Johannesburg - The healing power of music, the wonder of family and the magic of human connections – this is the perfect trifecta that makes life worth living as far as he’s concerned. His latest album is testament to that – and it seems his outlook resonates with fans too.
Iyeza was released last month and shot straight to number one on iTunes within a few days, and Anathi Mnyango – or Anatii, as he’s known in the music world – is understandably delighted with his brand-new baby.
The 25-year-old Bisho-born artist is hanging out at our studio in Auckland Park watching as his stylist, Unathi Mkonto, lays out his clothes for the shoot – including an oversized black T-shirt, a bright-orange top, camouflage pants and a cream suit that looks like it’s come straight out of a ’90s R&B music video. Each outfit has a matching set of Xhosa beads and Zulu earrings, which speak to the fact culture and language are very important to this man of song.
Iyeza in his mother tongue, isiXhosa, has the dual meaning of “it is coming” and “medicine”, he explains.
“When we announce something is coming, we say iyeza. But when you listen to the music on this album, healing starts to happen and it’s iyeza. We can even say the healing is coming.” He wanted to create “a truly African sound” with Iyeza – “something that couldn’t be from anywhere else”.
“I wanted people to just really hear me for who I am. At times the message you want to get across kind of gets diluted and people get a bit confused, so I wanted people to get to know who Anatii really is – and with this album you’ll understand exactly who I am.”
The cover art on the album is also uniquely him: it’s a painting of his face created by Art Eye Gallery painter Nika Mtwana. Nika wasn’t only paid for the artwork – he’ll be earning royalties from the sales of Iyeza too. “He’ll be one of the first fine artists to do so in local showbiz,” Anatii says proudly.
“I want him to make money for as long as possible – so much so his children and his children’s children can benefit.”
Anatii’s generous soul extends to his family first and foremost. He’s known for taking his musician sister, Aphelele “Ma Nala” Mnyango (24), to every event he attends and is also often seen out and about with his mom, Thoko. “Family is everything to me,” he says.
“I usually take Ma Nala along to gigs and functions because she’s super talented and sings way better than I do.” He wants her to be able to see things in the music business from all perspectives “and not be pressured into doing things she doesn’t want to do. It’s hectic out there so I just like keeping family close. It’s family vibes, always”.
Music means almost as much to Anatii as his loved ones. He’s been crazy about it all his life and recalls producing his first song when he was just nine. When he was 15 a song he worked on made its debut on radio. The track, When It Rains by L Tido, featured the young Anatii, who went by the name Thundacat at the time. And Anatii didn’t only sing on it, he helped produce the number too. The recognition came at the perfect time.
His father, Zolisa “Senzol” Mnyango, had just died of cancer and Anatii was heartbroken. “That was tough because we were quite close but I feel blessed because I had time to spend with him – some people don’t even get to meet their fathers,” he says.
Anatii looked up to his dad and still treasures the moments he spent with him, including his last days. After his dad’s passing mom Thoko raised Anatii and Ma Nala at their home in Centurion and gave them “the best childhood”. “She’s amazing, man,” he says. “She is so supportive.”
His fans are also supportive , showing their appreciation on social media and by snapping up his music. Anatii is so grateful he regards them as part of his family.
“I don’t see them as fans. You know, the whole ‘artist-supporter’ relationship has always been so transactional. “People’s collective effort has put us in a position to be able to provide for our families, to have clothes on our backs, to have food and to further our careers. So I don’t feel like people who support my music are fans – they’re family. Anyone who connects with the music is family.”
He’s all about positive vibes and is very selective about the kind of energy he surrounds himself with. Anatii had to pull up all that positivity during a recent interview on Metro FM. On the day of his album’s release he sat down with Masechaba Ndlovu and Mo Flava, but things didn’t end well.
Masechaba asked him if he’s “an empath” (a person with the ability to perceive someone else’s mental or emotional state) then went on to explain why she was asking.
“I’ve never really struggled with anxiety but all the way from Cape Town to Joburg I feel like I’ve been picking up on your energy. I feel weak now and my heart is pounding really, really fast and I have stomach ache and I feel like I can’t breathe and that’s not me.”
Masechaba also alluded to Anatii being a traditional healer or someone undergoing initiation to become a traditional healer. Anatii just laughed it off but his fans were upset with Masechaba, calling her a “bully”.
We ask him whether there’s any truth in what she had to say.
“I really don’t want to talk about that interview at all,” he says firmly. Then he swiftly changes the subject. Did we know he’s a vegetarian, he asks.
“It’s just better for me, you know? So much improves, even your skin. I’ve been a vegetarian for four years.” It helps give him energy for his music career too – and he has far, far more to do. “I’m a vessel,” he says. “I’m here to impart certain God-given things on the world. I’m a vessel for a greater purpose – that’s what defines me.”