For the past 20 years, Mafikizolo have been one of South Africa’s most loved Afro-pop duos, reaching audiences around the world. Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgosinkwe have made major inroads into the genre on the African continent and beyond, and they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
While their name means ‘the new kids on the block’, Mafikizolo are definitely not! Over the last two decades, they have sold well over a million copies of their albums and they have been nominated for BET (Black Entertainment Television) and AMA (American Music Awards) awards, and have won multiple SAMAs (South African Music Awards), MTV Africa and AFRIMMA (African Muzik Magazine Awards) awards. Their latest release, 20, received multiple nominations for this year’s SAMAs, with the duo taking home three: Best Duo/Group, Best Engineer and Best Pop Album (African). This is the third time that they have taken home the SAMA for Best Group/Duo.
Nhlanhla Nciza and Theo Kgosinkwe’s friendship dates back to their childhood. They grew up a few minutes from each other in Kagiso, near Krugersdorp, and met while attending contests and talent shows. With help from friends, in 1996 they recorded a four-track demo on a cassette tape and submitted it to Oscar Mdlongwa of Kalawa Jazmee Records. He liked their blend of R&B and kwaito and signed them. Aspiring kwaito star Tebogo Madingoane joined the line-up to turn the duo into a band.
Fame and stardom weren’t instant, and it was only with their third album Gatecrashers (1999) and the track ‘Majika’ that they began to find their own, unique sound. The song ‘Marabi’, with its 1960s feel, was their breakthrough hit and their now cohesive Mafikizolo sound was formed. The track opened their 2001 album release, Sibongile, which yielded great hits.
With Sibongile, they also unveiled their new look, a fresh, 1960s-inspired, vintage style that has become their signature. Sharp zoot suits, Panama hats and swing skirts personified their style and set them apart from their contemporaries.
The success of Sibongile came at a dark time for the trio, who had survived a near-fatal car accident a few months prior. But 2002 brought Kwela and their first SAMA, and they were no longer just ‘the new kids on the block’.
The trio went on to release two more albums, 2003’s Van Toeka and 2004’s Six Mabone. The year 2004, was, unfortunately, another terrible year for the band as their third member, Tebogo Madingoane, was fatally shot in a road-rage incident. After the tragedy, the group separated.
Mafikizolo’s latest release, 20, is a celebration album that isn’t focused on any specific genre – it’s a smorgasbord of sounds and influences indicative of a cosmopolitan and modern pop group
‘After Tebogo’s death, we needed time to heal,’ says Nciza. ‘We met with the record company and made it clear that we didn’t want to replace him. They thought we would become unbalanced, that it would affect our image. It was important for us to let him know that wherever he is, he is still part of Mafikizolo. We wanted his family to know that we respect Tebogo’s legacy. Humans are unique, they are not dispensable.’
During their time apart, Nciza started her own clothing line, NN Vintage. ‘My love of clothes is something that I got from my mom,’ she says. ‘I would always look at how beautiful, how stylish she looked. Even with Mafikizolo, I was always styling and customising our clothing. I decided to follow my passion and share it with women. For me, the style was always a part of the music.’ Nciza has won numerous fashion awards over the years for NN Vintage, which has grown into a highly sought-after brand.
During this time, Nciza also recorded her first solo album, under her husband TK Nciza’s label, TS Records. While critics were harsh, the album went gold and she won a Metro Award. But again, this success was accompanied by tragedy in 2009 when her five-year-old daughter died in a car accident.
Kgosinkwe also worked on solo projects during their break. ‘Working on my solo album was scary,’ he says. ‘I was facing a lot of negativity, but I learnt a lot. I started my own label. I didn’t even have enough money to do this. The album was partly funded by proceeds from the sale of my parents’ house.
‘I had to do well. I put together a good team. I wrote songs for Kelly Khumalo, Bucie and others.
The duo reunited in 2012. Mafikizolo released an album Reunited, marking an exciting new beginning for the band.
Mafikizolo’s latest release, 20, is a celebration album that isn’t focused on any specific genre – it’s a smorgasbord of sounds and influences indicative of a cosmopolitan and modern pop group. More significant are the collaborators and producers they turned to – a youthful selection of hip-hop artists as well as some known names. For some exuberance, they brought in Kly, who features on two songs, as well as Gemini Major and Howard. Nokwazi Dlamini also lends her voice.
Mafikizolo continues to fly the South African flag in different African countries, including Sudan, Zambia, the DRC, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Their imagery and branding celebrate all things fabulous and vibrant about African cultures – they dabble in Herero headgear from Namibia and the pleated Tsonga skirt from South Africa. Mafikizolo are proudly African and excellently positioned to take African music to the world and unite the continent under their banner.