BY KATE TWOMEY//
Muzi is a Zulu singer, songwriter, record producer, DJ, and all around artist from the township of Empangeni, South Africa. After embarking on his North American tour for his latest album Interblaktic, he found the time to take an interview with WRGW’s Kate Twomey from a stoop somewhere in NYC. From album visuals to a new single, Muzi makes it clear that every step of his process is steeped in intentionality and authenticity.
This interview originally aired on WRGW and has been edited for length and clarity.
K8: Hello, people on the radio waves. My name is Kate from WRGW, and today I’m talking between states with international DJ, singer songwriter, and record producer Muzi. How are you doing today? Where are you calling from?
Muzi: I’m in Canal Street in New York, and it’s, like, mad noisy, but I’m in an alleyway somewhere.
K8: And so you just left for your North American tour. Are you coming in from Johannesburg?
Muzi: No, I’ve been in America for three weeks now. But I just got to New York yesterday. I had a show here at a place called Baby’s All Right. And that went down really well. But today I’m just, like, experiencing the area.
K8: Well, welcome! I hope you’re enjoying the East Coast. Summer is the best time to be in New York for sure. Hands down.
Muzi: There are corners of inspiration everywhere, which is, like, really dope.
K8: I saw that you were living in Berlin for a little while, so it really seems like you get a lot of inspiration from location in terms of bouncing around the globe.
Muzi: Yeah, I do. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world, and the most exciting part for me is obviously the people and the energy of the people and then learning about different genres and different pockets of the country or whichever city I’m in, and then it’s like I take that, and I try to introduce that into what I’m doing. So I think that’s what I’m doing while being here in America.
K8: I remember reading in an interview that you said that DJing for you was sort of like anthropology, because you’re taking genres and music and influences from not only eras of South African music, but eras of music all over the world. For your most recent album, Interblaktic, that just dropped last October, were there any genres or regions or influences that were new or surprising for you?
Muzi: Yeah, I think especially with the song “Interblaktic” and, like, a few other of the harsh dancey tunes on the album, there’s very much, like, Detroit techno minimalism in it and a lot of Chicago house because I grew up on that type of house music, I just didn’t know it was Chicago House at the time. So it’s been me trying to get more into that bag and not just, like, only take stuff from home- from the African continent- but taking things that I’ve learned from techno and house music and hip hop and all these other sort of genres. Even orchestral music- I was listening to orchestral music for some reason, and that was inspiring me to just try new things in the music. So it’s so important to see where the dots connect and see all the different genres, and then I just try to connect them through the music I make.
K8: You just dropped your single “A Day in Chicago”, which, as you just mentioned, is like an homage to Chicago house. And speaking of orchestral music, that kind of reminds me, I imagine you know, like, Derrick May from the Chicago scene and whatnot.
K8: Do you know his song “Strings of Life”? It’s like this orchestral…
Muzi: Oh! Yeah!
K8: Yeah, you have to, you have to!
Muzi: That sort of idea of how they added soul into sort of four step drum beats, I find that so interesting. Especially at a time when there wasn’t a lot of music sounding like that. To have the sort of foresight to do that makes him an immediate genius in my book. That’s the inspiring part, when you can go and realize that we’re all really using the same 12 keys, being able to take parts of other genres and other cultures and mixing that into what you’re doing. When people go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a new sound” it’s usually just a mixture of, like, a couple of sounds that already exist, but done in such a brilliant way that it comes out as new.
K8: Remixing these old concepts seems to be at the core of Interblaktic with the themes of Afrofuturism, with both the visual concepts and the actual sonic side of it. I was wondering where your fascination with space themed stuff began. It felt very reminiscent of Sun Ra’s film “Space Is the Place”.
Muzi: To be honest, my mom used to buy me a lot of space shuttle- books about space when I was a kid. I used to read a lot about Andromeda and the Milky Way and all the planets that we found and stuff like that, and I started having ideas of how that connected to me on a more sort of spiritual level, like going into space when you’re in a trance or whatever. So that’s how the music felt for me- it felt like I was going into another place. So I like playing with the space theme in that context. It’s not really in the context of me going into a space shuttle and going to Mars or whatever but it’s more like the state of mind of me traveling somewhere else when I make the music.
K8: On the title track the hook is, “red lips, kinky hair, Black skin, free as hell, love it or move over.” How does self love for Black people play into your ideas of the future and Sci-Fi?
Muzi: I think it plays more into a relearning of the past. All my music is about love. Whether it’s romantic or self love or love for my culture, it’s all surrounded by the idea of love. But the reason why I like digging into old albums and going on the internet to find out what music was dropping in Africa in the fifties is because there’s a gap between music of the past and music of now- and I’m trying to join that somehow. So I use the vehicle of music and love for my culture to try and find out and figure out that part, like the missing gap, and try to find some form of sonic bridge between those times.
K8: Yeah, because if you see space as this basis of self expansiveness or possibility, that really can’t be touched without absolute love across the board.
Muzi: Yes. So it’s like just trying to connect to that by using love as a vehicle for the future.
K8: As for visual components for the album, we need to talk about the leather zebra jacket. Where did it come from? Why is it important for you not only to have it central for the album but also for “A Day in Chicago”?
Muzi: The jacket itself is like me. It pays homage to a South African group called Harari, that used to make psychedelic disco music back in the day. It’s also a nod to Daft Punk, who I love. They’re both huge influences of mine. For the actual zebra part of it, when you look at it from a frontal point of view, it’s shaped like a V, and that shape is how a traditional Zulu outfit looks like for a king. So that’s me paying homage to my culture. I just thought I’d join the two and see what happens, and then it turned out great.
K8: Using it for both Interblaktic and then “A Day in Chicago,” are you trying to link up those projects and have them exist in the same universe?
Muzi: Yeah, so they do exist in the same universe, but “Chicago” is the end of that journey for me. If you watch the visualizer, it starts and ends with me being alone in barren land, and I’m just there alone. It completes the cycle of the album. Now the leather jacket is about to go on a hiatus.
K8: How come you wanted the Interblaktic universe to begin and end with you alone on a barren landscape?
Muzi: I’ve received a lot of help from the people that are around me, but I’ve always felt like I was an outcast. There’s a path that one needs to walk alone mentally. I’m enjoying myself along this journey, but it is a journey that takes a lot of, I guess, bravery. Because I’m not making things that are particularly commercial. I’m making music that comes from my soul, and that’s something that I want to honor. But usually that is a journey that one has to walk alone for that self actualization to happen. There’s a burning desire that I have to spread the sort of message of being yourself. And sometimes that might not be received well, but I need to receive it well for myself. So it’s why I like doing visuals like that.
K8: Are there any sort of spiritual or maybe even political backgrounds that you associate with that message?
Muzi: In terms of my culture and the spirituality of my culture, it’s me acknowledging my ancestors and the gift that they gave me. In that instance, if I’m not accepting of my gift, then I’m not being grateful to my ancestors or to the universe for giving me this gift. That’s why it ties into that thing. I have to be myself to honor the gift. If I’m not myself, I can’t honor the gift properly. Through honoring myself, I honor the people that came before me.