When it comes to Traditional music, few can match the achievements and longevity of KhoiSan Maxy.
The 41-year-old came to prominence at the turn of the millennium, wowing the masses with her 2000 Sesarwa sensation, ‘Kalahari’. 21 years later and she remains a powerhouse in the music industry.
Versatility is a key part of the star’s success, with Maxy belting out several hits in Pop, Afro-Soul, and Gospel over the course of her career.
Often referred to as ‘Botswana’s Brenda Fassie’ because of her powerful voice, the Otse native enjoyed a close relationship with the South African songstress.
Their affiliation began in 2001, during Fassie’s Molepolole festival.
Towards the end of her set, Fassie asked for volunteers from the audience to sing one of her songs.
Seizing the moment, Maxy fearlessly jumped on stage, mesmerising the crowd with ‘Too late for Mama’.
Three years later, she relocated to SA.
In 2005, a year after Fassie’s death, Maxy found herself at the centre of a media frenzy after it was revealed she was the voice behind a number of Fassie’s songs.
The singer weathered the storm and has since gone on to collaborate with numerous South African greats, including Makhadzi, Master KG, and most recently, Double Trouble.
The local legend, who recently signed with Open Mic Productions – the same label as Master KG – sat down with The Voice’s PORTIA MLILO to talk all things, Maxy.
Take us back to the very beginning, how did you discover your talent?
When I was still at school.
One day I was sweeping the classroom at Kagiso Senior, singing, and some students, who were part of the Drama group, heard my sweet voice.
They recruited me to join our school Drama.
I went on to study Fine Arts and Education in South Africa and the Sound students asked me to sing in one of their projects.
That is when I made a demo album called ‘Maxy Maximum’ and it was the beginning of greater things.
I was called for shows in Botswana and there was a song ‘Kalahari’ that was a hit and it became one of the most popular and biggest Traditional songs.
That was when I was approached by Franco who introduced me to Dargie Digital Studios and I released a Traditional music album, ‘Makorakoretsa’.
Over the years you’ve changed your stage name on numerous occasions – why?
I will call it growth and transformation.
I grow with my fans and followers.
However, I always make sure I attach Maxy to the new name.
One of my many stage names, MmaGauta Ka Sebele comes from my only child, named Gauta.
It depends on what the market needs.
It is not easy for an artist to survive on one genre and I am blessed to be a versatile musician.
That’s how I managed to survive in this industry for the past 22 years and I am still going strong.
Even my Traditional music was modernised so that both the old and youth can listen to it.
What do you focus on when you compose a song?
You will be surprised to hear that most of my songs come [to me] in my dreams.
When I woke up from a dream I would take a book and write them down, that was back on the day, before modern technology.
Now I do voice recordings.
I dreamt of my hit song ‘Uwe Uwe’ (Kalahari).
My music is more spiritual.
People were surprised that I could sing Sesarwa when I am Molete.
My mother told me that my great grandparents are the San.
I decided to attach the name KhoiSan because the Khoi and the San both share click consonants.
Your sound has frequently been likened to the late Brenda Fassie.
Indeed, it was rumoured you actually sang some of the songs attributed to her – how true is this?
(Laughing) I sang many of Fassie’s songs with an agreement with her producer.
There was unnecessary controversy around that, with some saying it’s a scam.
There are some things I would not want to discuss.
They are in the past and belong there; I am focusing on the future.
It opened doors for me and appreciated my value.
I did not know I could sing like her, so much so that people cannot tell the difference.
This is why even today South African artists come to me asking for collaborations.
Which songs did you sing?
That’s a conversation for another day!
Fair enough. So what was it like sharing a stage with Brenda and what did you learn from her?
After I sang her song in Molepolole, she called me ‘Butterfly’ because she knew I was going to fly higher.
Fassie always assured people that they were not going to miss her when she dies because I would take over.
She will remain my mentor and I will forever cherish the moments we shared.
She was portrayed as a bad girl in the media but she was a nice person.
I have learnt a lot from her.
She encouraged me to do more corporate and international events to grow my brand.
She told me to be firm, to understand my worth, and respect my brand.
She told me she wished she had such guidance at the start of her career.
And how did your relationship with Makhadzi come about?
She sent me a message via Facebook in 2012 saying she loves my music.
She told me her dream is to work with me and that’s how our friendship started.
I met her in person in 2016 when she invited me to her birthday bash in Limpopo.
She introduced me to the audience and I was surprised people knew my songs.
We wanted to do a collaboration but it was difficult because I was still contracted to Universal Records.
What impact has collaborated with heavyweights such as Makhadzi and Master KG had on your career?
They have given me weight and the opportunity to penetrate the SA market.
Our collaborations became a hit: ‘Tshinada’, ‘Ngwanaka’ and the recent one, ‘O jola le Mang’ with Double Trouble.
I blend well because I am a linguist and I can sing many SA languages.
Actually, I have a Zulu album that I did with the late Robbie Malinga.
As a music legend, what have you learned in this industry?
Artists from outside are more valued than us.
They are paid before they come to perform in Botswana whereas we are paid after the performance.
The creative industry was never treated as an economic driver but we have the potential.
Even our ministry pays us less when we are booked, which is why the private sector pays us less.
People do not watch national television and they do not watch our music.
That is why I decided to collaborate with artists in South Africa because they value their artists.
Strong words! On a more positive note, what do you enjoy most when you are on stage performing?
Music is my life.
I am very passionate about music.
I like it when the audience sings along when I perform.
I feel appreciated because they find time from their schedules to support my business.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists?
Don’t let fame get into your head.
Have direction and be focused.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming, getting many bookings in a day, and some use performance enhancements that are not scientifically approved.
You become addicted and they damage your body and mind.
You need guidance and must understand that music is business.
Who is your inspiration?
My mother, Baipoledi Sedumedi.
She is my producer.
Before I release a song, she listens to it and edits it.
She is my pillar.
Musically it is Brenda Fassie, she made me understand a lot in this industry.
And finally, Thank God It’s Friday – what are your plans for the weekend?
I’m currently in Botswana due to Covid restrictions regarding travels and borders.
We are working on ‘O jola le mang’ video which will be out soon.
I wanted to give Batswana an opportunity to be part of the video.