13 oct 2023

Who is Muzi, the South African musician prodigy who bewitched Damon Albarn and Stormzy?

By summoning the Zulu sounds heard in his childhood, the South African singer Muzi produces a danceable and sunny music that takes us as much to his continent as to a Berlin club or even to space. Never far from the stars… On the occasion of the release of his fifth studio album, uMUZI, this Friday, October 13, 2023, portrait of the prince of zulu house, a kind of pan-African version of Daft Punk.

The name Muzi is still little known in France. But in South Africa, this DJ-singer-producer has redrawn, in just a few years, the contours of local music. Based in Johannesburg, he even managed to attract the attention of the United States and England. Its strength ? Danceable and euphoric songs that draw on a kaleidoscope of colorful influences. In five albums (including uMUZI which comes out this Friday, October 13, 2023), Muzi has forged his own sound :the Zulu House, a mix of electronic, bubblegum music from South Africa (the name given to the pop and funk scene of the 80s) and other genres such as maskandi (Zulu folk), kwaito (house music that emerged in Johannesburg) and isicathamiya (a cappella singing style from the Zulus).


Muzi, South African singer who forged his own sound: zulu house


Muzi tells us about his attachment to traditional sounds: “I think it’s crucial that people know where I’m from, no matter how far I want to push my music, they have to be able to say that I’m African,  that I’m Zulu.” He only discovered four years ago, he admits, that house music had been invented in the early 80s by black producers in Chicago and Detroit, which made him feel all the more legitimate in this genre. But the innovative, catchy and enjoyable melodies take us much further than the United States or Africa. They propel us directly into space.


The Afrofuturist roots of the singer Muzi


In 2018, 
on which there was a track called
 Zulu Skywalker
. The expression has since become the singer’s nickname. On his fourth album, released in 2021,  Interblaktic, the artist sang, in the opening: “There seem to be a lot of black people on Mars.” This way of looking at the stars is not new. “My mother used to buy me books about the stars, Muzi explains, aliens and galaxies when I was a kid. So I fell in love with the idea of space. The idea of otherworldly places about which humans have little information intrigues me.”


Muzi’s cosmic obsession is reminiscent of that of the Afrofuturist movement. This decolonial and emancipatory aesthetic current that emerged in the second half of the 20th century often showed black men in galactic universes. Influenced by Sun Ra and Basquiat, the movement conceives of black beauty in relation to science fiction, technology, magic and the future. A powerful imagery that can be found as much in Rihanna as in the blockbuster Black Panther (2018). But Muzi prefers the term ‘Afro-Nowism.’ ” This means,  he says, that Africans are doing incredible things today, in the present time. And not that we’ll only be great in the future or in another space-time.”


Collaborations with Damon Albarn, Chris Martin and Stormzy


The musician Muzi , who started out producing electro tracks with basic software in his bedroom, is a man well anchored in his time. As he speaks, he is suffering from a knee injury due to a skateboarding accident and spends a lot of time on Netflix and his PlayStation. The one who creates his own clothes, shapes his illustrations and some of his videos loves Daft PunkJustice and the film 300 (2006) as much as collecting vinyl records and listening to ancestral African music. The Zulu Skywalker is inspired by what he heard in a club in Berlin on an important trip as well as the idea of the death of the ego (the spiritual trip sought by psychedelic drug users) and love. Luminous but profound, his music seems to want to heal wounds, starting with his own.


During the pandemic, Muzi saw friends and family leave, including his mother, a gospel and opera singer who had passed on her passion to him. The artist, who grew up in a violent township, also felt isolated and depressed at the beginning of his career because he wanted to make different music. He found solace in the sound of machines and now dreams of collaborating with rap stars such as Missy Elliott, Kid Cudi , and Pharrell Williams. But he can already boast of being adored by Diplo and (late) The Prodigy as well as having worked with artists such as Chris Martin (Coldplay), Gruff Rhys,
, Kaytranada and
Damon Albarn
. “It’s always funny,” Muzi says, “to remember Damon Albarn trying to play the maskandi and finding it very difficult because of the intensity of the strumming of the guitar strings. Or the time Chris Martin waited for me backstage after my performance at the Afropunk festival to tell me that it was one of the best things he’d ever seen in his life.” And after listening to the lively albums Interblaktic and uMUZI on repeat, you may share the enthusiastic opinion of the former Monsieur Gwyneth Paltrow.


uMUZI (2023) by Muzi, available.