The summer of 2021 started the moment DJ Maphorisa and Tyler ICU released the devilishly gorgeous music video for Izolo. Within minutes of its release, social media lit up with fans gushing over Madumane’s brilliant verse and the stunning accompanying visuals (kudos to director Nigel Stöckl). At that moment, it felt like the whole country was simultaneously giddy with excitement and ready to hit up Konka.
That feeling hasn’t faded since.
Amapiano enthusiasts will have you believe the song was a hit the moment it first came out as part of Mpahorisa and Tyler ICU’s joint EP, Banyana, a few months prior, but most didn’t pay it no mind. They were busy grooving to the first single and title track, Banyana, instead. But when the video came out, its furious, high-octane production somehow seemed to bang twice as hard. Madumane’s verse, a raw, pulsing exercise in rhythm and flow, went viral almost instantly.
Madumane is, of course, DJ Maphorisa’s alter ego, a name conjured up to extend his reach and separate the producer/DJ from the vocalist.
Born Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe, the 34-year-old has mastered the art of maintaining relevance not only by staying abreast of sonic trends, but also by finding clever ways to keep the public engaged. That spirit, and his exceptional talent, has allowed him to stay on top of his game for the best part of a decade now. Just when you think you’ve got Maphorisa all figured out, he flips the script. Again and again.
Maphorisa first shot to fame in 2013 as part of the multifarious musical group, Uhuru. The group blew up off the anthemic Y-Tjukutja in 2013, which owned the summer. That same year, Uhuru further enhanced its reputation by producing and featuring on Mafikizolo’s chart-topping, multi award-winning hit single, Khona.
A couple years later, in 2016, a year after the group’s decision to pursue solo careers, Maphorisa landed the dream placement when was enlisted to produce on Drake’s One Dance featuring Wizkid and Kyla. The dancehall and afrobeats-leaning single took off almost immediately, and within a year it was the most streamed song of all time.
The following year Maphorisa landed another massive placement, this time as a featured producer on international dance music DJ trio, Major Lazer's Know No Better EP, where he produced the stand-out single, Particula.
Then he turned his attention to amapiano.
Since 2019's Scorpion Kings, the colossal amapiano album that introduced us to his musical partnership with amapiano pioneer Kabza De Small, Maphorisa has been releasing quality music at a frantic pace. His foray into amapiano has been nothing short of spectacular. The ease with which he’s made the transition is unsurprising. After all, this is the same guy who's produced hits across several genres for artists like Kwesta (Ngud), Busiswa (Lahla), Professor (Jezebel), Shekinah (Suited) and Zingah (Dlala).
Together with Kabza, he’s pioneered an unusual way of releasing music where they “leak” unreleased music on blogs and file sharing platforms like Datafilehost, then only once the music has been embraced by the masses do they put it out on streaming platforms. It helps them figure out what songs are worth a concerted push and investment. That’s how songs such as Bopha and Adiwele, two of the year's biggest hits, took off.
Interestingly, Madumane is just as versatile as Maphorisa. On last year's Madumane EP, he showcased his range across several diverse sounds. On Ke Tai, he's rapping with the fervour of a trap artist and trading bars with Vyno Miller, while he taps into his melodic pocket alongside Cassper Nyovest on Bentley.
He's turned it up a notch and found his voice even more this year. Whether he's unleashing potent rap bars like on Izolo, or providing a masterclass in amapiano melodies and flows on Focalistic's Paranoia, Madumane is developing a reputation as a vocalist that always seems to show up. Funnily enough, he even takes bookings in his own capacity as a performer.
Nowadays, there aren't too many hits released in South Africa without the sprinkling of Maphorisa and Madumane's stardust.
In April, Maphorisa, Tresor and Kabza De Small released the collaborative studio album, Rumble in the Jungle. A week later, Maphorisa and Tyler ICU released the EP, Banyana. After a few singles here and there, in September he released the soulful Abalele with Kabza De Small featuring Ami Faku, which is now arguably the hottest song in the country.
In October, he produced two singles on Tresor’s album Motion: Makosa and Nyota, and several songs from amapiano's latest star Young Stunna's debut project, Notumato. Just last month, he again teamed up with Kabza and Ami Faku on the feel good single Asibe Happy and, naturally, it is now topping charts across the country.
It's a breathless output from a workhorse of note. Despite that laid-back persona of his, which gives the false impression that he's lounging, Maphorisa is always ready to meet the moment.
Collaboration is the name of the game for Maphorisa. Rarely, if ever, does he release music alone these days. Every producer and vocalist is credited, no matter how big or small their contribution or their stature. Heck, he even features himself from time to time.
This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, Dec 5, 2021