Written by: Monde Mtyolo
“I have to think about things very carefully now. It’s dangerous for me to only be known as a house vocalist”
It has become a known fact now that a song which features Eastern Cape born singer and songwriter Msaki, will shoot up to the top of the charts. In 2018, she dominated the airwaves with her feature on Black Coffee’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ from his successful Music Is King EP, followed by the equally successful feature on Prince Kaybee’s ‘Fetch Your Life’ from his release Re Mmino which was highly anticipated and was met with positive reviews all around. Msaki, who is known for her unique soulful, textured African tone which easily adapts between genres as well as her impeccable song writing skills, came into mainstream prominence when she was featured on Mobi Dixon’s 2015 dance hit ‘Love, Colour, Spin’ which became a smashing hit on the dancefloors around the country.
Msaki then mesmerized South African soul music lovers with the release of her debut album in 2016, titled Zanelisa: How The Water Moves. This album earned her a nod at 2017’s SAMAs in the Best Adult Contemporary Album category, cementing her influence and status in the music industry. From this album, her song ‘Ulwandle Lutshile’ caught the attention of seasoned Afro-Jazz musician, Simphiwe Dana who went on to re-do it for her live album, The Simphiwe Dana Symphony Experience.
We speak to Msaki about her recent features and what they’ve done for her career.
“As a Folk musician who plays at intimate rustic venues, cross-genre collaborations have opened me up to wider audiences. People then have the choice to come and peak into my world,” Msaki expressed. It was an effortless experience for her to start her commercial success with ‘Love, Colour, Spin’ as she was always a fan of House music. “I collected the likes of Oskido’s Church Grooves, DJ Bubbles and some 45BPM compilations. As a musician, I’ve always been interested in the electronic music space as well and have always wanted to be a part of it. Collaborations have allowed me to do that,” added the singer.
Having been part of an Alternative-Rock band during her tertiary years, Msaki has always been receptive to the idea of collaboration and experimenting with different sounds. It was in that stage when she learned to co-write and play the electric guitar. However, being part of a band “can make you lose your individual identity” and it is there where she learned what it meant to be part of a group. The time Msaki spent in the band manifests itself in her sound that is rich in Folk music and Rock influences.
Talking about hersuccessful features with Black Coffee, Prince Kaybee and Tresor, we figured Msaki must probably find herself having DJs and producers almost knocking down her doors trying to score a collaboration. We asked her how she selects where she features.
“I have to think about things very carefully now. It’s
dangerous for me to only be known as a house vocalist. It is not necessarily a
bad thing since South Africa is very receptive to the genre of music,” ,” she
replied. Also, because of the kind of music she has agreed to do, one is not
shocked when they get to hear her album. Within these collaborations, Msaki
selects only songs that will allow her to still keep her essence and represent
her texture – how she writes and approach to music.
Timing plays a big role as well, there is a plan and her work has to align with it. She did however reveal that there are two more collaborations with DJs this year.
The incredible artist’s receptive and musically unlimited nature spreads to hip-hop too. Msaki expressed her interest in the genre, mentioning in passing, that she also does a bit of ghost writing. With that in mind, there is a song she did with Kid X that is yet to be released. “The thing I like about Hip-Hop is that it allows you to tell a story. The South African hip-hop space is finding its sound and I’m keen to contribute to it”, she expanded.
Msaki shares that she is currently working on her own sophomore follow up solo album and says as much as her sound is in its own niche, and she doesn’t necessarily anticipate blowing up since she is neither Acoustic-Rock nor Afro-Pop, she does however find some of her audiences within those spaces. South Africa is slowly warming up to other genres and she looks forward to seeing how many people from the audiences of people she has collaborated with, will be receptive to her sound beyond her usual audiences.
Expanding her reach, the international space is something that is on the cards for the artist. “The world is curious of everything coming out of South Africa,” she shared. The digital space and how she will now share her music will have within it, vision to reach audiences beyond South African borders. The beauty of music and the digital international reach is that an artist no longer has to change their sound to fit into a genre, the world is a big place and there are always spaces that appreciate the authenticity of one’s sound, regardless of where they are from. Having spent time in Europe as an exchange student, the muso witnessed “young people putting shows on, fearlessly”. The experience made her want to curate shows more. “If you want to see something happen and you think there’s a place for it, then make it happen,” she reckoned.