“[Makhadzi’s Matorokisi is a] very dangerous song … one minute I was cleaning, [the] next thing [I] am on top of the table twerking … yoh, dangerous … Haka Matorokisi … next thing my hands are on the floor [and] my butt is [in] the air.”
Kgotsofatso Bopape’s response posted in the YouTube comments for the new track off Makhadzi’s latest album perfectly encapsulates the song’s magnetic pull. Raking in over a million views on YouTube last year in less than two months, Matorokisi, a Limpopo house smash hit, has graduated from dominating taverns to garnering both national and international attention.
From the opening snare, it is clear the song is designed for dance floors. The elastic synths that give music from Limpopo so much of its character, soar above the drums, while Makhadzi delivers a dazzling vocal performance.
Matorokisi uses a train and its carriages to talk about how a man can’t love a woman without loving her kids. YouTube is filled with cellphone footage of people dancing in trains to the song. These videos take place almost anywhere: in classrooms, on fields, in lecture halls, in taverns, at weddings, in backyards, in moving cars and even in the middle of the street.
One even features the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema grinning from ear to ear. It would seem his love for the song goes deep: his camp at the recent EFF National Elective Conference was named after the song. The rival camp styled itself after the amapiano genre.
Limpopo house is a melting pot of South African house sound, including the bubblegum pop of the 1980s and the cultural riddims and melodies of the Pedi, Venda, Tsonga and Shangaan people in the province. It’s a music dominated by elastic synths and heavy snares, and is squarely aimed at the dancefloor.
The tavern scene in the province has spawned numerous hits over the past few years, including from artists such as King Monada and Master KG. In 2017, King Monada released Ska Bhora Moreki, which has more than 1.7 million YouTube views. In 2018, he did it again with Idibala, which has 3.5 million views. The video for Master KG’s song Skeleton Move, released in March 2018, currently sits at a staggering 17.2 million views. So Matorokisi’s success is nothing new for Limpopo. But it is for the artist, whose story goes back a decade.
Makhadzi’s musical journey
It’s 2009, and a song called Marry Me by Limpopo’s DJ Call Me is everywhere, a verified hit. A 13-year-old girl named Ndivhudzannyi Ralivhona sits at home in the village of Ha-Mashamba Tshivhangani, just outside Elim. She is crafting her own lyrics to sing over DJ Call Me’s beat.
“I was collaborating with DJ Call Me before he even knew who I was,” she says, now 23 and known globally as Makhadzi. “DJ Call Me was a big inspiration. All the time, I used to write different songs over his beats as a young girl.”
In 2010, Makhadzi joined the Makhirikhiri Musical Group as a dancer. By 2012, aged just 16, she had already recorded her debut album, a collection of Pedi wedding songs, sung in Venda. But, as the years passed, she itched to record Limpopo house tunes.
For many, it was the late Bojo Mujo who broke down doors and inspired the new generation of Limpopo house stars. Mujo passed away in 2014 at just 39. His first hit was 2001’s Shiwelele, which is considered a classic. Mujo also featured a young DJ Mujava on his seminal 2003 album Loop and Drums. Just five years later, DJ Mujava would release the global hit Township Funk on the UK’s Warp Records, taking Limpopo house global.
In December 2018, Makhadzi featured on the opening song of Sho Madjozi’s debut album Limpopo Champions League, titled Ro Rali. Madjozi’s global success motivated Makhadzi, who explained at the time that working together was great. Makhadzi’s own success was less than a year away.
Anatomy of a hit
When the artist began to focus on recording a house album in 2019, DJ Call Me was first on her list of collaborators. Makhadzi recalls that when she asked her team to find his contact details, they were against the move, suggesting the producer was no longer relevant. Musically, things had been tough for DJ Call Me since those highs of Marry Me in 2009. It had been almost a decade since his last hit.
DJ Call Me explains: “I was making music. I was trying my best, but it wasn’t popular.” He wrote the beat for Matorokisi in November 2018 and decided to “put it somewhere safe”, knowing he would need the right collaborator for it.
Makhadzi made contact in early 2019 determined to make a hit with the man who had inspired her into a career in music and dance.
She knew DJ Call Me was looking for a comeback. “I said to my team that I want to try something,” says Makhadzi. “I told them that they will see, it will work, because I am doing it with my heart. I knew that if we collaborate, we will make things happen.”
Responding to this with appreciation, DJ Call Me says, “Makhadzi loved my music too much.”
But it seems Makhadzi was not the only DJ Call Me fan pining for his return. A quick scroll down the comments section on Matorokisi’s video illustrates just how big DJ Call Me’s Marry Me was for many South Africans and how glad they were to see him again a decade later.
“Makhadzi made everyone know that DJ Call Me is back,” she says. DJ Call Me is quick to place the spotlight back on her, saying Matorokisi is Makhadzi’s song. “It’s just featuring DJ Call Me.” Their mutual admiration is clear.
Viral dance challenge
DJ Call Me says the success of Matorokisi completely surprised him. The song is on heavy rotation in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Dubai and China. The dance challenge is at the heart of its popularity.
Matorokisi was one of three songs from Makhadzi’s new album that leaked. “When it leaked, I was scared,” she says. “But it worked for me, because before the song was even properly released, people were doing dance challenges to it.”
The dance challenge seems to unite people. “Everyone holds on to each other when they hear my song,” Makhadzi says. “You can even hold your enemy. Whether you are ANC, EFF, Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates,” she adds, laughing.
The comments section on Matorokisi is littered with remarks from Ethiopia, Namibia, eSwatini, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Singapore.
“I sing in Venda,” says Makhadzi. “But these people all over the world love my song even though they don’t understand my language, which means they love the beat and the melody.”
The success of Matorokisi has completely changed her life. “Most South Africans have only started recognising me now,” she says. “Before the success of Matorokisi, I was mostly playing shows in Limpopo. Now it’s Johannesburg, Tshwane and Durban. I am travelling all over.”
But success hasn’t come without its own problems. In December, Makhadzi took to Facebook, detailing her struggles to get paid by her management team. Her fans rallied around her using the hashtag #FreeMakhadzi. She has since parted ways with them.
Now an independent artist with a hit single and a brand new album, Makhadzi will surely soon strike gold again, creating brilliant songs with global reach.