From the very beginning, Thandiswa Mazwai has always managed to be at the forefront of change. Born in the rural homeland of Transkei, she grew up in Soweto during the '80s, as part of the "Soweto generation," who witnessed the violent dismantling of apartheid and the growth of a free South Africa. The daughter of journalists, she was constantly surrounded by banned books, writing, and political discourse. This would eventually prove to be an important element in the singer's songwriting and political awareness.
After earning a B.A. in international relations and English, Thandiswa put all her church and school choir experience to use and made her professional debut 1993 at the Market Theatre in a production called SA Love. Shortly after, she was singing background for the soon to be groundbreaking group Bongo Maffin. She was invited to join as lead singer in 1997, and that's when all the changes for South African music began.
Hailed as the sound of "new South Africa," Bongo Maffin were one of the first group's to perform kwaito, a purely South African mixture of hip-hop, reggae, and house music flavored with South African sensibilities and dialects. What made Bongo Maffin stand out were Thandiswa's politically conscious lyrics and rich, expressive vocals. The trio became the most popular group in South Africa, releasing five albums and performing all over the world.
In 2004, the tenth anniversary of South African freedom, Thandiswa again stepped into the forefront of change. Although still a member of Bongo Maffin, she released her solo album Zabalaza. A stunning collection of soulful, genre-bending songs, the album documents a contemporary African identity. Traveling to her rural birthplace, Thandiswa married the traditional harmonies of Xhosa chants and instruments with modern kwaito, gospel, and jazz sounds. The album electrified Africa, Europe, and Japan and earned her a cavalcade of awards, including a Kora 2004 award for Best Female Artist, and 2005 SA Music Awards for Best African Contemporary Album and Best Female Artist.