Mzilikazi is one of the legendary South African artists, a music producer and journalist. He sings with his friends and together they are called “Mzee and Friends.” He has collaborated some of the big household names in Africa such as Salif Keita, Wiyaala from Ghana, Brenda Mutambo, and many more. He is an award winning journalist who refers to journalism as his day job as music is his evening and weekend assignment, whose journalism career has been faced with a lot of life threatening situations but he has stood the taste of time. Enjoy the interview!
Many years ago when I rediscovered myself, I think I was about 15 or 16 years old, I found out that I was carrying a slave name, which was Leonard, all along and I decided to embrace my African roots and changed my name from Leonard to Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi wa Afrika isn’t a brand but who I am.
There is an African proverb that says that ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far , go together.’ and I work with my friends because I want to go far and not fast. No man is an island, I must learn from them as they learn from me and together we can compliment one another. Respect is what keeps a group together and without it there is no next project.
After being a household name in your country and beyond, you took off a five years break off the musical scene. What prompted the leave and also, what did you do in the break?
I didn’t leave the music industry but I took a break to concentrate on writing my memoir, Nothing Left to Steal, which became one of the best selling books, not only in South Africa but across a number of African countries. I just did a book launch in Uganda two months ago, my book is selling in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana to mention just a few. The break also gave me an opportunity to do some research on our next music project. So I believe it was a well deserved break which gave me a golden opportunity to explore my writing skills and enhance my lyrical writing.
You have had privilege to work with/collaborate with many reknown African artists. What considerations do you make before accepting or considering to work with a given artist on any project?
As a musician, I am inspired by other fellow musicians – young and old – and it is my dream to work or share a stage with some of the musical greats that I look up to as a musician. Working with music legends like Salif Keita from Mali, Wiyala from Ghana, Hishishi Papa from Namibia, Ali Faque from Mozambique and many others, was exciting for me and a blessing. Musicians often collaborate because they have a common purpose and share some sentiments. This collaboration also helped me to travel Africa extensively and get to know our beautiful continent better as I traveled to all those countries in order to collaborate with those musicians. Traveling is the best education and I believe that I am not more educated about Africa than ever before.
Do you have any young artists that you are mentoring to follow your foot steps? What is your advice to them and other aspiring artists around the globe that look up to you and your friends?
I have my own record label, Bomba Records, and I have signed a number of talented artists. I am trying to mentor them, brand them and help them make their dreams come true. I have introduced some of my artists to a number of international renown musicians that I work with or close to. We are one big family and just like any family we do have our own challenges and we are dealing with them in order to grow.
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Journalism happens to be like your week day job and you have been through so much vilification, assassination threats, been wrongfully arrested to mention but a few. What inspired the spirit of investigative journalism in you? Was it something that you studied to pursue as a career or it was just a passion? And with all those life threatening moments, have you ever regretted taking it on as part of your career?
To me, journalism is not a career but a calling. There is an African proverb that says ‘a true warrior must be brave enough to tell the lion that it’s breath stinks and not to whisper it behind its back’ and I want to be that true warrior that will tell any politician, president or minister, to their faces, when their breath stink and when they start stealing from our people. I didn’t want to be a journalist for awards but to make a difference in the world and keep the people well informed. I believe, as. Journalist, I am the voice of the voiceless as well as the eyes and ears of my people.
What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your journalism career?
my greatest challenge is keeping my family alive and unharmed all these years. I have received more death threats than birthday presents, I have been arrested, thrown into the middle a game park, thrown out of a moving car, harassed and called names but keep my family safe and alive is my number priority and one of my greatest challenges.
What has been your most painful and hurting finding in your journalism career?
I am enjoying everything I do and loving what I do. If you stumble and fall, you stand up and dust yourself. We all learn from our mistakes and I have learned a lot from mine too. I don’t have painful moments or regrets but I have wonderful memories, that I will cherish for the rest of my life, about my journalism career.
Do you feature some of your journalistic findings as your song lyrics?
My music and journalism career are unfriendly cousins. I wrote my first song when I was 11 years old and my first poem when I was 13. I have always been writing songs and poems long before I became a journalist and again music is inspired by your life experiences and fantasies but journalism is about real life events and occasions.
Your twitter Time line is painted with the beauty in Africa ranging from quotes, fashion, cultures and so much more. What is it about Africa that you are so much passionate about that you want the entire world to embrace and appreciate? Why so you have passion for it anyway?
My twitter account is an institution of African pride and black excellence. My greatest passion is to see Africa rising from the ashes and see my brothers and sisters rediscover themselves and embrace themselves as true children of the soil. Africa is amazing and beautiful. George Kimble once said: “The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” And my twitter tries to educate people about Africa, I am not an expert though but I try to share the little that I know about Africa with those willing to know more about our continent. Kwame Nkrumah made a profound statement when he said: “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”