Song of the Year?

South Africa: Sjava and Big Zulu come together for anthem of the ages

By Shingai Darangwa

Posted on April 29, 2023 08:00

 © Sjava and Big Zulu (photo supplied)
Sjava and Big Zulu (photo supplied)

On 17 March, Warner Music Africa (WMA) invited a few dozen entertainment industry personnel to a venue in the north of Johannesburg for a special announcement.

The invitation said: “Two giants unite. Come and experience this historical moment.” It also included an image of two artists walking across the midlands with their backs to the camera. This didn’t reveal much and it’s likely that many invitees didn’t immediately recognise the two figures in the image: Sjava and Big Zulu.

At the event, which was packed to capacity, the pair announced that they’d formed a duo and would be releasing a once-off collaboration project titled Ukhamba. With virtually the entire venue in awe, they then performed the album’s lead single, ‘Umbayimbayi’, which officially came out a week later.

Marketing genius

It was immediately evident to all those in attendance that this union was a stroke of marketing genius – two of the biggest and most fanatically supported Zulu artists coming together for one project, at the height of their careers, is about as close to a sure bet as you’ll ever get.

However, I doubt even they could have imagined how wildly successful their very first release would be. Within three weeks, the song became a viral success and is now one of the fastest songs to be certified platinum in South Africa.

The duo go by the name Inkabi Zezwe, which they explained is a Zulu term of endearment, which when used in the context of music, describes a unified brotherhood that is representative and reflective of the nation. Zezwe means ‘of the nation’, and the implication is that these two giants have united as an offering to the nation.

With both artists hailing from the same area in Kwa-Zulu Natal and having been close friends for years, Big Zulu tells The Africa Report that it was a natural fit for both artists to collaborate. “We both came from the same hometown in Bergville. We’ve been wanting to do something together for a while, so the timing seemed right and we’re excellent friends. In a nutshell, we made the decision to record everything in seven days. We also camped out at home to gather ideas for the album.”

For his part, Sjava says: “As we are both from Bergville and it’s where we first learned music, the choice to record there was inspired. The experience was incredible, and we still find it hard to believe that after seven days of camping, 10 tracks were finished. We really enjoyed ourselves recording where the music started from and in the same place we gained support.”


Speaking on the meaning behind their first single, ‘Umbayimbayi’, Sjava adds that the song is a hymn to love in which they declare their unwavering love and the lengths they would go to for their partner. “The song is also intended to highlight how strong women can be and how male spouses should endeavour to protect, love, and resolve the issues of their partners,” he says.

“The song is titled ‘Umbayimbayi’ because it is an hommage to love and the desire of the man to defend his lady from all harm. The track has received a lot of support from the public; two weeks after the single’s release, it went gold, and this week we are platinum. The idea of this production was long overdue, and when it happened everything was smooth. We are quite appreciative of the single’s success.