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photos – Emma Tassie
words – Jaclyn Robertson
founder of Okanagan Lifestyle Apparel
featuring – Kozy & Malusi

Mabaleka Brothers Deep Down

Kozy and Malusi Mabaleka were standing in the middle of Bernard Avenue in Kelowna British Columbia when I first witnessed the power of their brotherhood. They were playing a downtown block party gig wearing our hats. The vibration from their acoustic guitars caught our attention above, between, and beyond anything else. It stopped us [me and my one year old son who sat dancing on my hip] in our tracks. On that scorching July day, beyond the Mabaleka brothers’ raw sound and modern polished look, shone the splendour of their unique connection.

Born 20 months apart in time, living zero days apart in heart.

Far before a formal introduction to Kozy and Malusi, seeing them on stage was enough to know that we vibrated at a similar frequency and would be fast friends when time connected us more purposefully. Time, as it does, did exactly that.

Fast-forward 5 months. Malu and Kozy contacted us asking if we wanted to collaborate on a Christmas card. An annual tradition of their brotherhood to send out a virtual, light-hearted holiday card to their fans and family spread throughout the globe—each year highlighting a local business wherever they are living.

Having lived in 4 Canadian cities and provinces since moving here from Zimbabwe at the age of one and two, their cards (that have accompanying videos) act as an annual application of glue in their friendships spanning from Halifax to Ottawa stretching to Saskatoon and now here too in Kelowna. Following our card collaboration, we hired this amazing pair to support us in the workshop. Mainly we wanted to spend more time with them! Just as Malu and Kozy did on that day in July on Bernard Avenue – they planted themselves deep down in the hearts of our family and team.

In these complex times in human history we’re humbled and honoured to share a few words from a recent conversation with these two brothers leading the way in authenticity, gentlemen-hood and gratitude in the Okanagan Valley. 

What does Mabaleka mean? Why did you choose it as the name of your band?

Our familial name Mabaleka actually means “to run away”. Our ancestors ran away from war. 

When we started in music everyone said we needed to have a name that would catch people’s attention and be easy to pronounce insinuating our name was neither of these things and didn’t check the boxes that a modern day Westernized society wanted to see from the music industry. 

We have a strong aversion to turning away from using our father’s name as our band name. He taught us what it means to be a proper man. We chose it consciously—“it’s all we’ll have to hold onto in the end”. We’re extremely proud to bare our name. We want people to know of all the work our parents did to pave the path to get us the opportunities we’ve had here in Canada.

What are you running towards in life right now?

We’re running towards what we’ve always been running towards—unity and respect. While pushing the boundaries of joy. We’ll never stop fighting for that. It’s impossibly important now more than ever to not be naive to the realities of the current world. To not put yourself in a bubble of denial…

Ultimately, we’re running towards what we truly believe our collective community wants—a collective striving for love. But an end destination of unity will not work if all people aren’t running towards love and unity together. Most all other solutions would have us running aimlessly as individuals whatever the colour of our skin.

What kind of music do you play?

We never sought out to be associated with any genre. We play the music that’s in our hearts. There are strong elements of Country and Folk, but also hints of Soul, R&B, Hip Hop, and of course pain and love…yah we never really chose a genre but have been accepted by several music communities around the world because we just play from our hearts…we never waited to let the world decide for us what we should play.

There’ve been times though when we’ve gotten lost and tried to fit into a sound. Especially when we were at a level and trying to get to the next level. Those were the toughest times for us. We’ve played across the country. We typically expect to have to earn the respect of the audience, but we always told ourselves if the external world didn’t like what we have to offer – we’d be ok with that.

It’s never only been about the music for us though. Growing up, our parents forced us to take piano lessons… year upon year. At first we resented it, but years later both of our passions for music and our awareness of its ability to heal came from church. It was there that music became less of a chore for us and more of a way to express ourselves, and connect with people.

We realized early in life that visually speaking we were the “outcasts.” Instead of trying to please the world in front of us on stage we’d go inward. Deeply inward. Deep down into the abyss of our brotherhood. Beyond the places where our parents taught us things like, you’ll need to be “double as good to go half as far”. When we go on stage, we leave that divisive rhetoric behind.

We started our own mantra that we used to connect us to our purpose and each other before a show. We’d look at each and repeat the words “Deep down. Deep down.”

How have you remained true to yourself in your adult life while doing what you felt like you needed to do to “succeed”?

By standing in the places that feel like life. We never sought out to make change. We only sought to be an example to those around us. When we really sit and think about it here in 2020, it’s a beautiful thing that the world is opening up their ears wider to what we have to say right now. We’re choosing to believe that people here genuinely want to know now. 

In asking Kozy about his tattoos he spoke of the beautiful African princess taking up comfortable residence on his bicep. She represents his mother, he told me proudly. 

“You wouldn’t expect the come up from her.” Kozy said. “She’s like a lioness that pounces—but only when she needs to. She’s strong , and somber, and heartfelt, and, empathetic and forgiving, almost too much so” he continued. 

“In America it’s expected that African women get a weave and conform to society. It was important to me that the woman who was going to live on my body represented total freedom. It’s my hope for my mother. And our collective world. Our mother “works for the government representing Canada and the UN on an international level. She’s an economist by trade.” Malu said humbly. “She works in indigenous services.” he paused. Both of us knowing that we were standing on the traditional unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan people. 

May we all lift a glass of the Okanagan’s finest wine to their father and mother. May we be unafraid to go deep down into the corners of ourselves in hope of shaping our world for the better.

Kozy and Malusi Mabaleka were standing in the middle of Bernard Avenue in Kelowna British Columbia when I first witnessed the power of their brotherhood. The vibration from their acoustic guitars caught our attention above, between, and beyond anything else.

Arts & Culture | Vol.7

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