Toya Delazy, born Latoya Buthelezi in Mahlabathini near uLundi, KwaZulu-Natal, in 1990, and the great-granddaughter of Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu, the daughter of the Zulu king Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo who broke the boundaries of traditional Zulu gender roles to use her position as an imbongi praise-singer to preserve and promote the music of her ancestors. At school, Delazy listened to western classical music and jazz, as well as the Zulu songs that are her birthright and the hip hop, dubstep and electro she enjoyed with her peers. These influences, along with a savvy-funk take on street fashion and a buoyantly unflappable blend of global urban and home roots style. Not bad for a kid who was playing Durban dives little over a year ago, and wondering if studying jazz piano had been a wise plan.
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in Wanted Magazine (“Business Day”) of November 2012.
“After high school, I decided to do jazz piano and, while I was studying, I started gigging in clubs like The Winston, but also making stuff for myself, and putting that up on MySpace,” says Delazy after one of her managers hands her the ‘phone. They’re en route to a last-minute photo-shoot – just another item in an increasingly busy schedule. “Sony heard two songs and then came the signing, and recording and releasing my debut, ‘Due Drop’. Since then, it’s just been pushing a lot, and making videos – and new songs for ‘Due Drop Deluxe’.”
Delazy is contractually obliged to be tight-lipped about the new tracks on the for-Christmas re-packaging of her debut, but let’s slip that it includes a track recorded with producer Justin Denobrega, better known as the beatmaker behind Die Antwoord‘s DJ Hi-Tek. Also en route is a summer anthem titled “Viva Party”, created with local house whizzkids Pascal and Pearce. “It’s got those, and a whole lot of videos – for ‘Pump It On’, ‘Love Is In The Air’, ‘Are You Gonna Stay?’ and ‘Heart’,” says Delazy. “As well as a move that documents my affiliation with Reebok that’s called ‘It Takes A Lot To Make A Classic’ (alongside international Reebok creative ambassadors like Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Maeda and Swizz Beatz). Doing that was a lot of fun.”
Given the international palette of her music and fashion, and the electronically-connected global village into which she has launched these, how relevant are her Zulu roots, and the fact that she is descended from one of historical South Africa’s most significant performers and composers? “Princess Magogo is one of the women that I look up to, being a musician, but also in how she educated her son (Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party) and all the things she did for women,” says Delazy. “The type of things that I’ve been trying carry a lot of that love and that sort of character in them, and I try to remember her uniqueness. For me being Zulu, and being part of the royal family, there was singing all the time – always a song for every occasion. About the time that I found my own voice, and started speaking through melody, I found that this is what I do to. That history is always there, no matter what the music.”
For 2013, Delazy’s has her eye set on more releases locally and, ideally, some international touring. The genesis of her career included MySpace, so she already boasts a crew of fans beyond South African borders. “It’s still about the internet, where I’m headed,” she says. “This is only the first album and I realise I’ve got fans all over the world. I feel like there’s something I can do about that. I plan to get close to them. Even in the old days, at The Winston, I just played keys and it was something different to the whole pop vibe, but people liked that. My aim is to travel a lot through Africa, and then get to Europe. I need to work with people who can get me there; it’s a whole project that takes a lot of work, and I’m hoping the internet is the best way to blow up, and then get in there.”
As for gigs to date, Delazy cites Symphonic Rocks 2012 and Africa Day 2011 as her highlights. “At Symphonic Rocks, just hanging with South African artists like Zolani (Mahola), Tumi (Molekane), MiCasa, Zahara and even Fokofpolisiekar – we hear about them, but when do we get to actually meet them? It gave me this boost that I must carry on. I also loved the whole vibe, and the set-up of working with the band, and learning how to work with an orchestra. Africa Day was the highlight of 2011 – being on an internationals stage with people like Habib Koite (Senegal) and our own Mohatella Queens. These are the older people that I look up to, so I was quite blessed. It was broadcast on SABC2 to the whole country, and I was thinking, ‘All those people who thought I couldn’t do it? Now, people, you see I’m not messing around!'”
* This article by Evan Milton first appeared in Wanted Magazine (“Business Day”) of November 2012.