Cape Town - She once had dreams of working for the African Union and even went to Senegal for a while to polish up her French. But after numerous rejections and years of trying to find her passion she finally found her calling at home – and her growing fan base is delighted she did.
Sho Madjozi (real name Maya Wegerif) is dazzling South Africans and followers abroad with her funky Tsonga rap and her signature plaited hair and colourful traditional wear. Her success in the field has led to many other things too, including a role in the popular show Isithembiso.
We met up with this first lady of Tsonga hip-hop at her home in Joburg to find out more about her.
Two years ago the Limpopo-born artist was still in Senegal, struggling to make ends meet. To put food on the table she sold clothes at a market and designed machangani – Tsonga-themed bags – while applying for writing jobs.
Sho Madjozi (25) has been independent since she was 18 and decided to start making things happen for herself. She approached rapper Okmalumkoolkat and asked if she could write for him. She sent him some material and he loved what he saw so much he featured her on his Gqi track, which gained popularity last year.
This gave her enough confidence to start working on her own music and even go so far as rap only in Tsonga. “I was told it would never work but I did it anyway,” she says. And now it has become her signature.
To top it all off she’s just released her new single, Huku, in Swahili. Because yes, Swahili is one of her languages too.
Love of the written word
She’s named after the late poet and author Maya Angelou and always thought she was destined to be a writer.
“I grew up reading all kinds of books,” she says. “I have a degree in creative writing and African studies from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in the USA where I studied on a scholarship.”
Her love for writing was evident in her two travel blogs, #DakarSoFar and Rural City, which she’s since shut down as she doesn’t get a chance to travel as much.
Sho Madjozi is also a skilled linguist and can switch between isiZulu, Tsonga, Sepedi and English with ease. She also speaks French and Swahili, which she learnt when she was staying in Tanzania with her dad, Marc Wegerif (49), who’s now a post-doctoral fellow at the Human Economy Programme at the University of Pretoria.
Rap came a-calling
She didn’t find hip-hop, Sho Madjozi says, it found her. “It was never my dream so maybe it was just meant to be.” The creative and smooth delivery of her Tsonga lyrics has made this pioneer so popular that old and young have embraced her in a way she never expected.
“When I go back to visit my mother in Shirley Village [in Limpopo] people are so excited to see me. They hug me and others cry and thank me for making them appreciate that they’re Tsonga,” she says.
Her new Swahili song is making waves too and proving she isn’t a one-language wonder. She likes breaking boundaries even if she isn’t sure if people are ready to hear a Swahili rap song. But, she reasons, she was told people weren’t ready for Tsonga rap either and just look what’s happened there.
If the skirt fits . . .
Despite her success, being on stage doesn’t come easily to the rapper. She may have impressed US audiences with her poems, which include Floetry and Why You Talk So White?, yet she still has to psych herself up to perform. Which is why she had to find a way to get into the spirit of things – and this is where her signature Tsonga gear comes in. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone and I come from a long line of women who didn’t fail,” she says.
The Xibelani skirt is also a symbol of her identity and a sign her culture isn’t stagnant. “I’ve been shunned for wearing an outdated Xibelani but for me culture isn’t static and to have young people embrace it, it has to be made relevant or be used in a way that’s comfortable for them,” she says. She’s now working on a documentary to showcase the history of the Xibelani.
It’s going to be a challenge, she admits, but Sho Madjozi has never been one to shy away from anything. She learnt to stand her ground from a young age, she says. “As a learner at St Mary’s DSG in Pretoria I was constantly getting into trouble because of my hair. I was one of two people who kept their natural hair and I would often be asked why I didn’t cut it. And I always answered, ‘Why must I cut what is naturally coming out of my scalp?’”
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Now that she’s embraced her new creative path she has jobs falling into her lap. Besides wowing audiences with her rap, she also plays feisty university student and activist Tsakane Mboweni on Mzansi Magic’s Isithembiso. She landed the job after TV producer Kutlwano Ditsele saw her blowing up on social media and asked her to audition for the role. She’s also the host of Nhlalala Ya Rixaka on SABC2 and as if that’s not enough, she’s currently selling T-shirts with her face on them and is thinking about revisiting her bag-making project.
Sho Madjozi also features in a short Ghanaian film, Africa is on Fire, about a post-apocalyptic Africa with five superheroes – and the rain queen is played by this talented Tsonga star.
Home sweet home
When her schedule allows Sho Madjozi spends time with her baby sister Zora Wegerif (16), who lives with their dad in Joburg, and they watch cartoons. She often visits her mother, Rosemary Phaweni (50), in Limpopo where she also spends time with her shopping-mad sister Khani Manganye (18), and brother, Xongi Shidzinga (28), who is studying mechanical engineering in Giyani. She also has an older brother, Musa Shidzinga (30), who owns a printing business.
Yet with everything going on there isn’t much downtime for the A Mi Ku Yini (What are They Sayin’) singer – and something tells us the awards aren’t far away.