The stories behind Anatii’s stunning new album, 'Iyeza'

By Shingai Darangwa Time of article published Oct 15, 2018

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Last year, while driving up to Swaziland with his sister, cousin and road manager, Anatii started freestyling in isiXhosa. Everyone in the car started laughing. Unfazed, when he got back home he recorded it and played it for AKA, with whom he was in the process of recording their collaborative album, "Be Careful What You Wish For".

AKA loved it.

That rhyme scheme went on to form the core of Thixo Onofefe, the first single on his new album, Iyeza, and, ultimately, a new direction and soundscape that makes up the spine of this album. And it’s worked out well for him: at the time of writing, Iyeza is sitting at the top of the iTunes album chart. 

We’re on the balcony of one the rooms at Anatii’s mansion overlooking the estate in Benmore, Johannesburg. It’s a little after 5pm and Anatii’s just woken up from an afternoon nap.

In many ways, Iyeza has woken many people from their slumber. The outpouring of love on social media has been intense. “People can probably feel the vulnerability or the essence of where it comes from, so it just connects a lot easier,” he explains. “I spend a lot of time trying to create perfect music. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve just been focusing on the essence of me creating music as a musician. That’s what this album is about.”

I ask him to run me through a few of his favourite songs on the album. He retreats into the house and talks with Dan Joffe, his manager, for a few moments.

The first song he plays is Wena, the album intro. “This song literally came out of nowhere because I did the chords, I did the drums and then as soon as everybody left (the studio) I just started recording. The following morning I was done in like two, three hours. And because I loved the vibe so much I was like this has to be the first song on the album because it really gives you an understanding of where my headspace is at sonically and the direction I want to take.”

Then he plays Vuka, and explains. “Once I did this song, I already knew that this was the direction I was going for.” On Vuka, and Iyeza in general, Anatii is playing around with his voice more than ever. I ask him if he’s always felt this comfortable singing. 

"Yeah. Cause my voice is deep, I learned in music school that the higher or lower you can take it the more you can stretch your range. So in terms of range I can sing really, really low or really, really high.” 

His next pick is Ntloni, which he says is the next single. He explains how there’s a passage in the song where he was just freestyling. “I typed out the second verse on my phone while I was in studio in L.A. vibing. That was originally meant to be the first verse, then I came up with the second verse and used it as the first. So what is now the first verse was a complete freestyle.”

God My Best Friend, an uptempo song that’s surely a strong contender for next single, is his final pick. He tells me an interesting story about his cousin, who is one of the people he acknowledges in the song as one of his best friends: “There was this one time at a family gathering,” he recalls. 

“I had this thing where I’d run and jump over the gate. For some reason he went and copied me and tried to jump over the gate, but then his leg got hooked in the gate and he was hanging upside down.” We all crack up. “Bro, the hook was literally through his leg. It was gruesome.”

Before we wrap up, Anatii tells me about Nika Mtwana, the talented fine artist who did the album’s cover art. In an industry first, Mtwana will be earning royalties from the album’s sales. “His grandkids will earn from this forever,” he adds.

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