We know him as Langa Mavuso, one of the greatest voices to ever come out of South Africa. The Johannesburg-born Nkosinathi Nhlakanipho Mavuso, who emerged from under the wing of Black Coffee’s Soulistic label has broken new ground for South Africa’s musical masculinities and slowly but surely is taking over the world with his sound. Words cannot express to you how obsessed I am with Mavuso, I could literally listen to him all day, every day. There is just something so calming about his music, his voice. I honestly fall in love with him every time I hear one of his songs. It speaks volumes for me so it’s definitely no surprise that he is in the limelight as Deezer’s Next Artist of 2020. Langa is a man of love, power, purpose and pain, and I cannot wait to listen to debut album! I am literally counting down the days.
Love lost. Tell us more about the single.
So, I have to go back to when I first started writing the album, this was almost 3 years ago now and I was in between Capetown, Joburg and London. And when I was doing the sessions in London, I got to reflect a lot on myself as a person and just where I wanted to go and what I wanted the album to reflect. I was going through a terrible break up then but I was still healing from the pain of high school. We start playing cords in the studio and I see an organ, so we start playing the organ and you know, it’s got a really somber sound to it – almost prayerful, it just feels like a church kind of moment, and that took me back.
The last time I heard an organ like that was at my first love’s funeral, he died in my final year of high school and that organ sound took me back there, I think it had almost been 7 years since he passed and I literally went back to the first time that I found out he committed suicide. I was just broken, like really, imagine being 18 and that first love for you is gone. I sat that entire night just looking at the stars, I didn’t sleep a wink and my eyes in the morning were obviously puffy and red so when I started writing I thought about that night – “I’ve got scars in my eyes, I’ve been wrestling the stars. The sunless skies are way too vast” That night went on forever for me. “Exploding balls of gas. My heart still sings your jazz. Blue Rose Wright, that’s all you sang.” There’s a song by Liz Wright that he loved so much and that we sang together so much because we both enjoyed music.
In the moment of writing the song, for the first time, I didn’t feel grief but I was remembering him with joy in my heart and happiness about where we’d been and what we had shared. That’s what love lost is about for me, it’s about remembering a very painful moment but not being consumed by the grief or the pain of it but rather having it ignite memories that make you smile, that make you happy. “I still remember when we first met. It was September, never meant to last” because obviously he passed.
“Do you still remember when we first kissed? It was September, I never knew it like this. Sweetest kiss. It could not be undone. Lost love.” And you know that first love in high school is ridiculous. It’s so INTENSE. So yeah it’s about that. That’s what the song is about.
When can we expect the album?
So, the album will be out South African winter and for you guys, it’ll be summer. It should be out in the next few months, we were just sort of still putting everything together, pitching it to the right editors in South Africa and in London – trying to get the music as far as possible. The music is done and it just needed the right home to release it because I had gone independent so once I released the album I still wanted to give it the muscle to do well, so I was shopping around for a while, then I found my home at this label called platoon. They’re a label services company who have been AMAZING, who are supporting me with this project, so yeah that’s why it’s taken so long.
What sort of vibe can we expect for your upcoming album? What is the inspiration behind it?
It explores heartbreak. Right? At the beginning of the album you kind of walk into the heartbreak with me; my upset, my disappointment. That’s really more sad, more somber, more ballady – basically the music that I’m known for. Then when we get to the middle of the album where we introduce an almost new sound for me, one that the South African audience, or just my audience, in general, hasn’t seen me explore that much – which is a more urban, more RnB, a more upbeat tempo kinda sound. It sort of reflects my time, because the middle of the album is really how I lost myself after the heartbreak. I don’t know if you know this but have you ever gone through a heartbreak so bad that you rally your friends around and you just wanna go to the club and be lost in it? So that’s exactly what it is, in the middle I’m in the moment – I’m searching for love in all of the wrong places. I wanted it to sound like that morning drive after the club, the moment when I met someone that was totally wrong for me you know? And we close that kind of chapter off in the album so beautifully when I bump into an old friend of mine and we sort of talk about all these pretences that we do with one another in these spaces and online. I was going through one of the hardest times in my life but my Instagram was still POPPIN – I was in the club looking amazing just pretending to be fine and we really start the song off so beautifully by asking each other honest questions, I go, “Hey, old friend are you breathing well? Are you feeling swell” and she comes back asking me the same really genuine questions that you would only ever ask someone you’re really close to. Then at the end of the song we just go “but I can’t help but play pretend, so lets play pretend” That moment for me is a shift in the album, where I start to realise the importance of dealing with the pain and finding that closure and I kind of have a spiritual crippling song after that and all of the songs after that kind of start to reflect introspection, just understanding of my personal purpose and then we close off the album beautifully with love lost as the moment of closure of the first heartbreak that ever was.
So love lost is the end of the album and the moment of full maturity and everything before that is the journey of growth. Anyone who has heard Sunday blues to love lost or love six to love lost is going to hear that journey of okay, we’re dealing with the 23-year-old Langa here and as he grows he loses himself at 24 and then he gets to 25 and he’s able to make peace with this big thing that happened to him which also helps him make peace with all the love that he has ever lost.
So to summarise the album is about the end of Sunday blues, that relationship is over. My time with that person is completely done. I mean I get petty a little bit in the album and in the songs but that’s what we do as people. We’re young you know? So you kind of go off, like “yeah, I’m doing better now, I’m in a much better space” but deep down it’s the opposite. And I just wanted to reflect that, like I wanted to reflect that journey for me, I wanted to reflect what 20- year- olds go through like in that loss of what feels like a monumental love. You know that first heartbreak in your 20s, you’re just like “I’m never going to meet anyone again, this had to have been the one” And it’s like, honestly, you have an entire lifetime and there’s someone out there that can bring you happiness and joy. It really is just about realizing that there are more important things in this world than being in a romantic type of love. I just think we can share love with so many types of people in so many different ways but it’s also so important to go through that selfish phase of trying to learn to deal with that so that when it happens again you’re better and you can deal with it in a smarter and more mature way. So yeah that’s the album.
The album is your own personal journey, why did you choose to share it with us?
If I’m honest with you, I really struggle to write about anything else, except the things that I’ve been through and the things that I know or the things that are close to me. Even when I was thinking of that messy phase in my life, I thought about some of my friends that I had watched go through that you know? And I can only write about things that I KNOW in an authentic and truthful way and I think it is important that through my music I share my heart and I think that allows other people to be truthful with themselves as they listen to the songs but also, I always say that I really want people to feel something when I make music and the best way to do that for me is to tell the truth about my own life because it allows the next person to open themselves up to me, which is the music. I can’t see myself not telling my own truth, someone else’s story is theirs to tell and this one is mine.
So, your full name is Nkosinathi Nlhakanipho Mavuso, where did the name Langa come from?
Okay. So here we go. This is like the typical black kid story. I didn’t grow up with my dad, I grew up with my mom and she eventually married my stepdad when I was I think 2/3 years old and for a long time I just didn’t think that I fit in completely, as much as my stepdad’s family has always been amazing to me and has always shown me so much support and love, I never felt like I completely belonged. In the African context, your fathers family is who you are and that’s your identity and I wanted to find myself. The name for me was important, I’d used my moms name my whole life – I’d always go “my name is Nathi Mavuso but my surname is Langa.” (my dad’s surname is manga). When I started to create music, I was at a point in my life where my dad and I were working on a relationship and I started to connect with my fathers family and changing my surname didn’t feel right for me – my mum and her family have raised me and done so much for me. Mavuso is always who I’ve been and always who has carried me, so I thought “how do I honour both my parents in who I am and who I identify as?” So I thought the best way is to take my dads surname and use it as my name and my dad’s name is Langa. I literally went on my Instagram, my Facebook, my twitter and I was like “LANGA, LANGA, LANGA”
People who had known me for a long time were like where does Langa come from? And I was like Langa is actually who I am, that’s my father’s surname and it’s important for you to meet me in my wholeness because I am a product of both of these people, I carry their blood in me, I represent both families in everything that I do and in everything that I am. It was important for me to walk into the space of music and into the world completely just owning all parts of me without having to diminish one or giving another too much hope. So that’s what it was. It was for my parents.
Did you always know that you were going to become a singer/songwriter?
I started singing when I was really young – in primary school, I discovered my voice and I was like “YES, cool you can sing!” And I wasn’t the coolest kid or the most popular kid. I finally had something that made me special, you know? And that’s what it was for me, I loved how this thing allowed me to be received by people, it made me worthy in some type of way, of love and that became very dangerous for me at some point – it’s not okay to only feel value from people because of a talent that you possess.
There were also moments of not being sure whether I still wanted to be a singer because I wanted to be liked and supported and felt worthy because of being Nathi. But I did love music for a very long time, I always wanted to sing, I just had my phases of wanting to sing and not wanting to sing, wanting to sing than not wanting to sing. But when I was at Rhodes studying politics and economics in my first year, I completely realised I was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing and it was important for me to live completely in my purpose and in what I had been called to do, so I left Rhodes and went to UCT to go study Jazz music, and I didn’t necessarily go study jazz because I felt you had to study music to become a musician but I wanted to fulfil the varsity thing for my parents and do what I love at the same time.
I mean, it’s the one career I have always wanted to do but I have switched careers many times. In my head at some point I wanted to be a diplomat, then a lawyer, but I think everything that I have always wanted to be involved writing and interacting with people or representing the stories of people. Music was always going to be it for me though.