In Johannesburg, if you’ve got an even remotely creative job, the degrees of separation are few – and Twitter faves and famous faces can easily become friends. That was not how it happened with Langa. On a balmy summer afternoon, I spotted a blonde-headed boy, wearing a custom leather jacket and the kind of self-assured smirk Alex Turner writes songs about. I was magnetized.
Later I would learn that this cherub-faced 23-year-old was one of the fastest rising stars on the local music scene. Signed to Black Coffee’s label Soulistic and making massive waves with his UCT Live Room performance of his now most well-known song, Sunday Blues, this kid did not come to play – on and off the stage. And between the busy schedule, the clamoring would-be love interests, faux friends and a growing number of eyes that followed him across the room, we found a little space, drank a few drinks and (yes, the cliché is coming), the rest is history.
To dispel a few myths, being Langa’s friend does not mean I get private serenades, or VIP access to his shows – in fact I’ve never heard him sing a single note outside of his shows. What I do get is a really genuine young person, who video calls me just to check how I’m doing, reminds me that I matter and tells me I look beautiful when I certainly do not. In between the smooth notes, honest lyrics and quickly assured star status, what’s going to make sure Langa last in this game is his love for the little things. A well-cooked steak, making time for a spontaneous brunch at home and seemingly endless space for those he loves.
And that shit really matters. Quickly, a new tide is turning where you can draw, with red paint, a clear line between pre-fame and post-fame friends – where once someone “makes it in the business” they are whisked to a seemingly new plane of consciousness where only Moët, selfies with each other, and Twitter scandals will do. Johannesburg is a fast paced, bleeding edge city, and its new artists either tumble and fall, or like Langa, find a way to elegantly trapeze their way to the success they deserve.
To be clear, I am not deifying my friend, nor am I getting a cheque for writing this (although, I wouldn’t say no #securethebag2018). In all seriousness, he will first hear of this when it’s published. This is not an exercise in butt-kissing, retweet harvesting or mending a tough personal time. It’s an ode to humanity and friendship and connection in the face of talent, success and the seduction of forgetting Nathi and becoming Langa, the brightest sun. His Liminal Sketches project is one of the most majestic vocal efforts I’ve heard in a long time, but the way he behaves offline, you’d think he was still hustling open mics and trying to make it. Instead, he is performing at major music festivals, selling out shows at The Orbit and making the Apple Music library of every cool (and uncool) kid in the 011 and beyond.
At a conference a couple of years ago, author Mohale Mashigo (speaking on the long-awaited Blond album by Frank Ocean) warned against the consumption by fans of art as well as the artist. Speaking to 10and5 earlier this month, Langa spoke on this, saying “ As soon as the music’s out it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it belongs to the people.”
Our favourites get the flu, they forget to buy milk, they have days where they don’t want to be “the talent,” but they show up anyway, for us – and for the hope that their work might make our day a little bright or a little more beautiful.
Even when he is off the stage, that’s what I get from Langa Mavuso. A kind of adopted younger brother now, he is someone who I worry about, cherish, want to murder occasionally, and who pulls my heart into my throat with every performance. I believe this is the tip of his iceberg, and as friend and fan, I’m ready to dive head first into cold water to see just how deep his talent goes.
Protect Langa Mavuso at all costs.
Watch the video for Sunday Blues: