South African singer Musa: Stay true to traditional sounds

As Musa Mashiane wraps up his sound check, few hours before his performance for IndiEarth Xchange at The Park, I scroll through the comments on the South African musician’s Idols SA audition videos on YouTube. “Pure Africa. He may not be a popstar, but this guy has soul,” says one. Though he did not win the 2014 singing competition, he gathered a fan following far bigger than he had imagined.

He approaches us at a leisurely gait, dressed in multi-coloured patchwork pants, and a mountain of dreadlocks curled atop his head. “I can never do mainstream pop music. I have to remain true to myself,” he says, looking every bit the hippie he claims to be.

Blessed with a husky voice, Musa’s focus are his vocals. However, he also plays acoustic guitar, ukulele, mbira, flute and cajon. “I’m a one-man band,” he laughs. “My music has to be soulful. I talk about God, life, and wellness. It’s quite abstract but I hardly sing about sadness,” he says. He quotes a line out of the song he is most proud of, ‘The Sing Along Song’, in Zulu. “I have a song in my heart, that revives me, it keeps me going,” he translates.

Musa uses traditional African beats in his songs, however, when he plays with his band, the sound is Afro-jazz. “I am rooted in African music,” he says. “I find it ridiculous when bands in different countries try to imitate Western or American rock bands. Why are you trying to be white? I don’t get it.”

Instead, he admires musicians who experiment with their countries’ traditional sounds while still staying rooted to their culture. He adds that for the same reason, he would like to collaborate with Indian musicians such as Lakshman Das Baul and Shubha Mudgal.

Like many of his compatriots, Musa’s tryst with music began at church. “I got noticed because I was the only one in my group who did the soprano notes well,” he says. He took singing seriously from high school, singing at various weddings and parties, and went on to study music in college. In 2007, he released his first album.

Then came the Idols SA in 2014, where he made into the top five contestants. “I was supposed to win,” he recalls, “But Idols is very pop-dominated.” As is most of the mainstream music market. Dance, and trap hip hop is also popular in South Africa, he explains. “I want my music to make people sit back and enjoy,” he says, “Music should change something within you, force you to introspect. But not everyone is interested in that. Most people don’t want to listen to themselves, they just want to dance and forget about everything.”

Given his indie soul brand of music, how does he then plan to become famous? “To me it’s not about fame, it’s about how many people you’ve met and influenced. Money will come on its own. I may not be Chris Brown, but I’m here in India, aren’t I?”

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 9:15:40 AM |

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