One shushu day

At Breeze Yoko’s fundraiser, this graffiti artist introduced Asanda ‘Msaki’ Mvana with a whole lot of praise. And then, there she was – just her, her guitar and her music on a dimly-lit, make-shift stage with Joburg Town in the background. Within moments, it was clear what Breeze was on about (you can have a listen here).

I caught up with this self-taught singer/song-writer from East London at The Lamp Post in Norwood. A few evenings before she performed at this vintage store/art space to an intimate crowd. Since then The Lamp Post employees have had her debut EP, Nal’Ithemba on non-stop replay.

“When we love something, we play it. And we don’t stop,” says Ethel Masimba, the manager. A no-nonsense response to Asanda’s protests, but she does turn the volume down a bit.

Maybe I should rather call her Msaki – her stage name. “My cousin used to say: “Msakarina was a girl...” It has a once-upon-a-time feeling, like maybe I’ll have a cool story one day. It may have become my nickname, because I spoke a lot as a kid and bombed adult conversations. Or maybe it’s close to msasazi, which is a radio announcer. Msakarina was eventually shortened to Msaki. And it stuck,” she says with an amused smile.

Since hearing Msaki perform, I’ve been wondering how best to describe her music. It’s soulful. Earthy. Warm. Folksy. But it’s more than that too.

It’s been called Indie Afro-Folk. Msaki, who sounds like she may have come up with this description herself in other interviews, explains: “I feel the pressure to say something and I never know what to say. I’m really not sure... What washes over you and what do you catch?” She’s influenced by many styles. From soul to jazz. Even pop. She doesn’t fit into a box and that’s just fine, she says.

In many ways, the EP (which Ethel, me and so many others are listening to), has allowed Msaki to develop her sound a bit more. To pin it down. But she quickly adds that her music is still evolving; that she’s sill learning and that it includes learning not to apologise for the little she knows. The little she describes, while laughing, as “seven chords and a few others outside of that and I don’t know their names”.

Msaki wanted to sing for a long time, but studied fine art and photography (all the while making music). She played in various groups and then decided to branch out on her own. But the visual is still a big part of what she does, even as a musician.

“That I still have a long way to go makes me excited for my career. There are other textures that I haven’t explored yet – almost like drawing a line, adding textures, shading. If I can learn how to sing in the same way that I’m exploring drawing...”

She pulls out her sketchpad; pages through it, wondering where she wrote something. “Oh here,” she says and starts reading: “It’s about finding the contradictions in my voice, the smooth and the rough parts, the planned and the spontaneous." She pauses and mentions: "I’m actually learning a lot how to approach my music from visual art.”

Msaki is curently working on a full-length CD, which just like her EP will be developed and produced independently through her company, One Shushu Day. She documents the process of growing as a musical artist at the One Shushu Day Movement page on Facebook – to connect with and inspire others who are chasing their dreams.

What does ‘One Shushu Day’ mean though? “Shushu is hot. So it’s one hot day. One faithful day. It’s a dreamer’s statement, something I used to say as a kid and it carried me through. The Movement is about asking: what’s your ‘one shushu day’? For me it’s about being an artist and finding a way to share something special. And the business side – it’s just a vehicle for dreams to happen in practical way, eventually for other artists too.”

As we start wrapping up, she calls out to Ethel: “Aren’t you guys getting tired of the CD yet?” Ethel shakes her head and jokes: “We’re waiting for you to leave, so we can turn it up.”

One shushu day – it’s coming, I tell you. Msakarina was a girl!

(Details of her gigs in Joburg just beneath the next photie.)

You can catch Msaki:
- tonight (6 June) at The Lighthouse in Melville at 7pm
- on Saturday, 7 June at the Soweto Art & Craft Fair at the Soweto Theatre at 12pm
- on Sunday, 8 June Curiocity I Write What I Like in Maboneng at 3pm

Msaki is part of the Grahamstown Arts Festival Fringe line-up and will also be part of a group art exhibition next door to the Long Table.

If you want to get hold of her debut EP, email (it's just R60). I also found this great background article on her.

Here she's playing with Joel Karabo Elliott and Thembinkosi Mavimbela at The Lamp Post.

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