Little is known about ZYO. Shrouded in swathes of intensely coloured shweshwe fabric and donning a bandanna mask, his eyes are concealed behind shades.
There are flashes of skin, but the palette of his hands and other features is indeterminate. That is how he wants it to be - an enigmatic music man - appreciated for his “modern fusion of African and European elements”.
The moniker, ZYO, he says comes from the Zulu word “esizayo”, which is translated as “future” in English. He tells us that he was born in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and went to Michael Mount Waldorf School in Jozi. The specifics of biography pale in relation to the journey of “fusion of cultures” that he is embarking on. ZYO is about innovation and shape-shifting.
How is ZYO pronounced? It’s pronounced “ZIO”. It’s tied to the Afrofuturistic concept; taking the name from the Zulu word “esizayo” was the perfect representation of the ethos and intention.
What is your birth name? How old is ZYO? ZYO is ageless but in human terms. I was born in 2017, transported to this world by an Afrofuturistic space shuttle, covered in shweshwe-inspired patterns and disco colours.
What did you listen to? I grew up listening to a whole lot of different kinds of music - David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, Johnny Clegg, Fela Kuti and James Brown; listening to my uncles’ record collection, going to the opera and playing in a band with my brother and closest friends at school.
When I developed my own taste, I kept hunting for new and different music. I had an insatiable appetite to discover music that I hadn’t heard before and this is still the same to this day. It’s a never-ending quest. I was also exposed to classical music through my grandfather. The intention for ZYO’s music was always for it to be a fusion of my roots in Africa and my European heritage.
Can you talk about ZYO as the “electronic music artist” - inspired by the cultural aesthetic of Afrofuturism? Afro-futurism is a cultural aesthetic, a philosophy of science and a philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of the African culture with technology.
I love the idea of presenting Africa in a futuristic way, rather than the way it’s often presented as being backward. In terms of the aesthetic, I find the Afrofuturistic movement visually appealing and forward-looking. It’s ancient meets modern and it fits perfectly with the ethos of ZYO and the fusion of cultures that is the driver of everything behind the project. It wasn’t developed in clubs. The word “electronic” stems from the way the music is made, which is primarily on a computer.
How did you get started in the music business? I put the whole project together independently, from concept to creation, and then released the single. I’m hoping I’ll inspire other artists to follow their dreams. It’s 100% possible to be a successful artist without a record label’s backing.
Tell us about your collaborating with Mpumi Sizani? She got the concept of the whole song right away and then contributed her own special energy to the song. As the message of the song is about unity and togetherness, the intention was always to have lyrics in different languages.
Initially, I had written the entire song in English and I had recorded my voice as a way to demo my vision of the song to potential collaborators. When I heard my voice and Mpumi’s together in different parts of the song, it became clear that this was how the song was meant to be. It really helped to cement the “we are one” message.
Who makes your clothes? I love the custom ZYO print in millennium pink.
As with all the other aspects of the project, I conceptualised and designed the custom ZYO pattern. I had it printed onto fabric and then had it made into a suit. The mask was made by the fabulous folks at Monkeybiz in Cape Town. The colours reference disco and the pattern references African shweshwe designs. Every element was carefully thought out and created intentionally to cement the concept of the fusion of cultures.
* The single We Are One is available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud.