Msaki truly spellbinding: Vocalist reaping rewards in career

The Eastern Cape music landscape is changing and judging by the talent that has so far been showcased at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year, there are exciting times ahead.

One such talent is musician – and vocal powerhouse – Msaki, (real name Asanda Lusaseni- Mvana) who is one of this year’s Standard Bank Ovation award recipients.

GOLDEN VOICE: Asanda Lusaseni Mvana, better known as Msaki, performs at the National Arts Festival tonight Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA
GOLDEN VOICE: Asanda Lusaseni Mvana, better known as Msaki, performs at the National Arts Festival tonight Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA

Msaki, who hails from East London and her band, The Golden Circle, blew the audience away on day three of the Dakawa Jazz Series on Thursday night.

The indie-folk singer had the audience dancing to music from both her first extended mix-tape (EP) titled Nal’ Ithemba, with songs such as Liwa Lentliziyo as well as music from her debut album, Zaneliza: How the Water Moves.

She closed the show off on a high note, with her most popular track Imfama Ziyabona, that left the audience begging for more.

One audience member, Zimkitha Nkantshu, said Msaki reminded her of Freshlyground’s lead vocalist Zolani Mahola.

“She’s brilliant, what a rare and beautiful voice and her lyrics are also gold. I have been hearing about this Msaki and to finally see her live, I must say I am not disappointed,” Nkantshu said.

Msaki and The Golden Circle will be performing today at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival.

Speaking to the Saturday Dispatch about the ovation award, Msaki said awards were always encouraging and that it was beautiful to be celebrated, but said that she found that success to be a bit deceptive.

“When you think about the award, you think it’s about audience reaction, and I remember the first time I played at fest, we had a great time and the audience stood every time. But we were slightly disappointed we did not get the award then, but it must mean we have improved,” Msaki said.

She said though it was always good to receive awards, this should not validate and inform one’s own standard of success.

“I think for me knowing that you gave your all should be enough, but should also ask yourself, ‘what does this award mean?’”

“I see previous winners who are struggling, so I am trying to see if the award itself matches the pressure that comes with it,” she said.

Previous recipients, include the likes of Umle, The Muffins, and vocalist Asanda Mqqiki.

Msaki is not big on comparisons and said she was upset that she was being cited as South Africa’s Tracy Chapman.

“I love Tracy but I don’t think the comparison is accurate and it’s not fair on her and not fair on me,” she said.

Msaki’s band consists of friends, who all have different skill sets that are a perfect fit for her journey.

The band consists of Sophie Ribstein from France on the harp; Tsepo Pooe from Johannesburg on the cello; Ilka Alexander from Johannesburg on flute; Ella Roselt from Cape Town on violin; Gontse Makhene from Soweto on percussion; Asher Gamedze from Swaziland on drums; Timothy Hutcherson on saxophone and guitar; Joel Karabo Elliott from the US on trombone and Nduduzo Makhathini on piano.

Msaki said she had been playing with them in different groups, and when she was recording one day knew they needed to meet each other.

“And when they did meet, it seemed as though they were old friends.

“We had our first gig in December last year in Johannesburg and although it’s a challenge logistically, having so many people in a band, it’s worth it, because it has been true to the sound of the project and I wanted to share it as authentically as I could,” Msaki said.

She has performed seven shows so far in Grahamstown, but will also be performing at the East London Arts Festival next week.

Msaki said this performance would be a collaboration between herself and the Intlantsi Creative Development’s Xhokestra and the Keiskammahoek music academy.

Msaki said she was also excited about musical talent in the province.

“There’s a strong and genuine voice coming from our province, and I don’t know if it’s the space or the music being produced, but there is something very mystical about it, and I would really like that voice to be more prominent in the national music space,” Msaki said.

One such talent is her former back-up singer Nombasa Maqoko, who also received an Ovation award this week.

“She is amazing. I just knew that she would be limiting herself as a back-up and I encouraged her to find her own space and voice and it’s just beautiful now to watch her flourish,” she said.

Msaki believes that making it in the province is not as impossible as it used to be.

“We live in a global village, with the emergence of digital platforms it’s becoming easier to establish yourself.

“I have gigs lined up in Sweden and Belgium and most of those invites came from people who find my music on Soundcloud,” Msaki said.

“I intentionally wanted to be rooted within my community and I’ll admit it has been a tough three years but I am also starting to see the fruits.”

lCatch Msaki tonight at the Standard Bank Blues and Jazz bar at 10pm, tickets are R80. —


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