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Thandiswa Mazwai’s makes Tiny Desk concert dream debut

South African music fans rejoiced when legendary Thandiswa Mazwai, a powerhouse vocalist and champion of kwaito music, graced the stage (well, desk) for NPR‘s beloved Tiny Desk Concert series. 

Premiering on YouTube on April 1, 2024, Mazwai’s Tiny Desk set signifies a pivotal moment, not only for the singer but also for the global music community eagerly acquainting themselves with her sounds and performance style in this intimate setting.

Mazwai follows a growing list of African artists from across the continent being honoured and platformed on the American YouTube channel.

These names include the late Oliver Mtukudzi, Benin’s Angelique Kidjo, Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Fireboy DML, Tiwa Savage, ‘Peru’ hitmaker Omah Lay, Seckou Keita, Amaarae, Naira Marley, and Ballake Sissoko. 


Her fellow South Africans who have performed on the Tiny Desk Concerts (both at the NPR offices and at home during the covid pandemic) include Afro house duo Black Motion, DJ Black Coffee, and The Soweto Gospel Choir. 

A screenshot of Thandiswa Mazwai performing “Ingoma” (Xolani Thabethe on keyboard and vocals in the background) on the Tiny Desk Concert. Picture: Youtube

South Africans rejoiced both under the video in the comments section and on social media platforms Instagram and X (formerly Twitter). South African musician Carla Fonseca Mokgata (professionally known as BATUK) posted: “Not sure how to word it, but @thandiswamazwai ‘s voice & artistry transcends mere talent. There is a clear divine essence that elevates their work. So Anointed. I’ve got this Tiny Desk on loop!!”

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Even Mazwai’s daughter, Malaika, took to X to share praise over her mother’s Tiny Desk concert debut. 

“Today y’all can tell me i try so hard to show off my parents bc you know what? today YOU WILL KNOW THAT MY MOM IS THANDISWA MAZWAI AND SHE HAS A TINY DESK,” she wrote on the platform.

Mazwai was invited to perform in Washington, DC, at the media company’s headquarters as part of its NPR Tiny Desk x GlobalFEST series that started in 2021, which NPR said is meant to promote international music discovery. 

The South African performer opened her set with a poignant rendition of her biggest single, Nizalwa Ngobani, released on her 2004 debut album ‘Zabalaza’ (meaning Rebellion in the Xhosa language). 

She dedicated the set to her only daughter and had acclaimed musicians as part of her band, including Lungile Maduna (drums and vocals), Sunnyboy Mthimunye (guitar), Tendai Ali Shoko (bass), Thabang Tabane (percussion), and Xolani Thabethe (keys and vocals). 

Thandiswa Mazai with her band (from left): Lungile Maduna (drums and vocals), Tendai Ali Shoko (bass), Xolani Thabethe (keys and vocals), Sunnyboy Mthimunye (guitar), and Thabang Tabane (percussion). Picture: Youtube

Mazwai opened her set with a poignant rendition of one of her biggest singles, “Nizalwa Ngobani,” released on her 2004 debut album ‘Zabalaza’ (meaning Rebellion in the Xhosa language). 

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The rest of her six-song set included “Ingoma,” “Lahlumlenze,” “Abenguni,” and “Children of the Soil,” the first single from her upcoming album, Sankofa. 

“Sankofa” (pronounced SAHN-koh-fah), derived from the Twi language of Ghana, embodies the profound concept of “to go back and fetch it” . 

According to the Masterclass website, “Sankofa” acknowledges the importance of reconnecting with what truly matters,  in line with the Twi language and Akan proverbs and the proverb “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi” (It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten).


Mazwai’s upcoming album aligns perfectly with the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking debut album “Zabalaza,” marking a pivotal moment in her musical journey. 

“Sankofa” seamlessly weaves together archival Xhosa melodies, jazz influences, and vibrant West African rhythms. 

It features exciting collaborations with renowned artists such as Meshell Ndegeocello, Nduduzo Makhathini, Thandi Ntuli, and Tendai Shoko, promising a rich and dynamic musical experience. 

Thandiswa Mazwai has been an impactful artist in the South African tapestry of music, cultural identity, and activism. Prior to her solo career, she was part of the group Bongo Maffin, who championed Kwaito. 

The South African genre mixes a variety of sounds and influences, including hip-hop, reggae, jazz and house music.

Watch Thandiswa Mazwai’s Tiny Desk Concert here:

By Mpho Rantao