It is very rare that Afro-Jazz musician Thandiswa Mazwai grants media interviews.
As part of her upcoming 40th celebrations this week, Thandiswa gave the Sunday Independent a glimpse into her very private life since she popped into the limelight 21-years-ago.
A big celebration has already been planned for Thursday night at Baseline in Newtown, Joburg, where she will be performing with her band and party till dawn.
“I can't believe how much time has flown. I think it's that thing of having done a lot of things at a very young age. My 20s and 30s were very exciting. It never felt like time was moving. It feels like it all happened so quickly,” said Thandiswa.
“The journey has been very exciting. It has also been a magical and blessed experience because I hear a lot of stories in the music industry.
“And, honestly, none of those things have happened to me. For me it has just been a straight line. I never tried to get into the music business but music has somehow become a part of my destiny,” said the 39-year-old.
Thandiswa said since her days of Bongo Maffin, when it was launched in 1996, people have assumed she is older than what she really is.
“I feel like every age that I have ever reached has been a milestone.
“I have had momentous birthdays. This is also another momentous birthday. With getting older there is a little bit of respect that comes with it. People start stumbling over themselves trying to put together the word mama and Mazwai in one sentence,” joked the mother of a 14-year-old daughter with former band-mate Stoan Seate.
Thandiswa lives with her partner of nine years in one of the Joburg’s northern suburbs and credits the birth of her daughter as one of her life’s turning points.
“I have two major turning points in my life, the death of my mother when I was 16 and giving birth to my own child and becoming a parent.
“These two events will always influence and inform everything I do,” explained the Zabalaza hit-maker.
While walking through the corridors of the Star building on Thursday, Thandiswa reminisced about her mother, Belede Mazwai, who worked as a journalist for the publication. She remembered running around the building and she marvelled how the building still looks the same.
Her mother passed away at the age of 34 and Thandiswa remarked that at her age, she is older than her mother when she died.
“Losing my mother was very tragic for a very long time until I realised that I had my own destiny to fulfil. I realised that having her on the other side could add to having a stronger divine influence in my life”.
Talking about her career, including her successful album Ibokwe, with the hit single Zabalaza that she released eight-years ago, Thandiswa said she had enjoyed so many highlights in her career it is difficult to pick one.
“There are events that I talk about a lot because they are too incredible. I once had lunch with Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela at the same time at Tata’s house.
“I sat in the middle and Mandela was on my right, and on my left was Michael Jackson,” she said.
Thandiswa spoke fondly of the late musician Busi Mhlongo and said her death was “a total annihilation of my soul”.
“I had a very close relationship with her and she felt like a second mother to me.”
The one thing that the Jazz lover said she guards strongly is her authentically South African identity.
“I aspire to be a part of a group of musicians that sound entrancingly South African. I grew up in a very strong pan- African and black consciousness home.
My mother was a radical Pan Africanist. She wore African clothes. When I was given an opportunity to present myself publicly, when I started out with Bongo Muffin, I thought about my mother and preserving the memory of what she taught me”.
Although Mazwai said her mother Belede, who was married to former publisher and entrepreneur Thami Mazwai, used to take her to church religiously while growing up, she has since decided to carve out her own path.
“I don't necessarily go to church. At the end of the day, everybody choses their own spirituality. They choose what comforts them. What takes me through the dark times is my culture and my history, my traditions. I have never ascribed to any religion.”
The cowry shell on her forehead is purely for aesthetic purposes. She loves to travel the African continent and her favourite place is Mali. She will be in Bamako next week.