Pain, loss & success: A story of how Pietermaritzburg-born artist, Xenlaii, used creativity to overcome loss

We all love art, the role it plays in our lives, how it makes us feel and most importantly the creators. The creative ones, who are gifted people who see life differently, can connect the spiritual and physical to help us make sense of the human journey. Many of them are right-brained, the ones society can’t help but celebrate and cherish. But how often do we stop in our tracks while celebrating the creators, and ask ourselves about the well-being of the creators and conditions in which they create. The art that we grow to love so dearly often comes as a result of struggle, pain and loss.

Pietermaritzburg-born and Joburg-based artist, Xenlaii (real name Xolani Thabani Mchunu), carries a story of pain, loss and eventual breakthrough. Having grown up as a bright spark, excelling in school and sports, Xenlaii had a relatively normal upbringing and like most South African men, he was raised by the hands of a strong black queen. Values, discipline and respect were things that were imparted on him by his elders and he took those very virtues and used them in how he conducted which allowed him to be very successful in youth basketball. As much as sport was an integral part of his life, creativity was a part of his life he could not ignore or fight. Creativity was gifted to him, not only as an avenue to express how he feels or thinks, but also as a tool to make a living as young adult.

After receiving a basketball scholarship at the University of Johannesburg, he then went on to take up graphic design. Time went by and his innate creative nature was now seeping out of his being and he could not ignore his calling any longer. Tough decisions had to be made and he chose creativity. Around the time that this was happening he was met with an unfortunate happening in his life – the loss of his mom, who was his pillar of strength and inspiration. He had no choice but to turn to creativity to cope, and music was the perfect avenue to vent and express himself. Music became somewhat of a healer for Xenlaii, which was something he definitely needed.

Xenlaii was able to use loss and pain as a springboards for success. For someone who has had to lose the most important person in his life, Xenlaii makes music that is far from depressing. The music is happy, packed with life lessons he has earned and the experiences that he is creating for himself. A remarkable story of how an artist rose up from an unfortunate situation and triumphed. We could all learn a thing or two from Xenlaii and he is undoubtedly an artist you should keep on your radar because his music is heartfelt, real and sincere.

Get a taste of surf-rap, a wave he is creating and promoting. Stream How To Play featuring the beautiful songstress, Amarafleur, below:

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About Author

Nkululeko Nkosi Creative entrepreneur, self-starter and writer are some of the words you can use to describe me. Inspired by the grit, rawness and passion you often find in underground and alternative culture. Based in the greatest city in Africa, Johannesburg.


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