Sky the limit for teen talent

MUSICAL POET: Praise singer Akhona Mafani records a track in the Shizzo Manizzo studio in a Grahamstown shack Picture: TAL SIANO
MUSICAL POET: Praise singer Akhona Mafani records a track in the Shizzo Manizzo studio in a Grahamstown shack Picture: TAL SIANO
The sky is the limit for a teenage praise singer who started out recording tracks in a Grahamstown mud shack.

Nineteen-year-old Akhona “Bhodl’ ingqaka” Mafani yesterday said he was eagerly counting the days until the official release of his debut album Iintonga Zetyendyana late next month at the National English Literary Museum in the City of Saints.

The 10-track album, which has been selling like hot cakes for R70 in local townships, was recorded in a studio at the world-renowned International Library of African Music (Ilam).

“The album, which translates to ‘the sticks of a young man’ in English, provides a snapshot of life on the dusty streets of Vukani where I grew up,” he explained yesterday. “It is musical poetry with a traditional African twist.”

According to Mafani, he was inspired to write poetry and become an imbongi after attending free poetry shows at the National Arts Festival from the age of 10.

By the time he was 14 he had enough material and confidence to start performing publicly.

Although he has cut singles before at the Shizzo Manizzo shack studio in Vukani, the Ilam recordings are the first time he has worked on a full album in a professional studio.

Shizzo Manizzo, which records several local artists in Lonwabo “Dezz” Gwente’s backroom shack at his mother’s house, was formed in 2007 and is well known in local townships.

Label co-founder Siphelo Dyongman, 27, yesterday said even though they started out recording American inspired rap, they had branched out into Xhosa language lyrics that appealed to everyone and not just the youth.

“We write about everyday life and try to produce work that will appeal to everyone.”

From humble beginnings, Shizzo Manizzo has grown into a respected local music label and now has three laptop computers to record with instead of the antiquated desktop machine they started out on. But they still record local artists in Gwente’s back-room mud home.

Immensely talented, Mafani may still only be 19, but this has not stopped him from sharing stages with household names like Loyiso Gola, Gcina Mhlope and The Soil.

He has also performed izibongo in praise of James Matthews, Saba Mbixane and even Xhosa King Zwelonke Sigcawu, as well as writing an award-winning script.

“If I perform a poem somewhere and I touch the life of even one person who is a victim of something I am happy. I like to analyse what I see around me and write about it. If there is something I see that is wrong, like abuse, I do poems about it.”

Although he is hip and young, and likes to wear popular labels, Mafani says he is also in touch with his Xhosa roots through his late grandfather, who was a respected traditional healer.

“It is important young people keep old traditions alive and don’t lose contact with their roots.”

He says his album tackles everything from local community issues to social ills and even lost love. —

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