For more than three decades, you would certainly have heard the voice of beloved Mzansi radio DJ, Shado Twala, gracing our airwaves. You’ve most likely seen her judging SA’s Got Talent or, if you’re that lucky, had the pleasure of meeting her in person.
I first met Shado at the SAfm studios in April 2013. The moment I clapped eyes on her, I instinctively knew I had to know more. Our interview addressed the very first Fashion Revolution campaign and we arranged to meet again shortly after. Fast forward eight years, we’ve dialogued several times on-air, exploring the merits of sustainable fashion. We also attended hot-ticket events such as the Cape Town Jazz Festival, Fashion Week, and numerous fashion shows. Most recently, we cooked together – Shado adores Indian food. The hotter and spicier, the better!
But who is this incredible being, really? This compelling woman who left me awestruck for nearly a decade. Through the years, Shado’s invaluable wisdom has blessed me both personally and professionally. To this day, she unfailingly encourages me. And cheers me on.
More than a style icon, a media personality, and someone I hold in highest esteem, she’s a friend. Surprisingly, delightfully, Shado has never shopped at malls. Attracted to one-of-a-kind pieces, her wardrobes are filled with items sourced travelling and from markets. “It must be something unpredictable,” she says. Shado avoids dress codes, dressing according to how she feels and not by trends. Her curiosity for locally produced items is driven by a strong affinity for storytelling.
“Who made this? Where’s the fabric from? How was it made?” It’s such an honour that this style ethos was inspired during our Fashion Revolution interview about #whomademyclothes several years ago.
HER LOVE FOR STORYTELLING
Shado’s radio career started in 1986 at Radio Metro FM. Debuting as the first black SABC station broadcast in English, it was direct competition to the ever-popular 5FM. A commercial South African radio station was needed back then to reach the broader black demographic. Music was especially used at this time to communicate our history, despite the initial ban on popular black music.
Major artists Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Brenda Fassie, singing about Mandela, would often take songs like “Black President” underground. Radio offered ordinary South Africans an opportunity to enjoy the music they loved en masse. Shado fell in love with radio because at this early stage of her career, there was no celebrity culture. Radio celebrated music, it didn’t glorify the musician.
“All we had was human stories to tell.” Shado adds, “We talked about township life, how black South Africans still managed to celebrate despite apartheid rule. At that time, people of colour were basically forbidden to have good times.” With radio, Shado met world leaders, kings and queens, along with street vendors, convicted criminals, and ordinary folk. As a member of several boards, Shado chairs The Craft and Design Institute and recently completed a term serving the board of Johannesburg’s Market Theatre. She believes strongly that job titles shouldn’t define you.
She believes in reinvention. In following your passion. “In this pressured age of social media, lockdown, and ever-increasing uncertainty, it’s important to stay real. Ultimately, people are interested in stories.
Authentic stories.” Shado’s own authenticity is unmistakable – from the way she communicates to the way she cares, to her style. Her story has a narrative about pride. Pride based on who you are in the world, not just in how you look the part. “Positivity – about yourself, people, our nation – is a choice. You need to consider the spaces you occupy.” Shado recounts fond memories of Miriam Makeba. “We spent so much time together. What struck me most about Miriam was her dignity and complete respect for everyone.
You’d often find us at markets hunting for fresh produce. Ah, how I wish I could cook like her. When she came to Cape Town, we’d also go to all the local fabric shops. She never bought clothes. Her seamstresses made it all.” One incident, in particular, really defines the heart of these iconic women. Their humility. “On a Caribbean trip, Miriam’s suitcase didn’t arrive at Luis Muñoz Marín International. Her concert was the following day and she had nothing to wear. The organisers were frantic.
Miriam refused everything they presented, instead eyeing my suitcase and, in particular, a pair of wide Thai pants that looked like a skirt. It was the first time in Miriam’s career that she wore pants on stage,” Shado giggles. “She not only apologised for this to the entire audience, but also apologised that her luggage hadn’t arrived. As if anyone felt she owed them an apology! But that was Miriam. So humble. She was all about the music. And I love that she trusted I’d have something for her to wear!”
Accessories are Shado’s must-haves. Hats, scarves, beads. They complete her looks. And give a sense of locality and grounding. She loves plain clothing over prints, expertly accessorised, of course. Wherever you find her, be it LA red carpets or Jozi markets, her aesthetic is distinct and incomparable.
At heart, Shado is proudly South African. Raised in Soweto with Zulu, Tswana and Venda neighbours, she has several relatives hailing from Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. Inspired by crossed borders and sister cultures, she delights in Shweshwe cloth and Lesotho beads. Influenced by a diversity of African cuisines, fashion styles and stories, Shado continues to leverage her creativity on all that this great continent offers. On what she intends her legacy to be? Her response, with that signature brand of graceful, playful banter: “I’m still working on it. Darling, watch this space!”
Text by: CYRIL NAICKER This article appears in the Issue 2 of Destiny Magazine.