The Nando’s Music Exchange, aka MX, is a global programme that brings together emerging and established musicians for mentoring, workshops, collaborations and explosive events.
Every year, musicians from different countries come together in the UK at London’s iconic music venue, The Roundhouse, for workshops and input from some of the best global talents. Each country also sends an established musician along as a mentor. Together, all the musicians at Nando’s MX enjoy the opportunity to collaborate, learn, and jam together, proving that music is truly a universal language.
Unfortunately, because of travel restrictions and the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Nando’s MX couldn’t take place, but we’re reliving some of the highlights from previous years by catching up with three South African mentors: Muzi, Sho Madjozi and Nonku Phiri.
Muzi was the first South African Nando’s MX mentor. A locally renowned DJ & producer, Muzi is the man behind the hugely popular Afrovision and Zeno albums. We asked him what it was like to pioneer the Nando’s MX mentorship experience.
How did the journey start?
Nando’s approached me about this idea. I was the guinea pig, really, and they were open about that. But we looked at how we could do this authentically, from a culture and music perspective. The first time we did MX, it was about me meeting Stormzy (a British grime MC) and him taking me to his ‘hood, and then me bringing him to my ‘hood. I took him to where I’m from. He even met my mother.
It was really cool. We were making it up as we went along. It was cool to have a multicultural, multi-genre aspect to the music exchange.
And you’ve been part of the Nando’s family ever since.
Yes – we’ve stayed in touch over the years. I played Basha Uhuru in 2018, which is sponsored by Nando’s, and they’ve come on board to feed people at some of my home concerts. We’ve worked together quite a bit.
What do you think the value of the Nando’s MX programme is?
Experience is priceless and something that nobody can ever take away from you. I think that’s the most valuable thing about Nando’s MX – you meet other people around the world that are likeminded and like you. Everyone seeks companionship in life, and when you find that in foreign places, you realise you’re not alone. And there’s beauty in that.
What’s your advice to young musicians?
Just be yourself. You don’t have to know how you’re going to get to where you’re going, but if you keep good people around you, they will help and guide you to where you need to be. Stay yourself. That’s where your art comes from.
After stumbling unexpectedly into fame at the beginning of 2017 with her hit single Dumi HiPhone, Sho Madjozi quickly become the queen of XiTsonga rap with her catchy lyrics, infectious energy and refreshing style. We asked what mentoring the 2018 Nando’s MX students from our partner organisation, Bridges For Music, was like.
How did you get involved with Nando’s?
You know, I honestly can’t remember how it started. All I know is that the relationship has become something more meaningful than just a sponsorship. I think Nando’s works in a way that will actually make an impact on art.
MX is so great for African musicians right now – to help them present themselves in a global context. It’s really important for young African musicians to realise that they are and can be on the same exact level as their peers internationally. We have a lot of decolonising to do as a continent. It used to be that the best we could do was to be an African superstar, but now, you could be a global star if you wanted. You’re not restricted to an African audience – you can go toe to toe with anyone making music, anywhere. Young musicians need to know that the world is a different place than it was when we were growing up.
Did you enjoy being a mentor?
I always think of music as a collaboration. Even the best producer can learn something from a songwriter, or an engineer, and vice versa. I never sit there and think I know more than these people. I look and see what I do know that I can share, but I also learnt a lot from MX. What I know – where I can add value – is when it comes to how to break through to a commercial space. I can speak to that. I broke down doors myself. I was not backed by any big label. I know how to position oneself in the music market, especially in a pop space. I’m happy to share my experiences.
My favourite bit was listening to all the MX groups and what they’d done. I love the process of making music. It’s our way of creating order in the universe. I love seeing how people do that together, putting aside their egos, bringing their strengths. That’s life to me!
What advice would you like to share?
I want to speak specifically to young women and say: please learn some technical skill! It’s so key. I want to work with women, but when I try to find engineers, producers… it’s always men. Women tend to be boxed into doing the singing and they don’t know any of the technical side. That’s very frustrating. Even if you want to sing, learn some of the technical stuff. Learn the software. It makes you more useful. Even if your career is not popping, there’s value in having you in the studio. And you’ll get to meet people through that and be within the music space that you love.
Nonku Phiri’s music weaves contemporary production styles like house and trance through with Afropop influences, including Kwaito, to create unique sounds. We asked her about why she believes in the value of Nando’s MX.
What do you think makes Nando’s MX an important programme?
It’s really important in the sense that it’s well curated. Whereas many programmes start, stop and then everything fizzles out, Nando’s MX has from the beginning been very invested in all the individuals involved. It’s important for initiatives like these to exist because the music industry doesn’t come with a manual. There’s seldom a focus on the business behind the music or on giving people the tools they need to learn about the business to sustain themselves. This programme does that specifically – it goes beyond just facilitating jam sessions. It’s also genuine. There are a lot of people paying lip service to music programmes, but the Nando’s brand has been very sincere over the years. Their interest in artists in different spheres is real.
What was it like to be a mentor to the 2019 musicians selected from South Africa for Nando’s MX?
It’s intimidating and overwhelming in the sense that you’re trusted with the responsibility of hopefully helping to mould somebody’s mind and make a positive impact. But it also affirms the work we all do personally. More than anything, it’s a holistic full-circle experience – to feel not only that you can still learn and exchange ideas, but to also feel you’re trusted to share opinions and ideas and your skill set.
What was your MX highlight?
The whole experience was a highlight – watching how all the individuals came together and hearing the music that was produced. Seeing everyone become sort of a family – that just inspires me. It was a beautiful experience to witness.
What’s your advice to those wanting to pursue a career in music?
Don’t. No, I’m joking!
It’s important to build a strong core and to trust yourself. It’s a thankless industry, but it’s also very rewarding in its intangible benefits. Come in with a pure heart and a strong core and don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything. I mean, I’ve basically made a whole career out of proving people wrong. The sky is no longer the limit. Better to have tried than not to have tried at all.
We look forward to our next Nando’s MX event in 2021. Until then, we’ll leave you with the link for the awesome tracks that came out of Nando’s MX 2019.