Thandiswa Nyameka Mazwai, also known as supreme King Tha by her adoring fans, has been a pioneer in the music and entertainment industry for more than two decades.
Born in the Eastern Cape and raised in Soweto at the height of the anti-apartheid uprisings, Mazwai quickly realised her passion for the arts and honed those skills from a young age.
Her musical journey didn’t officially begin until she joined Bongo Maffin. They quickly took the music industry by storm and are considered to be trailblazers in Mzansi’s kwaito scene.
Her most notable musical moment came in the form of her first solo studio album, Zabalaza, released in 2004. This album garnered the musician the recognition she deserved, and created the space for her to continue to influence those around her. Apart from the sonic brilliance of the album, it also earned double platinum status and won multiple awards, including the Kora award for best african female artist in sub-Saharan Africa, four SA African Music Awards, and was nominated for the BBC Radio 3 Planet awards.
Her early days in the industry included genres derivative to the landscape of South Africa, such as kwaito, traditional mbaqanga and soul. This can be heard through her days at the Market Theatre and her role in the Bongo Maffin lineup.
As time has progressed, Mazwai’s musical palette has evolved. She has gone on to perform in genres such as funk, reggae and even jazz. Accompanying her musical prowess, Mazwai has a lethal pen – one which, over the years, has always maintained its message and meaning. It’s one thing I’ve come to love and appreciate most about her. Her Ibokwe album has perhaps been the greatest sonic venture of her career to date, and went gold within six weeks of its release. The artist combined customary rhythms to create a new era of traditional sounds, which have influenced contemporary musicians across the South African diaspora.
This advocacy has grown before our eyes – with her breathtaking shows for the Play Your Part Africa concert in 2020 – but especially her creation and contribution to the music festival, Fetish, which encouraged us to experiment and elevate our minds through music.
Her most recent release comes in the form of a feature with music veteran, Oskido. The musicians teamed up with Ntsika to create a masterpiece. Presented as an amapiano song, Ayazizela invites us to witness the genius of Mazwai’s mind and experience her evolution in music through a seven-minute banger. The song opens with vocal riffs from Mazwai, which tie into the extended intro so common to amapiano music. However long the song is, her voice manages to keep listeners interested and entertained by its pure originality. Amapiano is not a genre we usually associate with Mazwai but Ayazizela highlights Mazwai’s versatility in a way that we have not seen before.
At the age of 45 Mazwai has the courage to do something not many can. She grows with the times but still stays authentic. It is easy to see how she continues to resonate with young and old audiences alike. Her longevity in the industry is solidified by the fact that she continues to be herself in the eye of scrutiny and criticism in the industry.
Growing up listening to artists such as Mazwai has been inspiring for so many of us who are afraid to take on the true essence of ourselves. Mazwai reminds us of its importance of creating a better and more accepting world through the power of music. As an unpredictable force, Mazwai is on track to shock us again with what she next cooks up in the studio.