the move as a publicity stunt because her album wasn’t doing well.

In response, Mazwai says: “People who know and follow my work would not find it surprising that I would be part of such a cause, I have always and will always be one of the voices representing women in this country.

“If I could be part of the healing process of one rape survivor, then my job was done. It was my moment to rise from the ashes.

“[My family] were strong with and for me,” she says.

Mazwai, who is also a qualified marketer, comes from a family of intellectuals. Her mother, who died when Mazwai was just 12, was a journalist, her father is a lecturer, her aunt a pastor, and her sister, Thandiswa, is the lead vocalist of Afro-pop group Bongo Maffin.

“I have to curb my ego about her success,” laughed Mazwai, who assures that she is not jealous of her sister’s success.

“A win for one Mazwai is a win for all. We all have our roles to play. In fact I have a little sister Nomsa who is also coming in [to the industry] with more fire!”

Mazwai is currently touring the country with Maxhoba on Azanian Love Song, a tribute to Dr Don Mattera. She is also working on her follow-up album with U.S. producer, Hakim Abdulsamad, and is nearly ready to release her anthology.

“I am known as the street queen because the streets made me,” Mazwai says. “I don’t have the accolades and glossy magazine covers, but I do have street cred!”

Visit www.witness.co.za for the full interview.

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