And take a break she did. Since winning big at the 2019 South African Music Awards (SAMAs), where she bagged awards for Newcomer of the Year and Female Artist of the Year, the 30-year-old Tsonga rap star has largely shied away from the spotlight.
Sure, she’s featured on a few singles along the way, but by her standards, Madjozi has mostly flown under the radar and spent her time living life.
“I’ve always been a traveller and a nomad,” she says. “I love seeing new places, and lately it’s been expanding more and more. I’m about to start my tour in North America with Stromae.
“I’m the only South African musical act in my generation to perform at Madison Square Garden and things like that are exciting.”
As part of her gradual return to the spotlight, Madjozi, who was born Maya Christinah Xichavo Wegerif, excitedly announced that she’d be touring with the Belgian singer Stromae in an Instagram post a few weeks ago.
“I SCREAMED when I heard that @stromae asked if I was available to open for his North America tour,” she posted. “Those who know me know he is a hero and inspiration of mine. Dankie life .”
The tour will include stops at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, California’s Bell Centre, Washington DC’s The Anthem and Agganis Arena at Boston University in Massachusetts.
“My tour with Stromae feels like a dream,” she says when I ask her how momentous an occasion this is for her. “I’m in love with Stromae as an artist and I can’t believe he respects and likes my work too. This is so exciting and I hope to learn from him and be his best friend forever.”
This isn’t Madjozi’s first tour outside of the African continent this year. Earlier in the year, she toured parts of Europe through June and July and played at shows in places like Barcelona, Brussels and Amsterdam.
“Europe was really good. I loved some of the cities and I love how European audiences have such an open mind and palette for different sounds.”
In mid-October, I saw Madjozi performed at the South African launch of the streaming service Universal+ at Tang, a popular luxury Asian restaurant in Johannesburg.
She put on an exhilarating performance that featured high-energy choreographed dancing and supreme crowd control.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Madjozi is among the most electrifying performers on the continent.
Her general approach to performances involves two tricks: “Practice and preparation”. She also says that crowd interaction is a big part of her live show.
“I try to make sure the audience has as much fun as I’m having. I love to interact and make sure each show has an element that is different from the previous one.”
During her hiatus, Madjozi wasn’t just travelling. Behind the scenes, she has also been hard at work on a lot of music for an upcoming project.
Given the strain she’d been going through as a by-product of her continental fame, she feels glad that she took a break because “now I feel excited about it again”.
Pre-Covid, Madjozi was arguably the most popular musician in South Africa. The combination of her music, which blends English, XiTsonga and Swahili, and her endearing personality, paved the way for her to become the first South African act to sign to the vaunted US record label Epic Records in what’s been reported to be one of the biggest record deals for a South African act.
The label is home to massive global acts such as DJ Khaled, 21 Savage, Future, Black Eyed Peas and Travis Scott.
Coming from a place of working as an independent artist, I ask her what the difference is now working with a global major. Her curt answer reveals quiet confidence, if not nervousness: “We’ll see,” she says. “This is my first project with them so I’m excited to see what that will bring.”
Three weeks ago, Madjozi released a new single titled “Toro” featuring DDG. The single sees her back like she never left as she fires off some venomous raps seemingly directed at her old team, “Where are the men who said they made me? How come my pockets [are] fatter? How come I’m so much better ever since they left me? The math just doesn’t add up. And since you made Madjozi make a copy, let’s see.”
This seems to be in reference to Madjozi’s claims on Twitter earlier in the year that she had discovered two people on her team had been stealing from her and “doing all sorts of dodgy things to block opportunities from me”.
The song was shortly followed by a new music video which brings home this theme. “In the music video I wanted to talk about the negative sides of fame,” she explains.
“How you can lose friends and those you are close to because of fame. It’s such a good video and I feel proud to have written it and I had such a great team executing it.”
Copying, highest form of flattery
Madjozi has been around for a while now and achieved a lot of success. Throughout 2019, she was the centre of a phenomenon whereby young girls imitated her signature colourful braids.
Around that time, Glamour Magazine quipped that every time Madjozi changes her hairstyle, children run to their parents with a picture of her saying: “I want this.”
With several other highlights in between, I ask her to describe her favourite thus far. “Nothing compares to when John Cena was going viral. The TV shows and all the videos from fans and of course meeting John Cena himself. It was all so big and so special.” She’ll no doubt be hoping to create more of those.