Sjava's BET win puts African trap on the map

Johannesburg - Arriving late for a sit-down with City Press, Sjava is agitated because he has a flight scheduled. He is pressed for time and won’t pose for photos after a nine-minute interview.

He starts off coldly: “Why don’t I just record a WhatsApp voice note and send it to every media house? I have been asked the same thing over and over!”

There is a bit of tension and some arrogance. We continue nevertheless.

“Who is this Sjava?” is a question that was on the lips of all the senior staff members in the newsroom this past week.

The maestro, who proudly embraces his Zulu culture as an artist, made international headlines after scooping the BET Viewers’ Choice: Best New International Act Award in Los Angeles and stepped on to the podium sporting traditional Zulu regalia.

He had been nominated alongside Nigeria’s Niniola and Kwesi Arthur from Ghana.

The Ngempela star says the BET award has already changed his career.

“I am more respected as a musician now. My music is getting more recognition. It’s obviously going to reach a whole new audience worldwide,” he says.

Being at the BET Awards, he says, he learnt so many things in LA, particularly about culture.

“Taking pride in our culture is important because other people don’t have it and they value it so much, yet we take it for granted.

“The importance of embracing my culture really opened my eyes,” he says, his bad mood subsiding.

Sjava hails from the small town of Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal and was born Jabulani Hadebe. He says he’s been making music since the age of 17, but it was never taken seriously at home.

“For my parents, if you don’t have a job at a firm then you are not working. Until you bring money home – whatever job you’re doing – that’s when they start respecting what you do.”

Sjava deserves the title of international ambassador of African Trap Music, known as ATM, because he showered the world with its authentic artistic flavour.

The 29-year-old had his first international musical exposure when he was featured on the soundtrack of the global hit movie Black Panther earlier this year.

(BET Host Terrence J presents the International Viewers’ Choice award for the best new act to African Trap Music star Sjava. Photo:Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for BET)

Sjava’s career has risen meteorically over the past three years – and he seems unstoppable, with a new album due in August.

The accolades are telling of his growing stardom. Last year he bagged the Best Produced Album award for his debut album at the SA Music Awards and the Metro FM Music Awards. He also clinched the Rising Star award at the DSTV Mzansi Viewer’s Choice Awards – the latter being an indication of where he is today.

Sjava doesn’t shy away from being called the international ambassador of ATM – in fact, he loves it.

“It feels great because when we created it we couldn’t be nominated for certain genres, like hip-hop or Afro-pop.

“So, we missed a whole lot of nominations. This is what happens when something is new, because nobody understands it,” he says without making eye contact.

People who are currently making music are taking inspiration from ATM, he adds.

Many things keep Sjava grounded, including the company he keeps and the way his fans receive his music.

He says his music is a reflection of his life.

“My music is about things that I go through and I believe I am not the only one going through them.

“Whether I am happy or sad, I just take my life and put it to a beat. Sometimes it’s encouraging songs. Sometimes it’s love songs.”

Next week Sjava will drop four songs on a project called Umphako, while he is working on his next album.

One of the songs is the popular Abangani featuring Emtee and Saudi.

He says Umphako is an appetiser for now.

“I don’t want to rush my album. I don’t make music to catch up or compete. People have been complaining that they want new songs, hence the project.

“By August we should be done with my next album,” he says.

This week fans, friends, family and members of the media gave Sjava an electrifying welcome at OR Tambo International Airport.

A “We love you Sjava” chant could be heard as the golden boy appeared before the crowd.

Fans proudly held up a picture of him, clad in his traditional attire, holding his gong at the BET Awards.

Sjava was taken by surprise when his mother appeared and gave him a hug.

“Every mum would like to see their son moving forward. She was happy and everyone was happy. But I didn’t know that they were going to be waiting for me,” he says, beaming.

His mother has been praying for his success and he believes in prayer too.

“Religion has a huge impact on my life because my mum prays for me, and what she’s prayed for so far has worked out.

“That means it’s a serious thing that needs to be respected. I am also starting to take it seriously.

“I pray sometimes,” he admits.

“Actually, I don’t pray – I report to God and my ancestors and it lasts a few seconds, like: ‘Yoh, I’m out here’.”

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