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Discover Swaziland's nascent music scene
07:49 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Few superstars in Swaziland can afford to live off music, despite their growing audiences.

Hip hop sensation Zolile Motsa, aka "80 Script," earns his living from car dealing.

CNN  — 

Few superstars in Swaziland can afford to live off music, despite their growing audiences.

If in the West day jobs are the survival technique for emerging artists, in developing countries such as Swaziland – Africa’s last absolute monarchy and one of the smallest countries in the southern hemisphere – even well-established names get “real jobs”.

One of them is jazz artist Thulani Sibiya “Sibiya-T,” who works as an electrical engineer during the day. “I’m a father of two young beautiful girls, so I have to work at the same time, and feed them,” he says. “I cannot be a jazz artist full time”.

Hip hop sensation Zolile Motsa “80 Script” earns his living from car dealing. “I sell vehicles and that’s what I’m using to supplement [my living],” he explains. Motsa hopes that this is only a temporary arrangement and that music will become his full time gig.

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Bholoja, who brands himself as the father of Swazi-soul music, is one of the few artists who lives off his art. But his way to music wasn’t all smooth either. Bholoja applied to do a music degree but after failing to get a scholarship, he went on to study engineering instead. Although he got his diploma, Bholoja didn’t stay long in the job because he felt that music was too strong a calling.

Bholoja’s mentee, Velemseni Mzimandze, a Swaziland-born pop and jazz artist brought up in Denmark and classically trained in the US, promotes the idea that the government should offer more support to Swaziland’s nascent music industry.

“We have a Ministry of Arts and Culture that is there and supposed to be our back bone – our department where we apply for grants,” she argues. She also advocates for introducing music classes in schools. “I think we need to implement arts in schools, there really isn’t a national music program for any of the public schools, I’m definitely a candidate that could be approached for implementing such a thing,” Mzimandze continues.

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One of the people helping professionalize music is Jiggs Thorne, the director of House on Fire – a cross-arts venue, known as an Afro-Shakespearean Globe Theater, founded in 1999.

“We identified a need to help facilitate the development of Arts in Swaziland,” Thorne says. “Swaziland is culturally rich, people are quick to movement and to song.

“I think the issue was there were no formal spaces. I’m happy to say that we have been a part of that process of extracting a local narrative, helping it onto stage and encouraging people to professionalize their product and to start putting Swaziland on the map.”

By blending Swazi music instruments, beats and singing with contemporary Western genres such as pop, rock, hip-hop and jazz, these artists are not just creating a local movement but aiming to find a spot for themselves on the world stage.

Going global would also help them live off their passion. Mzimandze expresses her optimism, explaining that “as Swazis we’re working on developing this Swazi pop sound.”

“I don’t think we’ve quite found it yet,” she adds, “but definitely Swaziland is buzzing with new material.”