It’s midnight in wintery Australia, but Tkay Maidza couldn’t sound more fired up as she greets me with a chirpy, “Hello.” She explains that, even though isolation is a thing of the past in those parts, she’s still happy to stay in.
At 23, the Zimbabwe-born, Australia-raised rapper and singer has been crushing the international hip hop scene for just under a decade, and her most recent release, “Shook” had my twerk muscles twitching just 2 seconds in.
I tell her it’s a favourite of mine, and she tells me that she’s never had a more successful single release day. “A lot of really cool blogs and cool people that I’ve always looked up to were saying, ‘This is amazing’, ‘This is exciting’, ‘This feels like a new beginning!’ and that’s what it felt like to me,” she explains, “It feels really nice when you’re starting something and you have so many people with you at the starting line.”
Back in Zimbabwe, her dad formed part of the late singer and cult figure Andy Brown’s band, so I ask her to take me back to before her family emigrated to Australia. “You know when your family takes you out to the park for the day and there’s a lot of people and music and there’s just a really good atmosphere? I went to a lot of those kinds of shows and festivals in Zimbabwe. I just remember growing up around people that were always happy,” she recalls fondly.
Memories are flooding back as she adds, “I definitely remember being around Andy Brown quite a lot as well. He was the equivalent of Bob Marley in Zimbabwe — very political, and an inspirational figure for the youth”.
We fast-forward a couple of years to when Australian indie radio station Triple J picked up “Brontosaurus”, a song she’d recorded for fun, and played it during peak hour. She instantly blew up and within hours, 16-year-old Maidza was receiving calls from major labels like Sony, Universal, and Warner.
“It was a blessing in disguise because I had no idea what Triple J was when that happened,” she explains, “I thought, ‘Oh this must be really important if I have a lot of record labels contacting me ‘cause how rare is it that that happens?”
Maidza spent the first couple of years of her career performing in clubs she was too young to be allowed entrance into and I wonder if, post-gig, she was a rebellious party teen or if she was home before curfew. She giggles and regresses to 16, “Growing up with African parents, I think I just had a conscience. It was more like, ‘Well my mom doesn’t like me staying out, so I’m going to go to bed right now!” Both of us are in hysterics. Both of us have African parents.
“I think learning to do that early on in my career, I know when to stop and I know when to have fun ‘cause I’ve practised control, I’ve just learnt to live without that extreme high, if you know what I mean? I think it’s a good thing to learn that it’s not very necessary to party at all,” she reasons.
Being a black Zimbabwean growing up in Australia isn’t exactly common, so I ask about the racial and cultural adjustment, “I feel like the very first decade that my family lived in Australia, I was often the black kid in any classroom, in any sports group, and it was very tough for a while but, I don’t know, I just started to blend in. But then when high school happened I started to realise that I didn’t want to blend in and that’s when I started writing music.”
I imagine, with Australia’s history of racism and colonization, that the political climate surrounding the global Black Lives Matter movement is abuzz right now and Maidza confirms it, “The protests on the weekend were amazing in [Adelaide] — it’s a really big city. There were like 12000 people there, the whole city was shut down. The police made it legal so it was peaceful but also people are starting to notice that this is an issue that really needs to have action taken against it.”
Maidza is candid about her responsibility as a black woman in the public eye, “When a lot of this happened it honestly triggered a lot of memories of moments that I had growing up and I realised there are a lot of people like me who experience racism every day, but we just internalize it and pretend that it’s not a thing because we don’t wanna make other people feel uncomfortable, so I really think it’s been important for me to speak up on things, but at the same time I’m still learning.”
We circle back to the music to end things off on a positive note and Maidza’s excitement for her upcoming releases is palpable, “I just really wanna make the stuff that I was growing up listening to, like my parents would play it to me and then I want to bridge it with like dance music because I like to have energy in my music. It’s everything-inspired — there’s some fun stuff, there’s some dance vibes and there’s the soulful singing like R&B vibes.”
Maidza giggles a now-familiar giggle and concludes, “It’s TKay from before but upgraded [laughs]. I’m getting excited because I feel like it’s all coming together and making sense and it’s like you’re hearing every element in one.”