How Sho Madjozi became one of SA’s best music acts and exports

Dressed in blue denim jeans, a bright purple sweater and black sneakers with her signature braided cornrow style  – Maya Wegerif better known as Sho Madjozi, excitedly dances around while a TV presenter tries to ask her some questions. 

It’s as if Madjozi is oblivious to the presenter’s voice as she quickly scans the crowd, listens to the beat and moves her body in sync to the tune. It’s only when the music dies down that she snaps out of the self-imposed trance that she was in.

At this point, the crowd is feeding off her exuberant energy and her wide smile wins the TV host over as she begins her Kenya Citizen TV interview

Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award: Sho Madjozi a cultural icon

At 27 years old, Madjozi has become a cultural icon who successfully infuses music, fashion, beauty and language to bring a unique essence to the local and global music scene.

Nominated for a 2020 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award, her funky and colourful braided hairstyle and bright clothes have endeared her to a younger fan base and older crowd who appreciate the symbolism of her pop act. 

In the TV interview, she speaks Swahili fluently and impresses the audience who seem in awe of her eclectic personality.  When asked what she attributes her mainstream success to, the Limpopo-born star quips that being original has garnered her acclaim. 

“I think just being myself… if I came in and tried to sound American then it wouldn’t work as much. I’m proud of the music we make and the energy we bring. I’m not trying to be something else.” 

From writing for others to own stardom

While she started out as an unlikely star, writing for other artists and rappers, it was only when close friend rapper OKmalumkoolkat suggested that she write her own music and venture into becoming a musician that Madjozi began taking her career seriously.

Already armed with a degree in creative writing and African studies, she found the writing process fairly simple but was inspired to combine her love for hip-hop and gqom music – an instrumental, fast-paced house trend pioneered by Durban musos Babes Wodumo and Distruction Boyz. 

“I’m part of the people who pioneered using a hip-hop structure on gqom music. Now it’s to the point where that defines gqom. That’s very much due to my writing background,” Madjozi said during a break at the 2019 Cape Town International Jazz Festival. 

Her producer Thabo, whom the Best International Act BET winner has worked with since the inception of her career, says Madjozi’s energy is unlike that of any other artists he has collaborated with.

It’s this same level of exuberant energy that pushed the singer to release her first hit single, Huku, independently with no financial backing from major record labels. 

What followed was the release of her official debut album, The Limpopo Champions League, a catchy mix of urban rap and gqom with feisty Xitsonga and Swahili lyrics which earned her South African Music Awards (Samas) for best female artist and best newcomer in 2019.

‘Brand Madjozi’

The accolades signalled the arrival of “Brand Madjozi” as collaborations with Nike, Nando’s, Trace Mobile, Absolute Vodka and NBA Africa came knocking. 

There is little doubt that Madjozi’s eccentric fashion sense has been the catalyst for her partnering with major retailers and companies. 

“What has kept my brand consistent is that it comes from a philosophy of saying what would a young African woman wear or do if we were not so violently colonised by apartheid. I think we would be globalised.

“Of course, I wear kicks and sweaters, but I think of what I would want to look like if we weren’t told for centuries that black hair is not beautiful and Africa had nothing of value to add. My look is inspired by that,” she told Viva Nation

On the traditional Xitsonga Xibelani skirt which she sports during performances, Madjozi explains that it is a source of pride as she received her first one when she was five. 

It’s a part of Tsonga culture. It’s something of pride to have a Xibelani of your own, it’s something to be treasured. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than to dress in your own culture and, of course, it’s swag.”

John Cena sparks Madjozi craze

At the end of 2019 after two videos of WWE veteran wrestler John Cena dancing to a track by Madjozi on the Ellen de Generes Show and him surprising her on Kelly Clarkson’s programme went viral, Madjozi’s influence had begun to quickly infiltrate pop culture and closer to home, her hairstyle had become the most requested of 2019. 

“Braids were always a natural option for me because they allow me to do the things that I love doing. I can swim and play sport, these are things that my followers know I love doing. I want to create a hairstyle that young black girls can have that is affordable and let’s them live their best life,” she told Top Billing

With a combined following of 1 million on social media, Madjozi said she has a small team behind her that is quietly and effectively building her brand.

So diverse and wide-reaching is her music that she had performances at Afropunk New York, the Miami Superbowl, the Cape Town International Jazz Music Festival and she will perform at mega electro and dance music festival Ultra this year.   

Madjozi’s producer captures her dynamic influence succinctly – putting into words her ability to attract global appeal:

 “Her energy is crazy, from the moment she gets into the studio, it’s unmatched. It’s always a great session with her, there’s never a dull moment.”

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