Mastercard Foundation Scholars as Creatives: Nkosinathi Mzembe’s Journey

Africa is brimming with creative talent. With the power and influence of social media and digital streaming platforms/services African artists and creatives have the chance of showcasing their talent to a global audience. According to a 2015 UNESCO report, the creative sector accounts for more than 30 million jobs globally and employs more young people age 15 to 29 worldwide than any other sector. Research indicates that by 2035, Africa will have the world’s largest workforce and more young people will need jobs – the creative industry has the potential to address the urgent need for work across the continent. 

It is against this backdrop that the team at the Mastercard Foundation sat down with Nkosinathi Mzembe (popularly known by the stage name Contieh), a Mastercard Foundation Scholar alum from Ashesi University, to discuss his journey into music and the impact he wants to have with his music. 

Mastercard Foundation: When you recorded the Baobab Song for the Mastercard Foundation Scholar Community and the ‘We Made it’ for your graduating class at Ashesi University, what was your creative process like? 

Nkosinathi Mzembe: Interesting question; let me start with the Baobab song. Many people contributed to it, especially the Baobab Community of Scholars. I wanted the whole community to be involved in creating the song, so I engaged the Community of Scholars on Baobab through a post where I wanted Scholars to contribute words, phrases or even sentences that described what Baobab meant to them individually or holistically. I sent out several posts of this nature until I had enough responses to help generate the lyrics to the song and eventually record it.

As for the ‘We Made It’ song, it came more from a reflective point of view. This is because, unlike all other classes, Ashesi’s Class of 2021 found itself in an unprecedented time where we had our entire senior year of college online. It surely was not an easy road considering that senior year is when you embark on your capstone project, which is a very crucial graduation requirement. After submitting my capstone project to my supervisor and presenting it before the whole Computer Science and Information Systems department, I was more than compelled to do a thanksgiving song dedicated to my year group.

Mastercard Foundation: Can you tell us about yourself?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: I am Nkosinathi Mzembe, a Malawian by nationality and the first-born son in a family of three. I graduated from the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at Ashesi University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science. I am passionate about technology, and I love music. I also believe in the African youth’s potential to harness their skills in these two sectors, in and beyond Africa. 

Mastercard Foundation: Can you tell us how you got into the music industry? How did you know you had the passion for music?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: My music journey started in 2015, just after I had completed my high school education. A friend of mine invited me over to his house to check out a new software application he had just installed. It was a beat-making software that also allowed you to do some recordings – FL Studio. In an attempt to test whether the recording part was working, he asked me to drop a freestyle. He kept the recording and later that evening sent me an instrumental on which he wanted me to sing the verses to the song. That night, after writing a line or two, I would go to my mom’s room to show her what I had come up with. This process went on and on until I finally completed the verses. The next day, I went to record it, and from that point on, I realized that it was something I wanted to do more often. In addition, the feedback I got from people gave me a reason to always do better, and the only way I could attest to whether I was learning and growing was by releasing another song, which I continued to do.

Mastercard Foundation: Who are your inspirations on this music journey or whom do you look up to? 

Nkosinathi Mzembe: I have always been a fan of the renowned Zambian Gospel Musician, Pompi. I highly admire the way he makes his music. In December 2016, he had an event in Malawi of which I was fortunate to attend. It was through this event that I got to learn a lot more about him and the music industry itself.



Photo courtesy of Nkosinathi Mzembe

Mastercard Foundation: In your opinion, what is the one thing a good song must have?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: Every song should have a ‘meaning’ that resonates with the intended audience. Music exists to communicate a message, and if that message has no meaning, it violates its sole purpose.

Mastercard Foundation: Now that you are done with your undergraduate education, what are your plans post-graduation and how does music fit in?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: I plan to venture into the corporate world, specifically in a tech-inclined space because of my Computer Science background. Upon obtaining industrial experience, I intend to pursue graduate school opportunities. Alongside this, I will still be making music but focusing more on collaborations to address several issues in our society while preaching the message of hope. I see my music not only entertaining people; I want to use my music to educate and inspire.  In every song I do, I want people to get the meaning behind the song. I believe being authentic in one’s songs would make people have faith in your music. Addressing what needs to be addressed rivets people’s attention to the song and causes them to act. Thanks to technology, my music can spread far and wide much more easily.

Mastercard Foundation: What is your advice to Scholars, especially those with creative talents, on how to balance their studies and their passion for music?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: My advice to Scholars would be ‘…continue harnessing that skill while being yourself.’ It reached a point where I was at a crossroads given that Computer Science is a very demanding field of study and music was taking my time as well. I was afraid that I would have to compromise one if I were to go ahead with both. It then struck me that I would be trading off a lifelong skill that would also add value to the educated person I wanted to be. I decided I would pursue both (music and Computer Science) and just manage my time and resources better, while leveraging the support system around me. I am confident that if I found a balance between my books and my passion, you can find it too.

Mastercard Foundation: Any last words? Where can we get your songs?

Nkosinathi Mzembe: I know I introduced myself as Nkosinathi Mzembe, but I go by the name ‘Contieh’ when it comes to music. Contieh looks forward to blessing your ears with more good music. It is because of people like you that I continue to do what I do.

If you want to access all my songs, you can visit my SoundCloud Profile by searching ‘Contieh’, or  using this link.

Due to the increased demand for the We Made It song as well as the Baobab Breaking Bounds song, I made  them available on all digital music stores, including Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, etc. These two songs are also available on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Tik-Tok so that you can easily add them to your stories and posts.

If you want to reach out to me personally on social media, I use ‘Nkosinathi Mzembe’ on all social media platforms.

Baobab is the digital community for the Mastercard Foundation network. Baobab helps you expand your network, collaborate with like-minded peers and mentors, share back knowledge and access resources and opportunities to help you reach your personal and professional goals. Visit www.baobabplatform.org to sign up and join the community.

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