Sho Madjozi was never supposed to be this big. She was born in a little-known village in Limpopo, studied creative writing, dabbled in poetry and has written short stories and screenplays.
It’s not quite that she wasn’t meant to be a success, her path just seemed to be headed in a different direction. But here we are, faced with the most unlikely rap star, whose star just won’t stop rising.
“Every time it just gets more and more insane,” says Madjozi, clearly still in disbelief at the crossover success she continues to achieve.
“I think it’s because I was not really expecting to be famous, so that just makes things even more crazy. And also because nobody really believed in me from inside the industry. I remember at the beginning when I first recorded Dumi HiPhone some people were like, ‘Why don’t you just rap in Zulu’ and I’m like, ‘Because I’m not Zulu.’”
And so she’s gate-crashed the industry and in the process made it fall in love with her own unique sound and style. Instead of being confined to star status in her hometown, as she suspected would be the case, she’s been rewarded for staying true with a rapidly growing legion of Sho Madjozi-obsessed fans across the continent.
Today, her latest smash hit, Huku, is at the top of several charts and has been taking the country by storm. “It’s huge, it’s massive,” she says. “I had taken a break in July to work on my album and I also went to Kenya for about a week so I hadn’t performed for a while.
"And it seems that within the last couple of weeks Huku has taken on a life of its own. It’s got a cult following. At the gigs that I went to this weekend I was just shocked. Like, people were screaming, ‘Huku! Huku!’ For me everything is big because I kept getting told that it’s not gonna work.”
Sho Madjozi rose above the pessimism by sticking to her guns and trusting her vision.
“The thing is, I want to make music for me,” she says, proudly. “For like, how young people growing up in the same village that I grew up in never get to hear our own language on national radio. There are also so many of us, not only in Limpopo, but also in Gauteng, and we go to massive gigs and there’s never a single Tsonga musician. Imagine.”
She’s taken it upon herself to change this and, one hit at a time, her sound has started to do just that.
Asked where she drew musical inspiration from growing up, Madjozi explains that her parents had a very pan-African taste in music. “I think they spent a lot of time in Zimbabwe when I was growing up and I listened to a lot of Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo. Back then Zim was popping and obviously Limpopo is really close to there, so I grew up to that kind of music. I listened to a lot of Kanda Bongo Man, which is Congolese.”
One of Madjozi’s key features is her bright, eccentric dress sense.
“I’m always trying to replicate xiTsonga fashion of the late ‘90s and early 2000s because that’s what I grew up around. And my parents are very young, so when I was growing up my mom was in her 20s and I just thought that she was the most beautiful person ever.
"And how they used to dress up in the bright pink, yellow, green xibelani. That has stuck with me my whole life and everything I find beautiful is heavily influenced by what I saw growing up.”
Much of Madjozi’s appeal lies in her live performances, which are just as eccentric as her sense of style. A few months ago, I watched her put on a breathtaking performance at Absolut’s One Source Live festival - she danced, she rapped, she free-styled and she electrified.
That’s what she always does. Now, she’s aiming to take her live show to a new, international level.
On Monday, August 13, the Huku hitmaker will be travelling to New York to prepare for Afropunk and a couple of other shows that she’ll be doing there.
Then later in the year, she’ll be performing at the Global Citizen festival alongside the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Chris Martin.
With the upcoming release of her album titled The Limpopo Champions League set for October, I wouldn’t put it past Madjozi to defy the odds once more and become an international star. She really is that good.