‘I am not a typical pop star’: The metamorphosis of Sho Madjozi
SA's award-winning style icon talks love, loss and evolution as she teams up with local luxe brand Viviers for a one-off collection upcycling her stage outfits
Local rapper Sho Madjozi is known for her colourful and playful style — who can forget the viral madness that her iconic hairstyle caused around Christmas 2019? Her young fanbase of girls aged 8-16 went hair crazed at emulating their icon’s look.
Since then a lot has happened in the musician’s life. Having tragically lost her sister in a car accident, Madjozi decided to take time off from the public eye for almost a year. I was keen to know how life had changed since the re-emergence of the now global superstar.
Sitting in her Melville home, we reflected on the celebration of African women during Women’s Month and her influence on young girls. Madjozi, real name Maya Wegerif, smiles as she says, “For me, there is nothing more important than an empowered young black girl. In terms of who I want to inspire, it is important for these girls to see themselves as valuable and unboxed in what society says is possible for them.”
Children have always been close to Madjozi’s heart, and as a celebration of her young fans she decided to write a children’s book, titled Sho Ma and the stars. It's about a young village girl with magical braids who struggles with her differences and the acceptances of her people. Alongside the book, she will release an EP specifically aimed at her young audience.
Recently, however, Madjozi has been in the studio recording her third album. There has been a shift in her aesthetic from the playful, childlike look we are accustomed to a more mature and adult personality. “I have always done what I felt like and created what I wanted to see in the world. They say that all you are as an artist is your taste. I trust my interests and tastes and I am evolving as an artist.”
Talking about her break from the limelight, she says, “Social media has the ability to just take from a person, and we channel ourselves so much through the public eye. In so doing, we tend to give too much of ourselves away without replenishing.”
Over the past year Madjozi has been exploring not only Africa but also her identity and she now feels like an artist who is intentionally more thoughtful, embracing the things that she really loves. The terrible loss of her sister made her relearn how to be fearless on the other side of grief. A big theme of her new work explores this fearlessness through vulnerability and honesty. Her latest sound seems to unearth the true loves of her life and cements her loyalty to self.
“I am not a typical pop star. I will not like the things that most people like. I am highly distrusting of consumerism and a certain kind of flashiness of lifestyle. I am done pretending to be those things. This body of work reflects my love for honesty, African history, and the empowerment of young women.”
In a Sunday Times exclusive, Madjozi collaborated with local luxury brand Viviers, with which she shares an interest in extreme aesthetic juxtapositioning. The Xibelani has always been Madjozi’s Tsonga signature, the apron-like skirt is created through the repetition of heavily pleated folds, with the aim to maximise and dramatise movement. The progression of the Madjozi identity is clearly reflected when looking at the custom collection by designer Lezanne Viviers, which is upcycled from old performance outfits in the artist’s wardrobe.
“The collaboration started when Madjozi’s 3 XXXL suitcases arrived at Viviers, filled with previous show costumes, left-over fabrics and some forgotten embellishments. The selection process focused on textiles: reflective, holographic and metallic elements, with a sporty touch,” says Viviers.
When interrogating the collection, I find it communicates the maturity of the artist, and presents a more refined and elegant Madjozi. The clothes are rooted in nostalgic femininity, combined with graphic sports lines and finishes. Old world details are reinterpreted through a contemporary African lens. The designer intentionally questions the wastefulness of fashion and contemplates sustainability through upcycling.
The collaboration was spearheaded by creative director and stylist Louw Kotze, who said that Viviers was the perfect partner for her playful, colourful and contradictory sensibility. “Maya's musical talent and voice is a gift of life and to humanity. Viviers celebrates this beauty.”
In reinterpreting the traditional Xibelani, Viviers says, “Cowrie shells were hand-knotted to individual metallic, wired yarns. These shells represent money, status and royalty in cultural South African history. We reinterpreted the traditional Xibelani by using hundreds of bias cut strips, upcycled from Maya’s old costumes. We reference ceremonial dresses used in African ritualistic practice. We aimed to exaggerate movement through the inclusion and the illusion of visual sound representation.”
There is a migration of identity and it is palatable not only in Majodzi’s fashion but also in her sound. Listening to snippets of her upcoming album, I find it more soulful with a focus on ballad notes. There is a clear intent to explore the African sound and develop a lyricism. The artist has clearly leant into her creativity, learnt from her loss and found the audacity to push through and showcase other sides of pop music. Having lived in Tanzania and Senegal, Majodzi’s new work is truly a reflection of a borderless Africa of sound, with songs in Swahili, French and native Tsonga.
Majodzi has just been signed as a culture ambassador for South African Tourism and her new TV campaign, titled “Homecoming”, is a celebration of local culture and diversity with a tender showcasing of her village life.
“Music unites and I am intent on connecting with people in an authentic manner, I am really excited to be working with South African Tourism because I am truly interested in showcasing African culture to the global stage.”
If the virility of the icon’s style is anything to go by then there surely will be an impact on how her point of view is received in global fashion, music and Afrocentric culture.