Mx Blouse is an artist for whom Kwaito remains their primary South African sound. Although they’re not boxed in by any sound – in a climate where genres on the continent are popping off in a myriad of directions, Mx’s sublimation of Kwaito (interspersed with their other influences) begs the right kind of rhythmic depth, electro synth and groove all fused together for that perfect distillation of nostalgia and modernity. It is the sound they are most loyal to. With this, Mx Blouse’s bilingual vocals – harmonies and rap – evoke a kind of storytelling that is as raw and real as Mx Blouse themselves. Recently returned from a tour in Europe and with their latest single ‘ICON’ just dropping, Mx Blouse is a force to be reckoned with despite the challenges of the pan. No formal training or musical history within their family, I surmise in our conversation that a power beyond reality coaxed Mx into creating music. It’s destiny.
In our conversation, Mx tells me that finding themselves as a practising musician was never certain, “I have no idea where it comes from, this drive to be a performer or artist. I’ve always been a writer and this is something I say all the time – fundamentally, what I am is a writer. I got my mom and sister to teach me how to write before I even went to school, so that’s been the way I’ve always approached being in the world. I wrote poetry from a young age and that’s gone on forever, through my teenagehood and beyond.” Music was a background feature to their life, but it hadn’t dawned on them it might become front and centre, “music is something my mother loved a lot. There was always music playing in the house and at some point, we had our cousins staying with us. So I drew a lot of inspiration from my older cousins and their music taste – Tupac, Notorious B.I.G and also a lot of Kwaito.” For Mx, Music showed up as a healing salve when “my mom died when I was 16 and I don’t why, but my way of consoling myself was buying myself a guitar. I don’t come from a musical family but music drew me in, somehow. Writing is a form of expression and that has ended up extending to music.”
Writing is such an act of solitude. To take this personal act and to take that into an outwardly expressive, demanding environment like the stage – to perform and be perceived – is a courageous one and one that not many writers might ever pursue. I ask Sandi if there was a moment in which they realised that their writing had to reach beyond their solitude and into the world? To which they say, “well, it started with pursuing journalism. I wanted to do fashion journalism but the education spaces in South Africa don’t offer that. So, I pursued traditional journalism as a way to initially get my writing out into the world. I didn’t like it, though. It wasn’t for me.”
Mx had faced an existential crisis around their craft; writing was their initial love, but how could they find a way for writing to extend toward something more exhilarating and fulfilling? As Mx explains, “I cashed out my pension and left the country. I went on a two month trip to Thailand and Vietnam. I got to Bangkok and for a week, I was so depressed because I felt so directionless. Before I’d left, I started working with a friend, Joni Blud, on some music. It wasn’t very serious. I think we’d been drunk at some party and started freestyling. Eventually, I rapped on some beats that he had made.”
This trip to South East Asia would come to consecrate the artist we know today as Mx Blouse. As Mx reminisces, “everything came together in Thailand, when I was feeling a little bit depressed. I started playing these beats that Joni had sent me and I started writing. I recorded those first songs on my computer with my earphones as a microphone, sent them back to him and we put together some tracks. That was the beginning.” In a wildly fated sort of way, the universe wasted no time in signalling to Mx that they were onto something. It would take exactly one week from dropping their first track, to being asked to perform it live; “I was in Vietnam, just about to come home, and I put one of the songs on Soundcloud. The song wasn’t mixed or mastered, but I did it anyway! It was called ‘WTF’. About a week later a friend of mine, Colleen, asked if I wanted to come and perform that song I had posted at Kitcheners in Braamfontein. My sister came to watch and I remember being on stage and being like, this is what I want to do. The feeling of being on stage was pure ecstasy for me.” Mx describes walking off the stage and straight up to their sister, asking her if they could stay on their couch as Mx wasn’t going back to Cape Town. They were going to stay in Joburg and make the music thing happen.
Fast forward until today – Mx has just returned from a European tour, with a sonic style that flexes their innate musical ability and penchant for performance. True to Mx Blouse style, their relationship to touring in Europe arose from someone asking to bring them out to perform in Berlin, and Mx advocating their business-sense outright. As Mx says, “I said that I would love to, but I’m not going to leave South Africa to play just one show in Europe. So, I arranged with promoters in a few different cities like Nuremberg, Leipzig.” Energising and exhilarating are principle features of an Mx Blouse show, though they’ve had to find what artist that they are; thus, Mx Blouse is a continued, evolving expression of themselves as an artist, “I’ve been doing this for five years. In hindsight, that’s not a long time. In between those years was the pandemic, which rocked all of us. When I think about the kind of stages I’ve played on in this short amount of time, I am very grateful – because I don’t think this happens for a lot of people.” Mx continues to create with their long standing collaborators like Thor Rixon (behind their first official track, ‘Is’phukuphuku’ and its eternally iconic music video) and Boogie Vice; it seems that for Mx, experimentation is done best with those that really know you. Mx explains on finding their sound, “I don’t listen to one genre so it’s been my task to incorporate as many threads into my sound as I can. I’ve been very lucky to work with people that can understand that.”
Photographed by William Rice & Styled by MX Blouse
Mx Blouse’s latest track ICON is a powerful statement of self-liberation. The track features Mx in a fervent, hard-hitting lyrical storm that traverses many stances about their expression in the world. As they say “I think a lot of people would categorise this new track as hip hop but there’s elements of dance music, of Amapiano – it’s me testing these sounds together. I’ve become very passionate about addressing the fact that South African rap music tends to mimic American rap music. I find that insanely boring, to be honest. It doesn’t feel authentic. Rapping with a South African accent is so important to me. I want to archive Kwaito by taking a lot of inspiration from the Kwaito era and channelling it into what I’m making today. Kwaito is the blueprint.”
The track is also Mx Blouse’s foray back into music after the pandemic forced them to get back into writing. The french tour they had planned was cancelled – as with so many other events and experiences. It has taken courage for Mx to return and to once again accept the call to perform. As they say, “I was so busy trying to survive that music took a backseat. This track is a signal that I am ready again. The recent tour has been so re-energising. Along with Amapiano, I’m experimenting with Afrotech with a young producer I’m working with, Dronezzy. He is the producer behind ICON as well. I can do this music thing and I am doing it again. There is a lot to come out in the future.”
Catch Mx Blouse perform at ComUnity Festival on 25th September, 2023, Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town
ComUnity Tickets are available HERE
Stream and Support ‘ICON’ HERE
Written by: Holly Beaton