South Africa: How Sino Msolo chartered his own path to fame

By Shingai Darangwa
Posted on Thursday, 3 February 2022 19:14, updated on Monday, 7 February 2022 14:29

Sino Msolo
Sino Msolo (Instagram)

Sino Msolo was inescapable in 2021. After making the decision to move to Johannesburg from Durban where he grew up, the singer-songwriter set off on a scorching feature run that saw him quickly rise into the most in-demand vocalist in the Amapiano scene.

Whenever he got the opportunity to get in front of the mic, Msolo would consistently deliver quality output. He became a frequent visitor at recording studios of the country’s biggest Amapiano DJs and producers.

“When the year started, I had already released an album before, so it was a thing of let me not rush myself to release another one, let me just grow my brand then once more people know my name I’ll actually release my own project,” he says, his voice husky from a gruelling festive season. “At the beginning of the year (2021) I said let me collaborate with bigger artists. How am I gonna meet them or manage to get to them? That’s up to God, but I’m gonna do it.” And so he did.

His leap of faith paid dividends almost immediately as he was connected with a reputable Amapiano DJ, Kelvin Momo, and the pair began work on a song titled ‘Madlamini’. Although ‘Madlamini’ would only end up being officially released in December as part of Kelvin’s impressive Ivy League album, it was passed around rapidly among local producers earlier in the year, prompting several of them to reach out to Kelvin, seeking to be connected to Sino.

Relentless pursuit of success

Kelvin shared his contact with them, an opening that would eventually lead to Sino linking up with industry heavyweights Kabza De Small, Euphonik and De Mthuda. “There’s a lot of guys that are big that I met, and it was just from studio to studio […]. They’d see me in this other guy’s studio on video or Instagram Live, and then they call me to the studio. I was just fortunate like that.”

His studio schedule got so busy that he would rarely sleep at home, and when he did, he’d often just take a power nap before heading to the next studio. It was a dizzying routine that saw him record several songs on a daily basis. He recalls how at one point people started to ask him whether he’d run out of things to sing about.

“I’d always go to the studio with this thing of, ‘I won’t write, but it’s going to come out when I’m in the studio. This is going to be a different vibe than what I’m used to’; and it always came out, bro, each and every time. […] I can still do better than what I did last month, last week, or yesterday. It was just a thing of ‘let me push myself hard because you never know which song might pop’.”

This relentless pursuit of success struck gold in June when ‘Jola’, a song by De Mthuda featuring Sino and Da Muzical Chef, was leaked online and blew up countrywide within a short time. Despite its premature release, ‘Jola’ would go on to become one of the biggest songs of the year.

Amapiano leaks…

Amapiano leaks have been a hot topic over the past year. At times, these leaks are merely a ploy by artists to gauge whether their music will resonate with audiences, while in other instances they happen inadvertently as a result of songs being loosely shared on WhatsApp.

“At times, it kind of helps because you can tell if a song is gonna be a hit or […] not […],” says Sino. “But at the same time, it’s a disadvantage to unknown artists because even if your name is there, people won’t [notice] that you are featured; they’ll just focus on the person they know, which in my case was De Mthuda.

“Everyone was talking about De Mthuda and not me, which was unfortunate for me. I was like, ‘How am I gonna make it to these people so they can see that it’s me?’” In his quest to attach himself to the song’s success, Sino’s strategy was to post videos of himself singing it, a tactic that gradually helped increase his visibility. With ‘Jola’ blazing a trail, Sino went on to form a major part of De Mthuda’s album, The Landlord, which was arguably the standout Amapiano project of 2021. Apart from ‘Jola’, Sino was also featured on project highlights ‘Mhlaba Wonke’ and ‘Double Double’.

Sino then locked in with a producer and DJ – Slade – to create the slow burning Amapiano ballad ‘Wamuhle’. He also linked up with Musa Keys, for whom he delivered brilliant cameo appearances on his Tayo album standouts ‘Wena’ and ‘Thando Lwam’. He was also featured on Mas Musiq’s ‘Gwinya Lam’ and DJ Ganyani’s ‘Emakhaya’ late in the year, before kicking off 2022 with a feature on the first viral Amapiano song of the year, 9umba’s ‘uMlando’.

Glass ceiling

Sino’s first call to fame came in 2019, when as a member of acclaimed producer and record executive Sun-El Musician’s El World Music stable, he released his debut album Mamela. The album achieved mild mainstream success, but served a valuable introduction – for him – into the industry as a protégé of Sun-El, who was at the time enjoying a scorching run as the country’s top Afro-House producer. After a while, Sino realised that he had hit a glass ceiling and needed to leave the label to chart his own path in order to reach the next level.

I’m one guy who just does music. I’m not boxed in one genre where you can say this is an Afropop singer, or a deep house singer…

“Eventually, I had to do my own thing because the plans that I had didn’t (materialise),” he says. “I wanted something else. It was just a decision that I made to hustle on my own and see what’s up because depending on someone and then once they’re not there you won’t know anything and it’s back to square one, so let me just train myself now to do things on my own and survive on my own.”

A few weeks before our interview in December, Sino went against expectations and released a new single with DJ Awakening and Musa Keys titled ‘Come Duze’. Recorded around late July, Sino sampled the melody and rhyme of the hook on rapper Nasty C’s 2019 hit ‘Eazy’. “I took that and used that melody to make it a groovy kind of vibe song, but then at the same time it’s a love song,” he says. It was a swift process, the kind of which he’s become accustomed to over the years. “It doesn’t take me that long for me to hop on a beat.”

“You can play a beat now and within two minutes I’ll sing on it. There’s this thing I do, I don’t usually write songs, I just sing on the spot […] and freestyle the whole song, and other songs I have to write something just to remember the lines […],” he says.

Going forward, Sino intends to release an Amapiano-focused EP sometime in the next few months this year. For his sophomore album, which is due later in the year, he intends to showcase his prowess across Afropop, Amapiano and whichever other sounds inspire him.

“I’m one guy who just does music. I’m not boxed in one genre where you can say this is an Afropop singer, or a Deep House singer. […] I can shift from what I was doing to Amapiano. [I believe that] if I can do it properly, let me do it, so in my album there’s a lot of things you’ll hear – Amapiano, deep house, Afropop, hip-hop.”

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