In the pursuit of being creative and remaining relevant, the last two months have seen musicians all over the world taking to the internet in a frenzied flood of DIY music videos, home studio-recorded singles, EPs and albums, using whatever means available.
South African R&B musician Langa Mavuso, however, has had a completely different experience. “You know what, for me this quarantine is the most awkward time to try and be creative because I work very retrospectively and to try and write music about the present happenings is not going to work for me,” he confesses.
As excited as I am to talk about “Love Lost”, the first single off his debut album, I want to know more about where it started, so he takes me back to his earliest musical memories.
“I remember sitting in the back of a hall in Soweto, in Orlando,” he starts, “My parents had been rehearsing for choral competitions and I grew up listening to them, I heard voices from a very young age, beautifully harmonizing with one another, and becoming one, and I think that’s what I fell in love with.”
Honing his vocal abilities through a solid musical education — National School of Arts (drama and contemporary music), Rhodes (classical training), SA College of Music (jazz training) — and working as a session musician from a very young age, Mavuso was patient to step onto the scene as a solo artist.
Mavuso’s 2016 release, Liminal Sketches EP, saw him break onto the scene and cause a stir, incidentally catching the attention of Black Coffee, who wasted no time in signing him to his label, Soulistic Music. But after it expired, Mavuso chose not to renew his contract and went back to being independent.
He shares the reason for his preference, “Ownership is so important to me, I needed to own my music, I needed to understand every moving part of what was happening and I think that taught me a lot.”
Shortly after leaving Black Coffee’s label, a conversation with his friend and mentor, Samthing Soweto put him on the path to connecting with his current affiliation. Mavuso recalls Soweto’s advice: “I know that you still wanna own your music, so there’s an amazing label that I think you could work with called Platoon — they’ll let you own your music, and they’ll support you in terms of publishing, distribution and capital to push your product.”
At the beginning of 2020 Mavuso signed with Platoon and although he knows the possibilities of the partnership with them, he also knows exactly where he wants to be explaining, “It would be so great to have this single and this album translate in the European markets to expand the brand but I always, always, always want to be rooted in South Africa.”
We talk about his time spent abroad, specifically in London, and he tells me how his most recent release came about. “I worked with Linden Jay, and we created this beautiful song [“Love Lost”] together in his crazy basement studio in North London. He’s got every single instrument you can imagine in there,” he laughs, still half in shock. “Every single instrument in that song is live and that speaks to how expensive and how considered and how intentional the music is.”
He and I nerd out on the church-like crackle of the organ sound they achieved in the song, the warmth and richness of his vocals and harmonies, the heartbeat percussions, and the bounce of the bass, but his favourite thing about “Love Lost” is the message behind the music.
Mavuso is comfortable talking about it as he opens up, “For me it’s the lyrics more than anything because I think it’s the most poetry I’ve ever written in a song. So in high school my first love died, and when he passed I was really broken, really really sad, and I remember the day that he passed.”
He relives it moment for moment, as he talks me through every line of his poem and even though the music comes from a place of darkness, Mavuso has worked through the hurt and found healing through his musical expression, an authenticity you cannot help but resonate with.
Mavuso has developed an unusual understanding of self through music, and he concludes on a positive note, “And then the chorus is the sweetness of the song for me, because it’s grief without sadness. For me it’s a really beautiful way of dealing with grief and just dealing with any pain of loss: to remember the good things.”