The dynamic Sho Madjozi is the cover star of our July issue. She was at her hair salon in Jozi to chat to our deputy editor Noxolo Mafu about her rise to fame, her vision for the future and how she is inspired by younger girls.
‘I didn’t expect to be nominated for one SAMA – and I was nominated for four!’ she says. ‘I’ve also been nominated for a BET award for the Best New International Act [which she won at the BET Awards in Los Angeles in June]. I didn’t even think I’d be known outside of Limpopo.’
In just three years, Sho’s unique gqom-hop sound has dominated the top music charts in Mzansi and other parts of the continent. Since 2017, she has earned unprecedented success as a female rapper. Her plan was simple: ghostwriting for artists. ‘I was broke, and I realised I could write poetry and pretty much anything. I thought I could write raps as well. You know when you’re desperate?’ she says.
Sho is no stranger to pushing the boundaries and hustling until you make it. She describes her music breakthrough as a combination of innovative thinking and perfect timing. ‘I was in the right place at the right time when the right song was being recorded,’ she says. Her playful ad-libs and can-do attitude contributed to her rising fame in 2017.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Sho has released mega-hits like Huku and Dumi Hi Phone, which hit viral status on the day of release – proving to many naysayers that rap styles can evolve despite popular opinion. ‘As an artist, you can’t just do what already exists,’ she says. ‘Part of your job is to bring what’s next.’ It’s clear that what drives Sho is convincing others to see her vision. Her passion for innovation is what has made her growth in the music industry a marvel. She has turned every ‘no’ into an opportunity to create a new sound and aesthetic for local rappers.
She reflects on how she was often instructed by industry heavyweights to stop rapping in her home language, Tsonga, and follow the one-liner, nursery-rhyme scheme that most popular gqom songs possess. She resisted. ‘No, I’m Tsonga,’ she says.
‘I want to make music my cousins are going to dance to, even if it means I’m only popular in Limpopo.’ Her love for her hometown is palpable. ‘It’s really cool to have created a different narrative because no-one ever stays in my village. I’m lucky that no-one believed in me at that stage because then I might have gone into a record deal too early or compromised my sound.’
Sho’s music embodies an energetic and joyful celebration of the Tsonga language and her blended African influence. Her enthusiasm for the continent and its many cultures runs deep.
She spent the early years of her life in Shirley Village, then moved with her family to Tanzania. She spent the early part of her 20s in the US studying African studies and creative writing at Mount Holyoke College. At 21, she moved to Senegal to learn French and explore the culture. ‘Going to Senegal gave me a new relationship with braids,’ she says. ‘A lot of my hairstyles are inspired by Fulani women [a tribe living in the West African region, from Senegal to northern Nigeria and Cameroon].’
Sho is passionate about empowering young people. ‘It’s very hard to find women producers,’ she says. ‘I want to do things that encourage women to get more expertise.’
With a large fan base that includes schoolchildren, it’s only natural that she was selected to talk to high-school girls on Menstrual Hygiene Day for Stayfree’s #OurMove campaign. The purpose of the initiative is to encourage girls to embrace their menstrual cycle.
Sho’s advice to you? ‘Become essential. It’s true you will have to work harder to get the same amount of credit. I do not like to spend lots of time complaining about it. My aim is to be so good that you actually can’t deny me.’
For more on Sho Madjozi, pick up our July 2019 issue, on newsstands on 15 July, or click here to subscribe.