Growing up as a skater in a South African township just outside of Empangeni in KwaZulu Natal, Muzi has become just a bit of a local wonderkid.
His childhood was spent in a relatively violent neighborhood, and at the age of 13 he started making music on a 128MB RAM computer his mom bought him as a therapeutic escape. “Everyone thought we were fucking weird for making music when we were younger—outsiders” he says, “because we didn’t play football or basketball or whatever. I was already, like, ‘weird’, but that made it worse.”
Nevertheless, he got his hands on eJay, Cubase One, and a cracked version of Fruity Loops, and the rest is history. Now, at the age of 24, his unique sound—a concoction of deep house and kwaito, sliced with trap beats and Zulu inspired vocals—has caught the attention of Diplo, The Prodigy, Rinse FM and many more, making him one of the most exciting electronic producers South Africa has to offer.
He’s still an outsider these days, but that’s because he’s a long way from home, setting up shop in Berlin for the next year or so, with the ambition of fusing his South African flavor into that hard and underground Berliner sound of the electronic music capital and its diverse rap scene. His latest single, “Nizogcwala”, made just before the relocation, is an uncompromising epic that’ll make you wanna toss all the shit on your desk in the air and vibe around the office like a human slinky.
Grime MC Stormzy first tipped us off about Muzi, after meeting him through the Nando’s Music Exchange, which sees musicians from South Africa and the UK brought together to exchange ideas and basically hang out. Since then we’ve filmed a documentary with Stormzy visiting Muzi in Durban, which we’ll be premiering in the next week. Until then you can listen to an exclusive minimix by Muzi of his forthcoming EP right here, and read a transcript of our conversation with the man himself.
Noisey: Hi Muzi! So tell me, did you always want to make music?
Muzi: When I was younger I wanted to study astronomy, but there’s only like one cool university in the country where you can study it, so I had to forget about that dream. I only really knew what I wanted to do after I started making music. I started doing it because I wasn’t really good at anything else, and when I found Fruity Loops 2 I just stuck to it. That seemed like my chance to be good at something. I’m just happy if my beat sounds nice.
In Durban you’re still regarded as quite underground. Have you been biding your time?
I like the whole thing to be organic. I want everything to be about the music first before me, in a way. I feel like I put my soul into it, so if you listen to the music enough, you’ll find a bit of me in there. When I do blow up, that will happen naturally, when it’s supposed to happen, not because I’m trying to force it. The great part about being here is that I can still work on myself and my music and nothing is happening too quickly. I like that.
How much does local South African music like gqom, kwaito and house influence you? You’re a lot heavier on the drums and bass than most local producers.
It’s cool to be inspired but just because you’re inspired doesn’t mean you should do it. Like the gqom thing, the exposure I got was from me being in the taxis around the city. But I’m more influenced by a tribal drum beat type of thing: early kwaito, Brenda Fassie, Chiko Twala, that sort of stuff—it has a bit more soul to it.
What made you move to Berlin?
Nizogcwala got me a deal with BMG Chrysalis. It was a publishing deal in London. Once that deal happened, it gave me a bit of cash and I used that money. I decided to reinvest it into me. South Africa is so far away from the rest of the world. I did a bit of research, and Berlin is like the Mecca for electronic music and I can just take a train to most of these neighboring countries as well. It’s a bit central in that sense. Everything is like an hour or two hours away.
Have you played many gigs there yet?
I played Bestival on Nando’s stage in the UK, which was really fucking cool. Also, they are doing this Nando’s Music Exchange project which I’m involved in. They want to show that they’re a South African company, so they went to South Africa, and I don’t know how, but they found me and brought me over. Here in Berlin I’ve only played one gig. I’ve been using the time to work on my new EP.
A lot has changed in your life since your last EP. What has changed in your music?
I’m moving into a more confident place where I’m not trying to impress producers anymore. I’m still doing sound design but I’ve cut a whole lot of stuff down and left the essentials so that there’s not a whole lot of random effects going to be like “Woah, did you hear that sound?” It’s more just about the music now. Still have big drops, still have fucking break-your-chest, heavy bass shit, but I’m trying to reach a place where it’s heavy music merged with soul.
That’s gonna be…
What was it like showing Stormzy, a British grime guy, around the sights of Durban?
That was funny. It was a big culture shock for him. When I got him into a taxi and this guy was just playing gqom loud, and Stormzy was like “I can’t take this.” I totally understand.
Have you guys worked on a song together?
No, we just talked. If something like that happens it’s going to be organic and natural. He’s a really cool guy so probably in the future, hopefully.
Other South African acts like Rudeboyz and Okmalumkoolkat have recently been picked up by other European labels. How do you feel about these European labels finding music in South Africa and releasing it there? Is it exploitative or does it benefit the artist?
Well, I don’t know, it depends on what deals they have. Every artist wants their music to be heard by as many people as possible; you’d be lying if you said you didn’t. I actually think it’s sad that for us, we have to go to other places to get recognized instead of being recognized at home. I think that’s the sad bit. If some guy in Japan hears my shit and they love it, if it’s a good deal, I’m gonna fuck with it. Why? Because you can’t expect Okmalumkoolkat to just wait for some guy in Joburg to come to him and be like “I understand what you’re doing.” The saddest part is that these guys are doing things that are authentically South African, but nobody here recognizes it.
Do you represent Durban or Muzi?
The balance is that if I’m authentically me, I already represent Durban, I already represent KwaZulu Natal, I already represent South Africa. It’s like a mission. We as South Africans already know so much about the world because they sell us so much of it.
And because of colonial history.
And because of fucking colonial history. But they don’t know much about us, so that’s a mission of mine, to show that Africans are cool as fuck.