Zibokwakhe Johnstone Mnyandu, known as Phuzekhemisi, born on 30 November 1962, is widely acknowledged as the king of the indigenous music genre, maskandi. With songs that tell the story of a man’s life, his woes, his dreams, maskandi music has not surprisingly been dubbed the ‘Zulu Blues‘. Distinguished by its picked guitar style and rapidly spoken Zulu praise poetry, maskandi is peculiar to South Africa. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not appreciated world-wide. Phuzekhemisi has played to audiences as far afield as Denmark and Japan!
Among the musicians from KwaZulu-Natal to comment on contentious issues, his nickname “Phuzekhemisi” translates as “drink the medicine” – and is said to be a reference to the sometimes unpleasant truths contained in his work. According to the musician the nickname was given to him by his friends:
“I got the name while working in a furniture shop in Johannesburg. They did not want to keep cold water for us to drink, so I visited the nearest chemist to get water to drink … so my friends called me Phuzekhemisi”.
The title track of his first album, Imbizo, a collaboration with his brother Khethani, landed him in trouble with both traditional leaders and SABC bosses for questioning chiefs for frequently calling meetings where the villagers were expected to pay impromptu “taxes”.
Throughout his long and prolific career he seems prone to anger one or other party through his songs. He was banned by the apartheid controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation, and has the distinction of having his life threatened by supporters of both the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party due to his outspoken opinions in the volatile early 1990’s.
As he speaks the language of the common person, his multitudes of fans have remained loyal to him. His music is relevant to their life experiences and he is rightfully dubbed the “people’s voice“. Picking himself up after the devastating loss of his brother in 1993, Phuzekhemisi has gone on to release many platinum selling albums and has made numerous trips abroad, exposing the maskandi style to a global audience. Despite successful sales of his albums, Phuzekhemisi chooses to live a humble life in his traditional homestead in the rolling hills around Umkomaas (Umkhomazi).
An outstanding performer and writer, exceptional ambassador for this uniquely South African style of folk music and an astute and witty social commentator who is unafraid of pointing out the ills that plague his community, Phuzekhemisi is considered credible by those who hear him because he has never abandoned his roots and has twice been nominated for a Kora award. He performed as a special guest at the Fifa World Cup 2002 closing ceremony in Japan/Korea. He also contributed to the opening track of the Africa Express album, Egoli.