For people who grew up in the 80s and 90s, Kwaito was the culture so I feel the need to protect that, innovate it and take it to the next level.
PHOTOGRAPHY: STAN KAPLAN
STYLING: SANDISO NGUBANE
WORDS: DAN CHARLES
“I don’t think that my music is alternative at all. I think people look at how I look and think alternative. At some point I hope that people are going to start forgetting about the image (I mean, I know it’s hard) and just listen to the music.”
There’s a paragraph in Boris Pasternak’s seminal 1957 novel Dr. Zhivago, where one of the characters, Lara, reached the epiphany that “she was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name.” It’s a sentiment that, at face value, seems to suggest that there is a sense of fulfilment to be gained in the pursuit of trying to understand everything and that understanding ultimately results in some form of a definition. However, Sandiso Ngubane – the eclectic and ineffable rapper otherwise known as Mx Blouse – is someone who has found fulfilment and understanding of themself as an artist, by defying definition.
After growing frustrated with the local media industry, Mx Blouse strayed from the path of working as a renowned culture journalist, to actively participate in the South African music culture themself with the release of their debut EP Believe the Bloom in 2017, with production assistance from Joni Blud. Following the EP’s release, Mx Blouse’s sound has evolved from rapping over more conventional boom bap beats into working with an exhilarating amalgamation of musical styles concocted with new collaborators like Parabyl, Tzara and Thor Rixon.
“The stuff that I did before was super hip hop and, as much as I enjoyed doing it, it wasn’t me. So I think that I’ve kind of found where I want to take the sound and it feels good. Before, it was more my producers giving me beats to work with whereas now, I’m able to say that this is the direction that I want to go in. I grew up listening to Kwaito, rap and house music so I really want all of that to come through in the music.”
Although Mx Blouse does not confine their sound into one particular genre, the music certainly bears a kinship with the new wave of Kwaito-influenced music that has been brought to the forefront of the local scene by artists like Stiff Pap and Darkie Fiction. More than just a stylistic trend, Mx Blouse sees incorporating elements of Kwaito into their music as a means of preserving a vital thread of their generation’s heritage.
“I didn’t grow up listening to maskandi or mbaqangaor traditional Zulu music so it wouldn’t make sense for me to sound like that. For people who grew up in the 80s and 90s, Kwaito was the culture so I feel the need to protect that, innovate it and take it to the next level.”
Mx Blouse’s latest single Is’phukphukuis a track that is certainly testament to their striving to take Kwaito to the next level, with a thumping, melodic mid-tempo beat produced by Thor, Jakinda and Albany Lore. As well as sonically updating the genre, the lyrical content of Is’phukphuku also subverts the typically hyper-masculine motifs often used by many Kwaito stars by shifting focus to socio-political issues – particularly those surrounding female and femme bodies in club environments.
“A lot of the music reflects the stuff that I care about: social justice, partying (because I love a party), safe spaces and equality.I’ve got a lot of female friends and at parties we always have to deal with some random who thinks that he can just abuse people so that’s where the second verse of Is’phukphukucame from. It’s based on a lot of my experiences and a lot of experiences from people that I know.”
Despite the track and its accompanying video gaining mass critical acclaim across various media platforms, Is’phukphuku has yet to have been playlisted on any local radio stations (although the music video has recently been playlisted on Trace Africa). This seems to exemplify something of a double standard that is seen within the current media landscape’s growing interest in queer culture – where queer artists are often made the centerpieces of media content, as opposed to the work that they create.
“There are so many queer artists in the country right now and i don’t see any of them getting playlisted. But, because right now it’s so in vogue to talk about queer things, it seems like everyone enjoys using us as content but the content that we create doesn’t matter. It feels like they want to seem progressive but, meanwhile, they’re not. I think that it’s kind of unfair that, when it’s a queer artist, it’s only thispart of that artist that’s important. It’s like: Oh! Let’s put you in our top 10 list of queer artists! I mean, I’m an artist – put me in any list.”
Although gender politics and queer representation are crucial to an artist described as being “beyond gender, beyond genre”, one has to wonder if Mx Blouse feels as if there may be a misbalance if the industry’s attention is focused on the genderless aspect of their artistry as opposed to the genre-less aspect.
“Understanding how media works, they’ve got to have that catchphrase so I don’t mind it. At some point I hope that it’s going to stop but, for now, it’s cool. I think that it’s important for representation. When I was growing up, there were no queer artists so I didn’t know that people like me could actually do these kind of things so I think it’s important for other kids to open up a Sunday Times and see: Oh shit! Here’s someone that feels the same way that I do that’s doing shit. It kind of opens up your scope as a person.”
In an age where we have mostly relinquished the task of learning to call “each thing by its right name” to media conglomerates and online streaming services in lieu of figuring out those definitions for ourselves –Mx Blouse is certainly an anomaly. But whether your definition of them is rooted in them being a “genderless” artist or a “genre-less” artist, there is one clear definition for them that prevails: artist.