Muzi is putting Zululand on the map one song at a time. The South African producer will let you know something different. He’ll let you know that Africa isn’t as primitive as you think. He’ll let you know Africa has had computers since the ’70s. And, he’ll let you know about his pride for his Zulu heritage.
Muzi makes music using a style of electronica native to South Africa called Gqom. The genre was created in the early 2010s. He mixes this with percussion-heavy beats, fused with Kwaito and Zulu-style singing. In his latest album, Zeno, you can hear the music of South Africa. Through his songs, Muzi invites you and the rest of the world into his home. The African styles he works in represent what he wants to showcase on his platform: his peoples’ stories. His music breaks free from the colonial mantra, showcasing the truth about his rich culture. He believes in representing the idea of community through his music “I’m them and they are me” he says. A concept so transparent, that it’s able to represent past, present, and future generations of South Africans. Through his records, even his daughter will be able to look back and learn about her blackness instead of what the media presents her.
With Muzi’s success, he hopes to share the story of his Zulu lineage. His music serves as an incomplete time-capsule. When he does finish, the albums will chronicle stories about the Zulu lineage– from times of colonization until now. Others will have the chance to experience the greatness of Muzi’s heritage.
At the ADP.FM studios in Oakland, CA.
August 28th, 2019
For those who may not know you, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Muzi. That’s my real name and I’m from a place called Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. It’s by the East Coast, and yeah like I’m a Zulu. Grew up in
How’d you get into music?
I was a nerd as a kid, I still am a nerd but I got into making music because of my mom, she bought a second-hand computer. Everything used to crash. It only had 128 megabytes of RAM, which is like nothing you know, but my brothers installed Cubase, Pro Tools, and Fruity Loops on the computer. I gravitated towards FruityLoops and I just started creating. I think I just wanted to be good at something, that wasn’t even like me thinking oh “this is gonna be a career” and I fell in love with it. I worked really hard never played any of my beats for like five or six years because I was just like working so hard at it. Soon after, I met my manager John and we started just doing the whole “Muzi” thing properly. Using my name – no alias so that everything is real. Because it’s a real story, there are no masks, none of that you know.
No, because I think that disconnects you from the people and I don’t think that I’m in a place where I have the privilege to do that. Other black kids need to see me! If I have a mask on then what’s the point? It’s been seven years now since John and I started doing it properly.
"It's a real story, there are no masks"
How important is it for you to share your story and upbringing to
the world. To tell every kid that came from a similar circumstance that “you can do it”
I’m trying to show that black people can do music and you can get out of your circumstances, if you work hard and if you stay at it. I think most of the time we think we can’t do it because as soon as you try doing something for a year and then you’re like I don’t have results so you stop. It’s not about that, it’s about continuing and finding something that fulfills you. For me, it’s creating music, John and I get super happy when we hear our unreleased music because that’s the fulfillment for us. There are practical things like touring and money and all that stuff. But if you do the initial thing properly – which is music, everything else comes from there. But because I’m Zulu and I’m from Africa and I grew up there, like a lot of what has happened back at home is because of colonization and all that stuff. We were brought up to aspire to whiteness and to aspire to European or Westernized standards but then what that creates is a disconnect because you’re at home and you traditional but when you’re outside home, you are everybody, you’re millennial. I think our beauty is in our diversity. I would rather share my true story that I am Zulu, I am traditional but I also grew up with the Internet. A lot of people always think that the Internet came to South Africa like what like two months ago or whatever. Oh “you have computers in Africa?” and it’s like come on bro like really? It doesn’t even start with me this was going on in the 70s right. But then because of like apartheid and all that stuff, people couldn’t tell their stories. So when I get a chance to do it, I’d rather do that than make EPs that are not even my story, but I’m still part of that lineage. So I have to tell it because they couldn’t. I think it’s important because it’s way cooler for me to come to America and see the culture here for what it is but also for you guys to come home and see what the culture is there. So it’s like if an American artist comes to South Africa and all of a sudden he’s playing Gqom, we’re gonna be like “What are you doing?” You know what I mean, show us you! Right. So that’s what I’m doing when I’m here. I’m showing you guys what we’re doing back at home.
Outside of the music, what other ways do you tell your stories?
I use social media quite a bit. I tweet quite a lot, what I do online isn’t planned but it’s more of me showing that this is who I am. In real life. That’s all me. It’s just that I don’t fake anything like none of this is a super crazy PR plan. You get it, and I think that’s important because once again, going back home, because people aspire to be rich, have chains or whatever. I for one know that that does not inspire me. I know that there are people that it does not inspire as well because it’s like if you’re in a township and you make it up and then you come back to the township driving a Rolls-Royce that’s not creating inspiration. That’s creating jealousy. Everyone else is still in the same circumstance and you think that you driving a Rolls-Royce and showing people that they can do it, but you’re not. You’re just telling people to steal your car. My whole thing is that I’m them, and they are me. I don’t want that type of disconnect. I’ve never really aspired to have material things. I never had any of it and you don’t miss something you never had. So my story is more of it just like you can do it by just being yourself.
"My whole thing is that I'm them, and they are me. I don't want that type of disconnect."
What does success look like to you?
It looks like me being in San Francisco doing interviews, I mean, it’s crazy when I think about it now. Where I’m from, herding cows as a kid and then you grow up and then at 18, I discovered the Internet. All of these things that have happened in my life, it’s almost as if I lived different lives altogether. The blessings are in the actual journey. If I talk to my younger self right now he’d be like “Woah, you’re lying!!!” You know. So this is success! The fact that I can sit right next to you now and talk about myself in San Francisco.
Oh sorry. Isn’t it like a–
SF Bay Area is the region.
Oh Bay Area. Oh yeah. I always wondered what that was.
Yeah, but you’re in Oakland.
Oh cool. This is where Sway is from, (laughs) I know that. Okay, so the whole thing is called a Bay Area.
Yeah. The whole region itself is called the Bay Area.
This is all so confusing because this place is so big.
It is big but it feels so small, you can travel through three different cities in a matter of 15 mins.
Oh so, San Francisco is where I landed.
Yeah. Oakland is technically bigger than San Francisco.
OK, I understand, yeah Oakland.
What’s next for you?
My album just dropped early October and I do these things when I’m back at home called listening sessions. All the listening sessions end up being pretty much a party. People just get DJs and they play the project and everyone just gets drunk and they go home. No one actually hears the album. So I thought well, let’s just get people in a room, sit there and I’ll present the music to them and we’ll all listen. The album plays and then at the end they ask me questions and they really get to hear where I’m coming from.
What is this project about?
I have a daughter and she just turned one.
Thank you. So I had a very very traumatic experience like three or four months ago. Some guys came into my house and all that stuff. So it sort of shifted my way of thinking, like, oh snap “I’m not going to be here forever,” right. I’m not going to be here forever for her. So I’m making a record for her. I’d like to imagine her being 25 or 28, around my age and she’s out with friends in the car and then they play my music. I imagine that she’s going through something in her life. So this is for her, like all those years later when I might not be around anymore. Right. So it’s like an album that’s positive, although we go through things. All while having a positive light at the end, in the hopes that she can heal through that and hear me through that.
So it’s a time capsule for your daughter?
Yes but it’s also really a dope album. So it’s like I have a bit of both but it is that it’s a time capsule for her and it’s named after her as well.
What’s her name?
Zeno, her full name is Zenothule which means “you came with beautiful things.”