South Africa: Trio Blends Creativity With Social Upliftment

Three creatives from Mthatha mix music and fashion to inspire and motivate Eastern Cape youth to overcome hardship, escape mental enslavement and move towards freer thinking.

Fuelled by increasing levels of poverty and joblessness in the Eastern Cape, three young men have formed a fashion and music company dedicated to helping people overcome adversity.

It started with the song AndithangaNqa, which is a Xhosa term meaning "I am not fazed", produced by Nelson Mandela Bay-based Ndumiso Mdayi, Siya Mxego and Sejake Matsela.

The song is a positive message relating to withstanding trials and tribulations, says 30-year-old Mdayi. "It speaks to everyone, whether you are poverty-stricken or going through various obstacles in life, you're not fazed by this and that's initially what the song is about, not being limited by obstacles in life."

A series of promotional videos shot for the song gained traction, and scores of people in the country and abroad started posting their own video versions. Mdayi recalls seeing videos of people from Canada and California singing the song.

"We were amazed at how people from overseas understood the language and enjoyed the song, even though it was a foreign language to them," he said.

The trio then created a clothing brand named after the song. They started producing caps, hoodies and T-shirts and have been getting orders from South Africa and overseas.

Mxego and Matsela, who are both 33 and professional chefs, and Mdayi, an artist who goes by the stage name of Illnathan, wanted to use their creative skills to start social projects in Port Elizabeth. One of these is the Future Leaders programme, which provides career guidance to pupils in under-resourced schools and through which the trio does motivational speaking in schools.

"The programme began in 2019. We noticed the lack of resources in public schools, kids not having career expos or being given choices. We felt there was a need to start this programme," said Mdayi. Nelson Mandela Bay high schools such as Lungisa High School, KwaZakhele and EZ Khabane High School in Joe Slovo have already hosted the project.

"We are aware of the social ills which affect learners, such as gang violence, gender-based violence and drug abuse, and we created this programme to address those issues as well," said Mdayi.

They now want to expand the social project to schools and FET Colleges in Uitenhage and East London.

Childhood bond

Growing up in Mthatha, in Fort Gale, Matsela, Mxego and Mdayi were thirsty for greener pastures and split up to further their careers. Mxego spent years working at a restaurant in Sweden, Matsela refined his culinary skills in Port Elizabeth and Mdayi joined Matsela in the city to pursue a career in music. The trio found their way back to each other and formed Moments Away Media, before releasing AndithangaNqa.

"We are like a family. Our childhood bond was never broken, hence we work where we live together," said Mdayi, the songwriter of the group. He says there is a need for music to speak to the socioeconomic challenges facing society. In his political song, Anti-black, he writes:

I write what I like

What I like, Steve Biko as Azania burns

It's a fallacy to believe that apartheid would never return

Racism, poverty and inequality is the deepest concern

Democracy is just a word in a world where people don't earn

"I hope to change a mentally enslaved society and contribute towards free-thinking, especially among the youth," says Mdayi.

The trio says their music is a political commentary concerned with the current status quo, which is why they have branched out into social programmes.

The lack of resources from the provincial government and youth agencies that are meant to be assisting companies such as Moments Away Media has deterred some from pursuing careers as artists. Moments Away Media company has just one backer, businessman Makabongwe Ndzuta. This is what causes creative people to migrate to Johannesburg, leaving many artists in towns and cities in the Eastern Cape unmotivated.

The three want to change this. They started a local artists tour that will be inclusive of all music genres, not only hip-hop artists. "The purpose of the tour is to raise funds for the company and help local artists get exposure. The lack of funding has been a motivation for us, it's what keeps us going," said Mdayi.

As the three of them are funding the company personally, they will begin touring the Eastern Cape in June. Their plan is to expand by starting film projects using photography as a social tool, and make use of their cookery skills to start soup kitchens in underprivileged areas.

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