Music Interview: Kanii Axtro – Ndizak’bonisa, Or Positive Obsessions

January 20, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Kanii Axtro started performing alongside Msaki, Berita and Zahara in East London in the Eastern Cape. In August 2022, she released her EP Ndizak’bonisa – hip hop soul that touches on themes such as police negligence, inspiring the youth, healing, loss and taking back your power.

 

What is your first and most important goal as a musician – to tell a story (literally via lyrics or metaphorically via music); to inspire an emotion; to lift a mood; to get people moving? Perhaps it’s something else, or a mixture of these?

When I first started, it was to use my music as a space to explore my identity as well as to question my mortality. Lately, it’s more about enjoying life. So many people have left us and I feel I have questioned things enough. Now I just want to groove a little more since I’ve found my joy.

 

Does your style reflect that of the artists you love or respect most? 

Not necessarily. I have always beaten my own drum and I haven’t heard anyone who sounds like me. I get the occasional comparison to Msaki and Toya Delazy, but even those artists are not as intricate in the kind of way I am, especially with my kind of subject matter.

 

Do you write music, and if so, what sort of mix is involved in terms of discipline and inspiration? 

Yessir! I’ve written my own music since I first started in 2009 until now. I sometimes use lines I like from music I’m listening to and this is applied across all the projects I have released throughout my career. A lyric by Towdee Mac on Sthandwa Sam by Khuli Chana can be found on Blessings Come, Blessings Go. Most of my lyrics are quotes that fit the mood I am in when recording the project I am working on. For example, on Cosmic Fire, I leaned into my introverted nature and wrote “I don’t mind humans but I prefer my own company” and on Ilizwe Lethu, I showed love to the late Winnie Madikizela Mandela as well as the late Akhumzi Jezile, who I grew up watching on TV as a kid. The kind of discipline I apply to songwriting is to make the music as real to me as possible. I should also be able to fully enjoy the material no matter how deep or groovy the sonics or subject matter is.

 

Name an artist or band who is, in your view, criminally underrated, and explain what it is about them or their sound that excites you?

Bokang Ramatlapeng and Ambre are criminally underrated. Bokang is a jazz phenomenon with a voice that sounds like it’s divinely guided by millions of gifted African ancestors. Her voice commands that you sit and listen and boy, when I listened to her song Bana Ka Nthabiseng, I had to chill out and listen and I also felt a sense of gratitude to my family for raising me. I definitely wouldn’t be here without my uncles, grandfather, grandmother and cousins, who have been present in my life. Not forgetting my ancestors! My mom, dad and baby brother have carried me for most of my life. As for Ambre, just listen to the live version of Drake And Drive and see if you don’t get lost in the music. She has a way of transporting you to a world of emotions that I have never been to before.

 

How do you keep up or improve your skill levels? Is it all about practice, or are there other factors that help you to get better at and understand more about your craft?

I take time to listen to people who I feel are in a better spot than I am, and I study them through their interviews. I also stalk the crap out of them just to understand them! I am obsessive and it’s been a while since I have been obsessed with music. But now that I’m back in the groove, I take time to do vocal exercises, as well as study how to write better music through YouTube channels that offer such advice.

 

What is your new/most recent release? What is the story behind it – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?

Ndizak’bonisa is my most recent release. I wrote and recorded it in 2018 after getting a divorce from my toxic shot-gun marriage. I also experienced a paradigm shift and an ego death of sorts and so much was happening. I felt that the kids were not getting any guidance and I used the EP to get closure from my marriage and also forgive myself for all the things I handled horribly in my life until that point.

 

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