At the virtual 2020 BET Awards, amapiano artist Sha Sha beat out crossover successes Rema, Celeste and Young T & Bugsey to win the viewer’s choice best new international act award. “I never saw that coming,” she says over Zoom from her home in Johannesburg. “I felt like I was still working toward that type of recognition.”
Sha Sha, who has been recording music in her bedroom since she was 19, got her start when a friend sent one of her songs to a radio station in Zimbabwe. It received airplay and attracted the attention of local producer-singer Audius Mtawarira, who served as a mentor to Sha Sha. Her first single, “Miss Independent,” found success in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where she often traveled to visit her mother before relocating. It’s there she connected with DJ Maphorisa — one of South Africa’s most established producers who’s credited on Drake’s “One Dance” and Major Lazer’s “Particula” — after talking to a cab driver who put her in touch. “I played Maphorisa one of my ballads,” says Sha Sha. “From there, I started working with a whole different level of artists.” By 2018, Sha Sha signed a record deal with Maphorisa’s Blaqboy label, which has a joint venture with Sony Music Africa. She released her debut EP, Blossom, the following year.
Working with Maphorisa — a pioneer in amapiano, a genre best known for its jazz elements and piano melodies, and a softer sound than the harder-hitting gqom —helped the now 26-year-old Sha Sha (born Charmaine Mapimbiro) earn the nickname “Queen of Amapiano.” She says she enjoys adding her own flair (she sings in English, Zulu, Shona and Ndebele) and that “when that drum hits, you just want to dance.”
Since Blossom arrived, Sha Sha released the shimmery single “Woza” in December, which has garnered 850,000 YouTube views, and is working on a full-length album as well as a documentary about her career. In spite of the spotlight, the self-confessed “shy child” still prefers to keep her head down. “I like to be a little mysterious and work silently,” she says. “Then everybody will see it when it pops off.”