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  • Writer's pictureEmmanuel Adu-Awuku

Sjava continues to add to South Africa’s musical consciousness

Updated: Mar 30


Sjava live at the South African State Theatre


This article is best served while watching Sjava’s 2023 live performance at the South African State Theatre. Enjoy…


So, why Sjava?


For the thrill!


I don’t really have a solid reason why I became so invested in an artist I’ve hardly followed since he gained mainstream popularity in 2015.


After seeing Burna Boy blow up my YouTube channel, I thought Sjava could do me the same courtesy if I invested some time into his body of work. While I was right, Sjava hasn’t hit Burna’s impact (50,000 views in one week and over 500 subscribers added), but 1,000 views over four weeks is decent with a handful of subscribers that puts me at 868 subs). Definitely more of a slow burn, pun intended…


Sjava also gave me an opportunity to tap into new sounds - part of being a thrill seeker is exploring what’s comfortable and equally what’s new and uncomfortable - mostly because Sjava’s first language choice in his music is Zulu. How much Zulu do I know? At best, I can get formalities out of the way hahaha…So this was deep end stuff.


I was up to the task, and in true Championship Mode Collective style, I created an experience for you could tag along and watch Sjava well after his live performance.

 

First listen to Sjava’s latest album - Isibuko


I only started listening to Isibuko (Isizulu word for “mirror”) on the day of the performance. The work week was intense so I preferred to listen to the album in a calm mood, to fully appreciate the nuances - both from a musical and language perspective.

Alternative album cover for Isibuko


It helped that I had one of my favourite people giving me live translations while we prepared for Sjava’s performance. It was a good crash course; some translations started sticking. I was making sense of Sjava’s message. I started picking up the album’s deep musical elements and coherent flow. I absolutely loved the song sequence and choruses; Isibuko was reeling me all the way in. Sjava’s pensiveness was evident across the album, highlighting everyday joys and struggles such as love, failure and blame, and the purpose of community.


Isibuko’s musical elements and vocals blend smoothly to create an effortless listen. While Isibuko carries a heavy message, it was a refreshing newness from the consumerism themes South African rap music has adopted from Global rap. This is an album that could remain timeless but requires Sjava to remain a shining example of how to build a nation through sound, culture, and self-belief. Isibuko has given me so much replay value, capping off a solid 8/10 effort from Sjava.


I’m still deciphering the language barrier...one listen at a time.

 

Sjava’s live performance


I started prepping for Sjava while Isibuko was on repeat in the background. I needed to look posh for the event. The outfit was easy - sweatpants and a tee, light colours for a cool summer’s evening. It was my hair that was stressing me - I’m currently unblonded and I didn’t feel like reverting back to all sorts of awesomeness. I simply asked my barber to make sure my edges were in place - smooth and simple were the order of the day hehehe.

I used to live a blonded life


Next on the list was to kill hunger before the event. I was feeling very local, very inspired so I went for a Spatlho, a township delicacy that is slowly going mainstream (watch this space). The base ingredients are bread, potato chips, lettuce, eggs, and a variety of meats such as vienna, sausage, or burger patty (this is covered in the Youtube video if you want to know what a Spatlho looks like). It was a filling meal; I didn’t have to worry about food until the next day.


My fave and I were running late for the event so we skipped the pre-event photo ritual. The mission was to get to the State Theatre before Sjava hit the stage. There are flashes of the outfit in the YouTube video, but more for my fave who was looking gorgeous.


Once we got past Security and into the venue, we entered Zululand. A variety of Zulu regalia could be seen across the venue. Zulu was the language of choice, of course. Multiple choruses of fans recited Sjava’s popular hits while waiting for the man of the moment to grace us.


With intros out of the way it was time - the lights went out, flickering back on and turning blue while a cresting voice filled the theatre. Sjava was on and he was opening with “Thixo” - a song that builds slowly and heavily through its duration. His gradual emergence kept us guessing, looking across the stage to spot his figure.


And as if in sync the crowd got louder, adding energy to Sjava’s presence. It was definitely worth the wait. I was out of my element, all I could do was bop my head and take in the atmosphere - I’ve had my moment with Afrobeats so I could definitely relate with the crowd having their moment with Sjava.


Sjava’s first words after the intro were greeted with a cheer, you could barely hear him. He had to repeat himself a couple of times but he understood his mission - give the people more! So on he went…

To cut it short, Sjava gave an energetic two-hour performance, filled with guest appearances, crowd shenanigans, and total appreciation for Zulu culture. He stuck to his plan and executed wholeheartedly. His band was brilliant; with each getting their solo moment at the end, the lighting was splendidly dizzying hehehe (overwhelming at times), and his backup singer was oh so magnificent. The crowd really loved it when she got on the mic, hitting her crescendos perfectly.


Check out the full live performance of how Sjava wowed his kingdom of fans for two hours. With no flaw in execution or any delays (yes Burna, we’re looking at you), Sjava’s performance gets a perfect score of 10. Well done Sjava, you were thrilling…

 

What’s next for Sjava?


Sjava’s performance at the South African State Theatre is part of the first leg of his Isibuko tour across South Africa. Sjava will next perform on 06 May 2023 at Cradle Boutique Hotel, Lanseria, before making his final stop in Durban, at The Playhouse Company on 27 May June 2023 as part of a special Africa Day Concert.


If you’ve been with Sjava since the beginning or you’re considering a live performance to go watch, I hope you got a ticket to enjoy the brilliance of one of South Africa’s very own. Otherwise, look out for future tour dates from Sjava.


African music keeps shining brightly


Initially this closing segment was titled “A comparison of African superstars”, but between Burna Boy who is leading Afrobeats into new territories and Sjava, who is leading a genre adored in South Africa but not well known elsewhere, perhaps a comparison of genres is more valuable.


I honestly don’t think it makes a difference on the level of super stardom but a friend I attended the concert with (we sat in different seats) stressed the nuances of Sjava as an artist, and how he relates in South Africa versus Africa and globally - this rebuttal was after I raised Afrobeats as Africa’s truly winning sound. I firmly believe Sjava has a place in the musical breadth of Africa. Looking at the bigger picture, Sjava gives voice and power to artists in his mold that carry a cultural influence in their art form - think Ethiopian music, or Rumba. Individually they might not become a continental or global mainstay, but collectively they can create a cultural currency that Africa would do well to embrace, celebrate, and preserve.

Coastal Ghana


Until then, you’ll find me talking about Afrobeats. You can check out my podcast episode talking about Afrobeats and what’s next for the genre on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Alternatively, you can check out text excerpts of the podcast episode.

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