One of my all time favourite songs by MXO is Za’ndiyibone, from his 2004 album, Peace of Mind. Since then, Mxo has cemented his name in the genres of alternative soul and R&B music, and has more albums and a loyal following to show for it.
He says his journey began in the late 90s, while travelling from his home town in the Eastern Cape to Joburg to pursue his dream - he’s been at the top of the world, but also at the bottom, and has the maturity to show for that, too.
His latest in-the-works album, aptly titled Conscious Reflections, is a multimedia offering that will allow audiences to hear as well as see the music being made, and experience an intimate interview with the muso.
On it, he’s collaborated with some of the most relevant and talented musicians today, namely Tribute “Birdie” Mboweni, Msaki, Berita, Siya Makhuzeni, Liz Ogumbo and Nomisupasta, to name a few. The legendary Herbie Tsoaeli also makes an appearance on Conscious Reflections.
Sitting down with Mxolisi Lokwe, as he’s known at the Department of Home Affairs, reveals something important: he’s in a really good space, comfortable in his truths and this stage of his life. We start at the most basic of places in our conversation - where did the title of this album come from?
“Conscious Reflections means I’m in the right place. I’m confident. I’ve grown so now I’m having conversations with myself. It’s an album where I talk about the things I went through; it’s a musical autobiography. I move in it from talking about myself to tackling universal themes such as love. I have a son now, so I’m making a soundtrack I’d like him to listen to,” he said.
The album has presented an opportunity to explore collaborations with other artists: “When Msaki came to the studio, she explained to me about the length of time she’s been following my music and that there’s a whole culture of Mxo followers - ‘Mxoism’, she said it is - and to hear the influence my music has had was beautiful for me. So this album is also something for the people of Mxoism across the country.”
Long-time friend and collaborator Sliq Angel is not featured on this album. When quizzed about it, Mxo said he’d made a decision to reintroduce his solo work.
“I spent parts of 2017 working on Roots 2000 with Sliq. I realised that this wasn’t where I really want to be in the long term - because once you condition people with a particular sound, they want that sound. I didn’t want people to forget about the brand that was Mxo, but working with Sliq was a wonderful experience. It helped me improve my skills with a business mind,” he said.
His musical influences, which range from Bruce Springsteen to Phillip Tabane, are present on the album. He describes his style, which has evolved over the years, as musical schizophrenia. Signing with big and multinational record labels has in the past made it difficult to market his music. So, for this album, he went solo.
“I’m inspired by all these kids who are doing it for themselves. So this album took a couple of years to make. I’m getting the hang of it. I’m using social media a lot to push this album. I am my own billboard. I don’t have the budget that the majors have to market an album. Or the money to buy awards or pay payola. I want to make sure the masses get the music,” he said.
With Conscious Reflections, Mxo said he’s making expensive music that’s meant to relax you, heal you but also share a message. The primary criteria for his collaborators were: people with the same work ethic, passion and approach to music. With this album he envisions his journey coming a full circle, as it harnesses what made people fall in love with him in the first place.
He’s gunning for 12 tracks on the album and his favourite song so far is the one recorded with afrosoul artist Berita, called Broadway: “It’s a fantasy song; it talks about how I will take my better half to Broadway someday. In my mind, my better half is an artist as well. So the song is a fantasy love song,” he explained. Mxo is adamant, however, that this point of his life is all about the music, but he grudgingly admits he’s still looking for the Bonnie to his Clyde.
The future is pregnant with possibility. Mxo is also looking at creating a theatre piece with Monageng “Vice” Motshabi (theatre practitioner and Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre in 2017), titled iRockster yase Bhayi. However, because of financial constraints, the process has become drawn out, but it’s definitely on the cards. His 40th birthday gift to himself (he turns 40 in November) is to produce this work.
“I’m sharing my story now. I want to take this music everywhere,” he said with his signature grin.
The album will be in stores next month.
* To catch up with MXO, he’s on Instagram, on @therealmxo