The history of the Xibelani: A look behind Sjo Madjozi's signature look

When you put on your clothes, you're not only putting them on to look good - your choice in style is the result of centuries of evolution, moulded by culture, identity and societal structures.

But sometimes we forget about the history of the clothes we wear - but popular musician Sho Madjozi has not.

READ: SA Tourism launches new 'ministry' at Design Indaba 

Hailing from Limpopo, her energetic performances in colourful outfits have captured the heart of South Africa, as well as abroad. But for her extravagant skirts are more than just for show.

At this year's Design Indaba - taking place in Cape Town - Madjozi didn't want to open the festival with just a performance. She broke up her dance routines with an introduction to the history of xibelani - a traditional Tsonga skirt that makes up a core part of the singer's visual styling. 

It's incorporated into traditional Tsonga dancing and weekly competitions are held in Limpopo to see who moves and looks the best. 

The skirt is made up of a short top layer across the hips over a longer skirt, and has evolved over the years in terms of style and fabric used. More expensive xibelani skirts are made from cloth, while scraps and mielie sacks were also used if you couldn't afford the costlier materials during the country's colonial period.

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After Apartheid ended it morphed into woollen strands tightly bound together in colourful patterns - the style that Madjozi grew up with. This remains her favourite despite more changes made to it in recent years, and she has made her own changes by making it shorter than the traditional style. 

"Culture has to evolve in order to survive," said Madjozi in her presentation, who revealed she is currently working on a documentary about the iconic outfit that has been a big part of her life, inspired by her grandmother and mother who passed the style on to her.

"We shouldn't try to museumify culture - you need to interact with it and live it."

Besides the documentary, Madjozi also proposed launching an annual festival dedicated to the powerful xibelani - right in her home province of Limpopo. A carnivalesque parade that could be the lead-up event for all the smaller weekly competitions that would pit the best of the best against each other while celebrating Tsonga culture. 

Next time you decide on what outfit to wear, think about the history behind your choice - a celebration of the past while pushing it forward into the future.

READ: How to spend a day in Phalaborwa 

sho madjozi on stage

Sho Madjozi on stage at Design Indaba 2020. (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

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