Words: Aluwani Ratshiungo | Photography: Anthony Bila

Langa Mavuso may appear to not possess a fine tuned sartorial swag, usually opting for a t-shirt and jeans when he’s not on stage but fashion has always been close to the musician’s heart even though he admits he’s still trying to find his place in it.

We meet at Father Coffee in Rosebank – where he orders an avo and egg open sandwich on rye with a double shot cappuccino – and he’s wearing metallic hi-top converse sneakers, a striped t-shirt, jeans, denim jacket, cap and a nice watch. He asks the waiter for hot sauce and confesses that he’s nursing a hangover after attending a fashion event the night before.

Despite not having a carefully curated Instagram page like what we’ve come to know of influencers, he has courted big fashion retailers like Woolworths and H&M for fashion campaigns and gets invited to exclusive fashion events.

“I don’t have an Instagram page that looks aesthetically pleasing and I don’t want to because that’s not who I am personally,” he says.

The jazz-soul singer strongly believes that collaborations with brands need to be organic and authentic. His relationship with Woolworths, for example, started out when they dressed him and a number of other people for the Style By SA show at SA Fashion Week earlier this year. Woolworths resonated with him because it was a brand that he grew up with and the Style By SA campaign featured young local designers that he knows and loves. But his involvement with these fashion brands came with some negative comments.

“Someone I know tweeted something like: ‘does Nathi know that he’s becoming an influencer?’ (without even tagging me) and I was just like Uhm, no! I’m not an influencer; I’m a musician who loves fashion,” he says, calmly, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s always this calm or if it’s the result of a terrible hangover.

“I don’t think anyone calls Rihanna an influencer because she’s involved in clothing. I don’t think anyone calls ASAP Rocky an influencer because he’s involved in fashion. Perhaps it’s too soon for some people that it’s happening. But I think that people need to realise that you can be multifaceted as a human being.”

“I don’t think anyone calls Rihanna an influencer because she’s involved in clothing”

One of the most important benefits for Langa is that these collaborations expose him to a wider audience. He’s able to use fashion, which he has always loved, as a vehicle to drive people to his music, his biggest love.

“I think for me it was nice to kind of extend my reach beyond the people that know me and people who know me from knowing people that know me, to having people who have no idea who I am but because they are plugged into the Woolworths brand they’ll be like ‘okay cool, this guy looks cool. What is he? Is he an influencer? Oh, he’s a musician’.”

“I think when I was 8 I discovered my voice and that kind of took over my whole life, you know. So the fashion just kind of merely became a thing that I was interested in. I would buy magazines and I would wish to be at fashion shows.”

Before he discovered his voice, however, he thought he would grow up to become a fashion designer.

“For me I’ve always loved fashion, music, and art and I feel like I’ve always wanted to be that kind of artist who isn’t one dimensional and is only pushing the music but I want to make an effort to look good but in that looking good I want to, like, showcase my interest and my love for fashion because I feel like music and fashion are intertwined.”

The 23 -year old no longer has any desire to become a designer. He’d never try to create his own collection, but he would love to create music that influences a collection instead. “I would love to maybe one day be someone’s muse; Thebe [Magugu], Lukhanyo [Mdingi], Rich [Mnisi] – those are my favourite people and I’m lucky enough to know them personally so maybe one day one of them will be like ‘let’s do a collection based off the music that you made’ and kind of influence the colour, texture and feeling of the clothes through sound translated into clothes.”

It is through performance that the singer best explores the relationship between fashion and music as he believes, thanks to his background as a drama and music student, that live music should also be enhanced by a fashion element; that everything needs to be heightened to bring excitement to a live show and make it more impactful. It’s on these music stages where he has worn local designers like Nao Serati, Rich Mnisi and Uniconz. He describes his everyday aesthetic as simple and classic, preferring not to “make a lot of noise” as the stage is where he likes to have fun and experiment with clothes.

The distinction between his aesthetic when performing and his day to day life is also fuelled by the fact that he separates Langa Mavuso the musician from Nathi Mavuso, the ordinary guy.

“I have to be in a certain mental and spiritual space when I perform and I think that if I was in that space constantly, I wouldn’t survive because there’s a lot of heaviness that comes with carrying the messages that I sometimes share and it’s kind of a place where I feel like I’m sitting in all of the emotions and all of the things that I carry and I feel in my heart in that performative space. I wouldn’t want to constantly be in that place, it’s draining emotionally and physically. I like to go back and just be.”

The compelling pace and fever of this delivery is a tad poetic. As he relays this, his tone becomes sombre, and it’s almost as if he has transported himself to that space where he stores all of the messages. As if he is now sitting in all of the emotions and all the things that he carries and feels in his heart, if only to articulate the reasons and make me understand why it’s so important to make a distinction between Langa and Nathi.