Bassist Lwazi Mlotshwa was born and raised in Mpumalanga Township, Hammarsdale.  “I am kind. I love people, enjoy a good laugh, often shy but highly opinionated”, he told Jazz It Out.  He is a proud father of twins, Nkanyezi and Kukhanya, a role he takes very seriously. Lwazi is the third child of four siblings, three boys and a girl who is the last born.  His father passed away in 1996 and his mother in 2002.  “I have a good relationship with my paternal side the Mlotshwas, the Mbokazis and Ndlovus from my maternal side”, he said.  Family to him is all these surnames combined.

The young Lwazi attended a few primary schools.  KwaMyeza Primary School was his last primary school where he did Grades 6 and 7.  He then went Skhethuxolo High School where he obtained matric.  It was at Skhethuxolo where he met his musical friends, who he is still friends with to this day.  At Grade 10, he joined a choir called God’s Vision which was made of 25 members.  Later it was renamed Jazz Souls and reduced its number.  “We fell in love with jazz even though we knew very little about the genre”, he recalls.

As a teenager, he loved an acapella group called The Pentatonix. He and his friends sampled a lot of gospel songs.  He also listened to South African Hip Hop artists such as Pitch Black Afro, Pro Kid and many others.  At the time, he was a vocalist who could not play an instrument.  “It was at this point that I realized that one needed to learn an instrument to be a better musician”, he said.  He and his friends decided to embark on that journey.  Lwazi’s late maternal great grandfather was a guitarist.  His late mother was a gifted singer who encouraged her son to also sing.

Bassist Lwazi Mlotshwa. Picture by Timeless Moments Photography

After finishing high school, Lwazi visited his uncle Bongani who was based in Johannesburg and owned a bass guitar.  When his uncle was at work during the day, he would play some of his favourite songs, using one string, the high ‘B-String’.  He would teach himself bass lines from songs of Mahlathini & Mahotella Queens and Ronny Jordan’s “Tinsel Town”.  “This made my uncle realize that I love the bass guitar”, he remembers.  His uncle began to teach him the major scale and by then he knew how to play about 5 songs.  Furthermore, his uncle taught him the correct fingering, and the right hand technique for playing the bass.  It took Lwazi about two weeks to learn all of that.

His uncle introduced him to Thembinkosi Banda, also known as Banda Banda.  Other musicians he got to meet included Billy Monama, Bongani Masina and Mbuso Khoza.  “Staying with my uncle was a blessing that cannot be measured.  It afforded me an opportunity to interact with professional musicians who were regular visitors”, he said.  Lwazi would listen to them as they spoke about their struggles, strategies and sharing advice.  This gave him an idea of how the industry worked but never discouraged the youngster from pursuing his dream.

Upon his return from Johannesburg with a sheer determination, he enrolled for the AIR Programme at the BAT Centre in Durban, majoring in bass guitar.  While he made friends with all his fellow students, his closest were pianist Sibonelo Nxumalo, drummer Luthando Duma, vocalists Sibusisiwe Ngwenya and Sfiso Cele.  His highlight at the BAT Centre was being chosen to be part of the main band at the institution’s 25th year celebration.  “This band was made up of professional artists and we were backing every artist that was billed to perform that evening”, an experience he is grateful for.  He also attended Sunday Sundowner sessions which are hosted by the centre.

Listening to Richard Bona addressing a workshop at the KZN International Jazz Festival. Picture by Sbonga Gatsheni

While on a break from his studies at the BAT Centre, he met guitarist Vusi Mkhize who is also from Hammarsdale.  “Bab’uMkhize made a huge contribution to the bassist I am today”, he said.  He would spend 6 hours a day practicing Mkhize’s music, as he was grooming him to play in his band after the passing of Mandla Zikalala.  “Bab’uMkhize taught me how to play for a long time without getting tired, discipline and other valuable lessons about the industry”, he added.  Mkhize also taught him how to play African music which he admits is not easy as it requires knowledge of its rhythms.

Lwazi is very grateful for the motivation he received from his uncle in pursuit of his career.  “The bass guitar that I use today was a gift from him”, he said.  Performing with different musicians has taught him a lot about the music industry.  “It has also afforded me an opportunity to meet other great musicians like pianist Sanele Phakathi and drummer Sbu Zondi”, he said.  The duo taught him that as a backing instrumentalist, one is a vessel of the music that is performed.  “They told me I can still add my personality, but it has to contribute to the music and not take away from it”, he added.

Pianists Sbonelo Nxumalo and Nhlakanipho Zulu have assisted him a lot in learning the qualities required to be in an ensemble.  When playing with his former teacher Xolisa Dlamini, a different mindset is required.  You need to remain rooted yet be in the music which is a unique style.  “Xolisa’s music is not easy at all”, he has noticed.  He considers himself priviledged to have studied bassists Mandla Zikalala, Dalisu Ndlazi, and Bernard Mndaweni from a distance on how they make sure that even when a song requires a lot of things from you, never lose sight that you are bassist and must lock the groove down through.  His versality as a bassist has also seen him performing with gospel artist Qhubekani Mthethwa.

Ntobole – Xolisa Dlamini. Lwazi is on the bass

He has appeared at several venues and festivals already.  The Beach Festival at the Bay of Plenty was his first where he played alongside Andile Zindela, popularly known as Royal Son.  “It was a beautiful experience”, he recalls.  As part of the Royal Son’s ensemble, he also performed at the Durban Jazz Festival.  Lwazi has also been to Khabza-de-Khabza Art Centre located in Hammarsdale which was built by guitarist Vusi Mkhize.  “I was nervous yet excited at the same time because people had been seeing me walking around and carrying my guitar, but never saw me playing”, he said.

Recently, he performed as a bassist for Xolisa Dlamini at the KZN International Jazz Festival hosted by Sagiya Foundation.  Earlier that day, he got an opportunity to attend a workshop addressed by renowned bassist Richard Bona, who also performed at the festival.  “Xolisa recognizes and appreciates all the things I do which is enough motivation for me”, he said.  He has been using his spare time to write a few songs. Besides music, Lwazi has an affinity for photography.  He also enjoys watching documentaries on how a vehicle is assembled until it becomes a final product.  

His favourite musicians include Senzo Mdamba, Qhubekani Mthethwa, Dalisu Ndlazi, Freeman Gumede, Nhlakanipho Zulu, Sibonela Nxumalo, Xolisa Dlamini, Vusi Mkhiza, Banda Banda, Philani Ngidi, Thandiswa Mazwai, Fana Zulu, Hugh Masekela, Bakithi Khumalo, Richard Bona, Victor Wooten and Oliver Mtukudzi.  By his own admission, there is still a lot to learn from the artists he gets to perform with.  The different genres he gets to perform are not as easy as what the audiences get to see on stage.  “One thing about playing music is that it makes you realize how much you don’t know which humbles you”, he concluded.  He is on Facebook as Lwazi Syethemba.  Follow him on Instagram @lwazitunem