Nomsa Mazwai – having her say through music
11 September 2015
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Aphiwe Manono: Welcome back to Old Mutual Live Radio, I am still in conversation with Nomsa Mazwai, also known as Nomi Supasta. We’ve been chatting about her upbringing and her music and what influences her music. But Nomi, do you feel that you have a responsibility to include messages and issues that some of us might be uncomfortable speaking about in your music?
Nomsa Mazwai: Definitely. I definitely think that music should be used, not only to entertain, but to educate or to uplift. To make people look at the ugly monster that they might be shying away from and so with my music I do try to do that and with my poetry as well. If you listen to Track 6 and Track 7 on my new album, Cockroaches and the Emperor; Cockroaches was really a song that I wrote that I was saying, you know, we live in a democracy, but you have a responsibility within this democracy, you have to play your part.
Use my music to make a stand and educate
You don’t play it once every five years when you’re voting, you play it in-between as well. You hold your government to account, you are involved, you are an active citizen and the song Cockroach was really about that. It’s always satire, I like to write in political satire because I think it’s always good to make an analogy that people, that will make people uncomfortable. Cockroaches are not something that’s comfortable and cockroaches flying is even more uncomfortable.
It’s like, oh my gosh, they’re not only disgusting, but they’re flying too. So Cockroaches Fly, I’m just saying, if you don’t participate in your government, if you don’t participate in your country. Things that you think are really the worst that they could be, can get even worse and I’m just saying that I watched all laws of gravity denied, all laws of decency gone awry, a big fat cockroach opened its wings and began to fly.
That really speaks to, when you open the newspaper and you think to yourself, really, this particular government department has wasted enough money, they must be getting it right now and then they waste even more, or they’re losing it more or somebody steals even more. Or just when you think that you don’t really need to participate, you don’t need to vote for a particular party, then the party that’s in power will get complacent and they’ll get lazy. So you have to be involved.
That’s how democracy works, democracy is about supply and demand. Democracies work when people are participating. Products sell cause people want to buy them and people shouldn’t think differently about their government. They shouldn’t think that the product is just going to sell itself. No, you need to want good services, you need to want things from your government and when you want those things, the government will know that they need to provide you with those things.
My new album is a really poetic reflection
So Cockroaches Fly is really about that. The Emperor Has No Clothes On was really me looking at the state of the nation. Also looking at capitalism as a practice, as a system that we’re using in this country and how we think it’s the be all and end all of everything. That there are no other systems and that this is the only system that works but it’s just that song is saying The Emperor Has No Clothes On, you have to see it as it is. The system can also run away with itself, it can also be as bad as communism if you let it get to that.
Everything has to be a combination of things. I think people are very one dimensional, people don’t want to think about the world in colour. They just want to think about it in black and white. It is this or it’s the other thing and the truth is, life is in colour and there has to be a balance. You need to have businesses that are socially aware, you need to have businesses that are interested in the people and that are interested in people’s lives. For instance, we’re still mining in this country, but mining isn’t actually yielding benefits for ordinary people, why are we still doing it? Those are the questions I want people to ask themselves.
I personally do not benefit from the mines in South Africa, I don’t see how I’m benefiting. Maybe the government needs to articulate how we are benefiting as a people from what is below our ground, what the value that we have in South Africa. You don’t see it in the services, we don’t see it, or the only way we see it, we see it and that’s not a positive for me.
So I keep asking myself, you know, where is the value and how is it valuable for ordinary South Africans and the Emperor is really about, can we just look at the world in colour. Can we understand what are the things that are important to us. What are the things that are not important to us. Can we also know that no system is just the system.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is a really great fable for kids, which just talks about, this guy, he was living in his own world really, where he just believes that he’s being made clothes, but he’s not, there’s no clothes. It’s about me being that little boy pointing at the emperor and saying, The Emperor Has No Clothes –
AU: You’re not wearing anything! I hear you Nomsa, I think it’s so refreshing how you speak and I feel like those aren’t things people our age, I say our age because we are in our 20s and we are what is the next generation, do you know what I mean? Do you feel like the next generation is socially or even politically active as we should be?
Our generation is socially active enough
NM: You know, I think we are. Every day I listen to other young people, I listen to my peers. For a very long time I think I lived in my own world. I’m an artist, so you actually just escape to your own reality and to writing what you want to write. You don’t really want to tarnish it with other people’s ideas or think about, you know, really, I don’t know, my artistic experience is that.
I really have wanted to share my story and so I wasn’t really spending a lot of time listening to other young people speak, but today I was listening to Thandi Ntuli, she’s an amazing jazz musician in South Africa and I was just listening to her story and how she was articulating ideas and speaking about my experience. The fact of the matter is, whether we are political or not, we are having this experience. We are experiencing the South African experience.
So you can be as tuned into Beyonce and Nicki Minaj as much as you like, but when you go to the petrol station and they serve every other white person but you, you have that experience, you’re in it. There can be no other way that you can address that, other than to really think about what it means to be black in South Africa or what it means to be young and black in South Africa.
I know that people may think that the youth is not involved or not political or not vocal, but the truth is they are and you’ve got to find them in their spaces and you’ve got to speak and you’ve got to listen to what young people are saying. You can hear the politics in the words that they are speaking and how they’re speaking them. Lately, when I listen to young people, when I read other people’s books that have been written, you find it in-between the lines, that experience, you find it sitting in there, the glaring truth about political South Africa.