add to queue

Langa Mavuso is Listening to Chaka Khan and Channel Orange

Published September 25, 2020

Photos by John Baloyi.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with Langa Mavuso, the South African singer- songwriter from Johannesburg. In honor of his new album, LANGA, he shares his range of musical influences, from Whitney Houston to Chance the Rapper.

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JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: What was the last song you listened to?

LANGA MAVUSO: Well, actually it was my latest single “Panther,” featuring Yanga Chief. It’s a song that I wrote after a little bit of a debaucherous night in Johannesburg. My album chronicles my journey during a heartbreak and “Panther” was one of the times when I was seeking distraction from material things and just the lifestyle that seemed like it was covering up the emotions that I was feeling. That’s what the chorus says very blatantly—that I’m still seeing the heartache. I’m really just fucked up on champagne, because I can feel that. Trying to fill up the void with it, or trying to find love at the end of the bottle, will never happen. 

UKIOMOGBE: What artists or albums influenced LANGA?

MAVUSO: I remember making a Spotify playlist called “Influences.” I listened a lot to a band called Thirdstory from New York. It was also influenced a lot by Daniel Caesar and Francis and the Lights, but also just by private spaces that I had been a part of in Johannesburg. I’d been out a lot, but I had also already solidified my own ballad sound, which is South African R&B. That was the intention of the album: to champion a South African sound for R&B, and to really bring about those aspects of the genre in this space.

UKIOMOGBE: Who was the earliest musician to inspire you?

MAVUSO: Oh, man. I grew up listening to a lot of soul music at home. I heard a lot of Luther Vandross and Donnie Hathaway, but also South African musicians. We have a musician called Ringo—he was an amazing African R&B soul musician. I listened to a lot of old soul with my parents, but as I grew, I listened to a lot of neo-soul like D’Angelo, Maxwell, and Musiq Soulchild. Then as the years went by, I really got into Tumblr and was listening to Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Kanye [West]. It’s a lot of musical mixes, but I would say that it’s really rooted in soul music. It’s urban and contemporary through the R&B because I’m young, I’m 26, and it’s really influenced by the city as well. I grew up in Johannesburg and I spent a lot of my life here. Just growing up as a city boy, there are certain experiences that you have that influence your outlook on life.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you remember the first CD that you purchased?

MAVUSO: John Legend’s Get Lifted.

UKIOMOGBE: What was your first concert?

MAVUSO: Maxwell in 2011 when he came to South Africa. Oh my god. That was crazy.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite Maxwell song?

MAVUSO: “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever.” That one.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite movie soundtrack?

MAVUSO: The Notebook.

UKIOMOGBE: Interesting.

MAVUSO: Yeah, I’m such a romantic. I think that song “On the Lake” is just… everything. You are ready to cry when that song comes on.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have any favorite songs to just wallow in and be sad?

MAVUSO: Oh, what is my favorite wallowing song? “To Build A Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra. [Singing] “There is a house built out of stone, wooden floors, walls, and windowsills.” That’s a song and a half.

UKIOMOGBE: What about your favorite breakup song?

MAVUSO: “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles. [Singing] “Something always brings me back to you. It never takes too long.”

UKIOMOGBE: What was your first favorite song?

MAVUSO: “Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston. That’s the first song that I knew I could sing with. I sang that at school and my teacher made me sing it in the assembly. She made me sing it for everyone that came into the school. I knew that I could sing because of that song.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a song that always puts you in a good mood without fail?

MAVUSO: It changes all the time. It used to be “May I Have This Dance” by Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights. But currently it’s Beyoncé’s rendition of “Before I Let Go.” If you want to get into a good mood, it’s like, “Yes, let’s get into that.” Or, I just play any song in the South African genre called amapiano. It’s like a house sub genre.

UKIOMOGBE: What would you put on your road trip playlist?

MAVUSO: Ooh. There’s a South African band called Sankomota and the song is called “Papa.” It would have to be them. It would have to be Thirdstory’s album. It would have to be Samthing Soweto, a South African musician. And a little bit of PJ Morton in there.

UKIOMOGBE: How about a dinner party playlist?

MAVUSO: I’d say Moses Molelekwa, Miriam Makeba, or Miles Davis. There always needs to be some jazz playing.

UKIOMOGBE: What are you playing at a house party?

MAVUSO: In South Africa we have this sub genre, gqom. It’s a new kind of sound that’s really made its way around the world. So I would either pick gqom or amapiano again. Anything from those genres.

UKIOMOGBE: I don’t know if you smoke, but if you were to make a high playlist, what would be on it?

MAVUSO: Has to be Channel Orange. When you get to “Pilot Jones,” you’re flying high.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite music video of all time?

MAVUSO: “Got ‘Til it’s Gone” by Janet Jackson. It was inspired by a South African magazine called Drum Magazine and there’s just positive images of Black people really having a good time in this kind of speakeasy. I think it’s just really beautiful.

UKIOMOGBE: If you were to pick a song to play at your funeral, what would you pick?

MAVUSO: Donnie McClurkin’s “Stand.” I sang it at a funeral, and I was just like, “Dang, this is so good.”

UKIOMOGBE: What song would you use to describe your personality?

MAVUSO: I don’t know. Let me think about it first… “Peace Peace” by Bill Evans. There are no words in it. It’s just a beautiful piano piece, but I think there’s a calmness and a super emotive quality to it. 

UKIOMOGBE: Favorite karaoke song?

MAVUSO: I don’t do karaoke that much. Maybe “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by the Fugees. Is that a karaoke song?

UKIOMOGBE: For sure. Anything can be a karaoke song. Do you sing in the shower?

MAVUSO: All the time. My go-to song is “Lil Star” by Kelis. 

UKIOMOGBE: Is there an instrument that you’d want to learn how to play?

MAVUSO: Maybe the clarinet. A lot of vocalists sound very similar to the instruments that they play. And I really love the tone of a clarinet. I think it’s got such a beautiful, rich, warm tone. When I was in music school, whatever instrument was their second instrument, they tended to sound quite similar to it in their vocal timbre.

UKIOMOGBE: What song would you choose to describe 2020? 

MAVUSO: Oh my god. “Through the Fire” by Chaka Khan.

UKIOMOGBE: Do you have a favorite theme song from a television show?

MAVUSO: [Singing] “Now this is the story all about how my life got twisted upside down. And I’d like to take a minute just sit right there…” That.

UKIOMOGBE: And finally, what’s your favorite song of yours?

MAVUSO: There’s a song that’s on my new album called “Pretend.” I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. It’s super simple, but sonically, it moves you. I really played in a different part of my range with that song. I sang with the lower register of my voice. A lot of people know me for being in falsettos and singing in a much higher tone. I really enjoyed playing in a different space vocally, but also sonically. We just took it somewhere really special.