August 17, 2007

mandla spikiri interviewed by therese owen

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 3:59 pm


Spikiri came straight out with it when he arrived at our meeting in Newtown. “Babes, I’ve been in the industry for 21 years. I’ve been making hits for 18 years. I have a 16- year-old daughter and three other daughters I need to protect.

“I have created hits and changed people’s lives. I spoke to Kabelo before the launch and told him I had something to say. The tabloids were planning to write really bad things about me – I had to defend myself.”

The incident in question happened at the relaunch of Kabelo’s record label, Faith Records, which had all the entertainment media in attendance. While Kabelo and his partner, D-Rex, were giving their thank yous, Spikiri burst on stage, took the mic from Kabelo and, using many expletives, ranted at the media about how they must back off.

The next week on SABC1’s music show, Live, he apologised to the elders, his family and to the kids, but not to the media.

“They hate me and I don’t know why. I don’t just pull stunts like this for publicity. I will not apologise to the media. They lie. Check what they are trying to do to Zola. That’s what I am fighting for.”

Clearly, he is an angry man. So let’s tackle the issues. Many think he’s crazy and on drugs. There were allegations he was HIV positive which is why he lost so much weight and landed up in hospital. He shakes his head.

“I do not have Aids. I had a nervous breakdown because I was under a lot of pressure. And anyway, I have always been a skinny person.


“My new CD is kwaito featuring HHP, Unathi, Oskido, Magesh and Trompies. I used them because they are good and are my friends. I always try to work harder. Each album must be better than the last.”

So with all that anger in his life how does he find the inspiration to compose for various artists? After all, Spikiri and his label Kalawa Jazzmee are largely responsible for shaping the SA music industry.

“It’s in my blood. My father is a musician. He left with Ipi Ntombi where he was the percussionist. I was 2 at the time. He disappeared and ended up in Australia. I met him for the first time last year. When they called me I dropped the phone. It took me a week to see him because for 38 years he never saw me.”

The little man, who speaks quietly and earnestly, looks like he’s struggling.

“I can’t blame him. It was the apartheid years, so I’m not cross. I just told him that we suffered. I sold apples and peanuts in the stadiums. I am a self-made man and that’s why I’m helping lots of people, because I know what it is to suffer. I’m a hard worker and I am talented.”

“When we started kwaito it was like bubblegum. I wanted to come up with something different . I love to be original. We released our first album in 1988. I was mixing it with Chicco’s vibe. That guy is like my father. He took care of me. I learned everything from him. He paid for my piano lessons, everything.

“In terms of production now, everyone’s got a different vibe, so it is easy.” He starts listing all the artists he has produced.

“When we started Bongo Maffin we didn’t want it to sound like Boom Shaka. Look at Mafikizolo, obviously it’s not the same as Kabelo’s Pantsula for Life or Dubulah.”

Is it true he reserves the best beats for Thebe?

“No. I try to give everyone the best beats, from Mzekezeke to Brown Dash. Sometimes you don’t do things for money. You do it for respect. I don’t charge that much. I’m reasonable.”


“I love being with people. That’s why I chill everywhere in the country. People love me. I don’t drive a fancy car. These journalists must leave me alone.”

Aaah, we’re back to that again.

“I had a bad life, but now I’m cool. My friends are okay. My family is okay.”

He flashes a grin. “I’m with you.”

Aah, the man is charming. Charming and seemingly happy.

He is also one the country’s most prolific producers of all time. And one of the original kwaito artists, so he never pretended to be a saint.

But fame has a way of catching up with you, now more so than ever. In the ’80s, when Spikiri first started in the music industry, the world was not celebrity obsessed. There were few tabloids, (absolutely none in South Africa), no E! Entertainment, etc.

In 2007, the entertainment media across the world are dedicated to exposing celebrities as fallible human beings, after creating their infallible images. It’s a case of supply and demand. We 21st century human beings love it.

On an international level, we cannot get enough of Paris Hilton and her whoring antics, or Britney Spears and her narcotics and alcohol sprees.

Many of our local celebrities are only realising this now. Some, like Kelly Khumalo and Arthur, have quickly learnt how to exploit our celebrity culture.

Others, like Spikiri, have been too busy creating real music and living a full life to notice that it had happened before it was too late.

The reality is that celebrity culture and celebrity accountability is not going away soon, so they’re going to have to adapt or die.

“I’m a very strong man and no one will put me down. This is real life and there are ups and downs. I’m going to work with my head up.

“This is my life and it belongs to me.

“I’m here for a reason and I am doing it well.”


interview by therese owen
originally published in tonight

July 7, 2007


Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story),reviews — ABRAXAS @ 1:52 pm

Damon Heatlie entered the kwaito music video world at the beginning of the new millennium. Within a couple of years he had made his mark on the visualization of the music form for the broadcast media with a series of fluidly edited pieces that combined a knowing sense of “street smarts” with the hi-tech look and feel of contemporary music videos made with far greater budgets than he had access to.

His body of work is rare in the kwaito field in that it has the instant stamp of an “author” – a signature. This might be best described as a consistently successful marriage between post-production techniques and the “look” of the production design. Very often in his videos, significant markers of character are displayed by the use of a strong colour – a red or a purple – that is exacerbated in the post-production.

His work, made at furious tempos for ludicrously small budgets – displays a willingness to engage with the “man maak een plan” work ethic of kwaito itself, and hence the success of the videos, that distinguish themselves from the lumpen (lack of) quality of most of the genre.

His greatest moment was ZABALAZA, a video for the Brothers of Peace. In this mini masterpiece, the coming together of production design, of song mood, of editing tempo, of direction and of overall atmosphere – leaves the viewer crying out for more. More than any other kwaito video, ZABALAZA bridges the gap between struggle era urban South Africa and the so-called “new South Africa”, where bling is a media lie, where the mindless monotony of computer dance music denies the hideous truth of the urban nightmare of South Africa today.

Zabalaza is a work deeply rooted in the tradition of conscious music – it fits snugly alongside work by Linton Kwezi Johnson, Mzwakhe and MIA. There is a militant feel to the music that is perfectly captured in by Heatlie’s framing. But the song isn’t merely an agit-prop anthem – the haunting minor chord progression speaks of a unbearable sadness in the souls of the working class protagonists of the video who understand more than they will ever be able to afford. This is profound African pop music that can stand proudly next to the best of the Senegalese school or even Cesaria Evora.

ZABALAZA was a milestone in the kwaito genre – both the song and the video remain without peer. Only Zola has come anywhere close. The genre seems to have put its best days behind it and run its course to some extent. One hopes that Heatlie will find a new challenge, a new promise, and a new forum for his distinctive and unequivocal talents in the music video field.

October 25, 2006

an interview with lebo mathosa

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 6:38 am

041105-lebo.jpg (photo nadine hutton)

Moving on a fine line

“You can’t deny death, you can’t fear it. I’m sure God has a better place for us, if you’re a believer.” Lebo Mathosa tells Nadia Neophytou what she learnt from Brenda Fassie’s demise

Brenda Fassie’s death in May 2004 year scared a lot of people. Not least one young singer whose striking voice and outlandish behaviour has led to comparisons between her and the deceased diva. But don’t expect Lebo Mathosa to follow in the same footsteps.

Like Fassie, her role model, Mathosa grew up in the spotlight. Performing as a naive 14-year-old in Boom Shaka she and Thembi Seete courted controversy with their daring skirt lengths. Boom Shaka became one of South Africa’s best-loved groups, but both Mathosa and Seete were itching to make it on their own. “Musically, as an artist, you need to grow in the type of music you do,” says Mathosa. “It is a matter of growing up. You want different things and sometimes you have to wait … ”

So, Mathosa waited. She released her debut album Dream in mid-2000 but despite winning two South African Music Awards in 2001, the album wasn’t that well received. “It was my first album so I didn’t expect too much. It is probably going to take four to five albums to get where I want, but it is just a matter of being dedicated to what I do and pushing myself so that my music is out there.”

Album number two sees Mathosa trying out different styles. Working closely with producer DJ Christos, she pushes the perceptions people have of her as an artist. “I’m not a kwaito singer,” she says. “I’m a singer. I’m a versatile singer. I can sing Indian music, Latino music, rock music. And that is what I want people to hear.”

It is no surprise then that one of her favourite songs on the album is a ragga-infused track, which she raps to. Nor is it a surprise that she’d love to work with New Porn rocker Arno Carstens.

It is this hunger to push out of the kwaito/house typecast that drives Mathosa’s new album. The house tracks are there and she pulls them off well. But it is the tracks where she experiments a little that hint at what we can expect from her in the future.

As was the case with Fassie, there are, of course, those who tend to focus on her personal life more than her musical one. The album’s title, Drama Queen, has been seen by some as an adjective to describe her. She says this isn’t the case. And anyway, it doesn’t worry her. “What matters is that you like what I do — do you enjoy watching me perform? I want people to come back and see me perform on stage, switch on the TV to see my videos, turn up the radio when my song is playing.

“It is not about fame for me. I have my fame; I’ve been in the scene for 10 years now. Boom Shaka put me out there, introduced me to the public. Now it is all in my hands and what do I want to do about it? Do I want to play or do I want to be serious about it? I choose to work hard for this dream.”

For a while, though, there were doubts as to whether Mathosa was alive and there were whispers that she had fallen off the wagon. It took three years for her to release Drama Queen.

But, she says, she had contractual issues to deal with, which a move from Gallo to EMI sorted out. “For the past decade I have never had to deal with the behind-the-scenes things. So this was the first time. You learn as you meet different people. You learn how they operate. These things don’t just take a year to sort out. I was lucky that I got out [of my deal with Gallo] clean and was able to approach another record company.”

While she may have been out of the spotlight musically, Mathosa kept herself busy with her solo material, as well as charity work, acting and corporate gigs. “I like the fact that whether or not you’ve got something new on the shelves, people are still interested in you. They still call you up and book you for their clubs. If people like your music, if radio stations continue to play it, then it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got something new or not.”

With her new album, Mathosa writes about having fun and enjoying life, but she is also aware that music can carry a message. Like Ma Afrika, in which she challenges xenophobia and the damage it does. But she maintains, she is not out to preach. “You can actually listen to the lyrics and dance to the song, you can hear what I’m talking about but it’s not so serious you’ll be sad about it.”

When a suspected drug-induced cardiac arrest took the life of one her role models, Mathosa took a step back to reflect. “People come and go,” she says. “You can’t deny death, you can’t fear it. I’m sure God has a better place for us, if you’re a believer.” Mathosa considers herself a believer, but the non-denominational kind. She also believes it was Fassie’s time to go. “If it wasn’t her time she’d still be living. But it was her time.

“She used to complain all the time that she was tired. When you’re tired like that, I think in part, she knew.” Having been compared to MaBrrr, Mathosa is adamant not to fall into the same trap. “You choose to avoid certain things. Sometimes it is not easy, you get weak … and people take advantage of you.

‘You find yourself pushed into things you never thought you’d be doing. Peer pressure really is hard to get out of, when you’re so deep in. I think that was the position she was in. Everything she wanted she could get … It is like me for instance. When I walk into a club, I want to pay. If it is my night, and I’m performing, only then do I want to be treated like a star.”

The comparison to Fassie flatters Mathosa and spurs her on to “You learn from the negative and the positive aspects.” So, while she is content to be considered in the same class of performer as Fassie, she is not content to follow the same destructive path.

“It all boils down to family. If you have a good family background, and you have your family and friends’ support, you will be better able to handle it all.” And if you’re worried about her, she says, you don’t have to be: “I’m still active,” she says “And I’m happy.”

this interview with lebo mathosa originally appeared on the mail and guardian online of november 5 2004

October 23, 2006

Kwaito star Lebo Mathosa dies in car crash

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 3:04 pm


October 23 2006 at 07:57AM

South African singer Lebo Mathosa died in an accident east of Johannesburg in the early hours on Monday, her manager Linzy Cowley said.

“Unfortunately, Lebo was killed in a car accident in the early hours of this morning,” she told Sapa.

“We send our condolences to her family and friends.”

Mathosa’s driver apparently lost control of the Toyota Prado they were travelling in on the N3 highway on the East Rand.

The vehicle overturned between the Heidelberg Road off-ramp Grey Avenue in Germiston, Ekurhuleni metro police Kobeli Mokheseng said.

The cause of the accident was unknown. A case of culpable homicide was being investigated.

The rhythm and blues and Kwaito singer died at the scene. The driver suffered minor injuries, and was treated for shock.

an in-depth interview with lebo mathosa and aryan kaganof can be found here

October 18, 2006

the kwaito story: arthur mafokate interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:04 am

arthur: Kwaito is basically South African ghetto or township dance music and it came about in the sense that we, as the youth of South Africa feeling that there’s a lot that we need to say that hasn’t been said before through a music format, you know expressing our own selves in the best way possible for ourselves because we’ve always had music genres before our time but it was for their age and period, but people like me, when we were born we saw things differently and we saw things happening in front of our eyes and we felt we need to express ourselves in a way that would be more appropriate for ourselves.

aryan kaganof: When you say earlier genres are you referring specifically to bubblegum?

arthur: I wouldn’t even say bubblegum music, I would say everything that happened before me, you know all the music genres expressed people’s lives in their own period but when my period came I felt I have to express myself in my own way.

aryan kaganof: That period you speak of isn’t merely a period in music history but also in the political history of this country. So how does for example, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, or the democratic elections, help shape the development of kwaito culture?

arthur: I would say it’s a music format that had to come about because of the South African youth feeling they needed to have a voice of their own and coincidentally it happened whilst he was in jail, so you might find that the influence arose because Mr. Mandela was still in jail and obviously we got influenced because we didn’t see him go to jail so we didn’t feel that process but when we grew up we were taught that this is how we were supposed to be living and it was up to us to take charge and say we need him back we need to express ourselves in a way that would be more appropriate for us as human beings. Rather than being under the apartheid rule and following whatever lifestyle that was existing then. We felt we needed to express ourselves in the best way possible for ourselves. So I would say somehow yes it’s got a political contribution because if Mr. Mandela was not in jail or other people were not in exile we wouldn’t have been brought up the way we have been brought up. We had to grow up knowing that we were under apartheid, we were not free as a country, we were not free as the youth and there was a difference between the black and white youth and we felt we need to express ourselves so that we can feel comfortable about who we are. Other people who hurt, more specially me, when I did that song Don’t Call Me Kaffir, because they felt that I didn’t have a right to do such a song but for the black youth and the black people they felt yes, here’s a hero speaking for our rights, but other people were affected that felt they still needed to use that word kaffir.

aryan kaganof: What is interesting about that song is that it was released after the democratic elections, in other words saying that change doesn’t happen overnight and there are still issues to be adressed, despite the new democratic dispensation.

arthur: For me basically the struggle continues which is why I say somehow there was a political contribution to kwaito or we contributed vice versa you know. We contributed to politics, politics contributed to kwaito being there, but one wouldn’t say it came about because of Mandela was relased because you cannot just think of an idea overnight. Mandela was released at the time when already the youth were affected in this country, we felt we needed to have a voice. Because I started dancing at an early age and by then I wanted to be out there and be seen and I asked myself how do I get to be on tv? From the moment I started as a dancer I was already affected as a black kid in the townships and I grew up knowing that I need to be a star I need to be exposed. But what channels do I use? And I felt it’s a bit difficult because of the apartheid regime making things difficult for us. So somehow you grew up knowing that it’s difficult for you. For you to make it as a black kid you have to triple your effort. It wasn’t going to be easy for me because of the regime that was existing, so I had to work three times harder than any normal South African kid that was not black. So that gave me the will to win and made me realise that I’m living in a country that’s got a problem. And somehow it’s my duty to change that. So I had to triple that effort and then started hustling and trying to make things happen for me.

aryan kaganof: You came to fame when you won the title Mr. Soweto.

arthur: It wasn’t my fault. I was asked by a friend to enter that competition. I was just a frustrated somebody in the township trying to make it in music and dancing but there were no channels and I thought here’s an opportunity of being famous, maybe one can be a model, whatever, and a friend pursued me, she said you must go enter for these things because she was already a beauty queen. So I went and luckily it helped me because somehow I managed to get contacts, be exposed you know.

aryan kaganof: Aside from your role as a pioneer of the music genre, what sets you apart from musicians of the earlier period is your astute business practice, creating and industry around your talent, and owning and controlling that company, 999 Records.

arthur: When I started as a dancer I danced for one group, I didn’t last for a month I think. And I felt I just needed to be on my own and do my own thing from then I knew that I can make it in life if I keep on being the leader I am, because in life you just have to believe in yourself and I felt I’m going to be something one day and believed in my dream and pursued it. I think with me, talking about business, it had nothing to do with colour, it was just an idea of me being exposed and doing what I wanted to do. The only time colour comes in is because I was underprivileged as compared to whites but apart from that I just had this business sense in my heart that I just need to make it in life and help other people if I can. For me to really succeed I had to create my own kind of employment and by so doing I decided I’m going to have my own genre of music express myself in my own way. Even my dance routines were something different from what was existing. We would watch Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown but still come with our own things that would be mixed with our own township pantsula.

aryan kaganof: Do you see any parallels in your life with that of Godfrey Moloi, in the sense of being a black entrepreneur and being a legend in Soweto?

arthur: There have been role models in my life, people that came into life before me, and there’s a whole lot of them, the list is just endless but any black hero in the country just motivated me to be a leader and a proper business man.

aryan kaganof: Tell us about the formation of Aba Shante.

arthur: The reason I decided to really go straight into business and make 999 the force that it is today was because I was getting successful as a solo artist. I had dancers behind me and I felt they also deserved a chance to be in the forefront. And then I took some from the streets that would be good in music, and not good in dancing, and tried to create groups, like for example Chiskop. The group that Mandoza comes from. I discovered them from the streets they were just guys doing breakdancing whatever, they were not that good or well choreographed but I felt vocally they had talent. With Aba Shante what I did was auditions where I said to people go look for these people for me. I announced all over that I was looking for a group of people. I was looking for dancers, I was looking for singers, rappers and whatever. And people started coming to me and I had to choose them one by one. I was not in a hurry because I was making it as a solo artist and I was not sure if it’s the right decision to make but as soon as I found people that clicked I put the group together. They all met through me and I created the group that was never to be stopped up to today.

aryan kaganof: Did you produce them in the studio as well?

arthur: After getting everybody together the next thing was to make them understand what the industry was about. How to handle interviews, even before going into the studio, and they started moving with me to shows all over the country, experiencing what I was doing. Because I felt it would be better for them to experience the real feel of the industry before even getting into the studio. By the time they got into the studio they were hyped up. They knew that people were expecting things from them and by the time they did their album they knew how to express themselves. So it wasn’t just about discovering them. It was about discovering them, teaching them how to perform, teaching them how to handle interviews and teaching them how to be stars on their own.

aryan kaganof: What characterises you and is quite exceptional in the industry is a marked sense of discipline.

arthur: I think my sense of discipline comes from my parents because me and my brothers and sisters we grew up under the apartheid regime and it was difficult for my parents to really make it in life so they had to make it a point that we survived. And by making us survive they were teaching us things along the way that you don’t do this, you do this, you respect people, nothing that comes easy is worthwhile, you have to be a hardworker, persevere and be disciplined. And the other fact is that my father, not being educated, and my mother not being educated, they had to still raise seven kids and had other relatives in the same house so it wasn’t easy for them and my father for the will to win attitude that he had! He was the first black show jumper in South Africa and as we all know that show jumping is an expensive sport, but he still made it. He went to compete in Wembley then to Italy, he went all over the world. So for somebody who didn’t even go to school he was a motivation to me so I had the nearest role model next to me, somebody that I can say, I need to be like him. But I’m not going to do what he’s doing, I cannot ride horses, it’s too expensive for me, for me I just need my body and my voice to make it.

aryan kaganof: With the possible exception of Kaffir, your music is jubilant, celebratory, uplifting. This despite the harsh history that you’ve lived through. What is it about South African music that it remains so positive despite all that the South African people have been through?

arthur: I would say South Africa is a forgiving country, or maybe I would say Africans are forgiving, respectful, they’ve got a proper sense of humanity, you know we understand that regardless of colour we have to live together. Even if somebody did wrong, obviously we don’t have to forget, but we have to forgive and move forward because if that was not the case there would just be chaos in Africa, because we are in the process of rebuilding Africa so somehow we feel we have to unite with other people in order to move forward, that’s how I’m looking at it. If we were always to express sorrow in our music I don’t think people would really appreciate that because then what we would be saying is we don’t appreciate them appreciating us. We have to welcome them by being happy, rejoicing the way we are, we know we’ve had hard times before but we’re in the process of rebuilding. But we are happy. We have achieved our goal. People might think because we achieved our goal late we might be hurt and have hatred in us. We don’t have hatred, we know maybe it had to happen, maybe it was God’s plan but now that we are achieving we have to let people into our hearts and rejoice with them and that way they will appreciate us and start buying into our ideas so our only form of marketing ourselves as Africans is just by being comfortable with who we are.

aryan kaganof: Would you call the post-apartheid generation the kwaito generation?

arthur: Yes you can call them that depending on what you would be referring to. Because so far I’ve seen in papers people writing different stuff about kwaito and for me that has been behind the whole thing of kwaito, I always feel bad, which is why I sometimes refuse to do interviews unless if it’s a sensible interview that does justice to kwaito because we are proper human beings and we know our story and we know what we want to achieve out of life. There may be diffeences between us here and there but that happens in any industry. And if you have a mission and a vision of why you are in kwaito I am sure you will succeed. Yes, we are a kwaito generation, but not just as a format to give you money, but as a format to try and rebuild the whole African continent.

aryan kaganof: The media has indeed often focused on kwaito in a negative way, why is that?

arthur: The most popular person that brought kwaito into being at some stage had to be aggressive and arrogant and the reason I was like that was because of the criticism I got when I released Don’t Call Me A Kaffir. Because people were starting to dissociate me from the proper community of South Africa and I felt I had a right to express myself because what I was tallking about was existing and people started buying into my story. I would say that people don’t like to hear the truth if it’s something that they failed to pick up. I had to do Kaffir in an aggressive way without holding anything back. For me it was like Mandela is free, I’m a free person, I’m going to say what I need to say and people will learn out of what I’m saying and they’ll put it in the history books. Apart from what we achieved as Africans there were still those brave ones who continued with the struggle the struggle to now educate other people. Don’t just forgive, you must remember.

arthur: When I released the song Kaffir, which was always referred to in media circles as Don’t Call Me Kaffir, I took the song to radio stations, most of them were scared to play it, most of them banned it, they felt it doesn’t belong to the South African radio stations, but people out there went to shops, went to parties, went all over with the tapes, CDs, and said no matter what you say radio stations, this is the music which we need to play, which is why maybe the whole media, not just radio, the whole print media and everybody, might have felt, kwaito is not the right music format because already it was making it without their participation because I went to where people were and played my music and people would say, no no no wait a minute what’s this song, don’t call me a kaffir, it’s a funny song, it’s a strange song, it’s scary, but at the end of the day it’s right on point, people understand what I’m tallking about and they started buying the music and it was just unstoppable. Then I was invited to do it on tv, I was invited to do radio interviews talking about it I mean even talk shows that were like not featuring music had to call me to try and comment about that song and that was the real birth of kwaito because then there was no turning back because the music genre was known because of this song that was politically linked because of we were still celebrating our freedom and here’s this black kid coming from the townships still continuing to express himself in a manner that people felt was strange because we were free as a country but because I always grew up trying to say that what they’ve always done to us as Africans was not good I need to teach people that the struggle will continue. Till we are united as human beings regardless of whether the colour is black white green or whatever.

aryan kaganof: How come in New York in the sixties the Last Poets took up the word nigger and made it their own such that niggah is now how all the hip hop generation refer to themselves, but the kwaito generation have not taken up the word Kaffir in describing themselves?

arthur: I would say with Americans it might have been easier to turn nigger into a normal word because the majority there is white people, blacks are the minority. Here it’s vice versa we are the majority and whites are the minority. At the end of the day we are a forgiving people we don’t want to make people feel out of place. It doesn’t mean because I was expressing myself that way I was really pointing a finger saying as a white person you are my enemy, no no no. I was not saying that. You see.

aryan kaganof: Hit after hit followed Kaffir and last year you signed up with the biggest and oldest major label in South Africa, Gallo. What was your reasoning behind this decision?

arthur: I started off selling my stuff from the boot of my car, from my first album to Aba Shante to everybody. Then EMI got interested and they signed me and I was with them for ten years. And I needed to grow to face the challenge of the industry and Gallo was a company that was too much criticised in the music circles and for different reasons but for me I looked at it from another angle that yes we might criticise them but they have the South African music heritage with them, they have been around for over 75 years and I need to tap into that music heritage and try and fuse it with my kwaito. How do I best do that without having to wait for responses that take three months to come, six months to come before a track is cleared, let me go and tap into the heritage of my grandfathers and mothers and try and re-invent it into the latest trend. Again the other reason was that Gallo was bought by a black empowerment company and I felt somehow they were going to give me an opportunity to express myself in the best way possible and it was just about expanidng wings, getting a better deal and trying to see how far I can take 999, because it hasn’t been easy for me to build triple nine because I come from a very poor family and I didn’t have any budget in my pocket to start up a company so I started from zero.

aryan kaganof: And taking kwaito into the international market?

arthur: Taking kwaito into the international market depends on how ready are countries out there to receive us as Africans, regardless of the music in the first place. Because they have to say ok we’ve been having Indian music we’ve been having whatever whatever let’s go tap into African music and see how we can fuse it with our music. Because as far as I’m concerned music is music, seven notes, and a couple of ornaments out there, because you play all those twelve notes and it’s the white ones and the black ones and it depends on how you fuse them you know you can even see it on the piano, all of them are fused so black and white music, countries whether Africa Asia or America or Europe we must just fuse and create something. At the moment there is still this thing of we are going into Africa to fuse the music but honestly speaking they are doing it without crediting us. So it would be better if they did it with us in the studio rather than just taking it away from us, because that might make it but it still lacks the real feel of us being involved.

October 17, 2006

the kwaito story: kabelo interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 6:15 am

Saturday 15 February 2003

kabelo: Basically growing up I’ve always been a keen music lover and throughout my schooling life I was always involved in the choir. It was when I got to high school that I met the other two TKZ memebers, namely Tokollo and Zwai, we were all at the same high school. We all sang in the same choir. And because I didn’t do so well in my matric I had no other choice but to find a job and I was pretty skilled when it came to writing lyrics and I had a good ear for music, so it was suggested between the three of us that, let’s form a group and that’s how it started. It was quite easy to start because we already had that whole gang feel from school, so it was tight.

aryan kaganof: Zwai Bala was the first black member of the Drakensberg Boy’s Choir, a bastion of European colonial high culture.

kabelo: Yes he was. He’s also been a keen music lover and it was the best thing for him to take him to a school which was renowned for its singing. He was the hands on producer of TKZEE, but we were all involved in production. He’d produce the music, we’d produce the vocals, but the end product would all be produced by the three of us. Musically I feel we were quite arrogant in a way cos we knew we were good. I mean from the onset we knew we had something, it was just a matter of time until someone heard it. And I feel the secret behind Halloween was that we had songs, we had written songs, unlike what was going on in the scene at the time, it was just repetition of gimmicks and stuff unlike what we were writing about which was more real and was dictated in song form.


aryan kaganof: What is kwaito in its essence?

kabelo: You know to keep it simple it’s dance music, but it’s definitely got an influence of jazz and hip hop but it’s got that drum and bass, that African drum and bass sound. It’s distinctively African music. They all say the drum belongs to Africa right? And to get into the global market in due time we must get our production intact. There are people out there who are doing it, who are making waves overseas, like the BOPs, TKZEEs, Mandoza as well. You see our music is very easy to groove to.

aryan kaganof: How did you evolve into a solo career?

kabelo: I suppose spending a life with two other guys for like five years nearly every day it got a bit sick, everything got a bit entertwined you know. We had had enough, honestly, we just said let’s take a break, we stopped recording for about three years and in that three years because of the roller-coaster ride we’d been going through, cos I was more calm then and I just took the time out to find out who I really was you know. And explore myself musically and lo and behold I found something, something I didn’t expect I’d find and something to the syurprise of a lot of people. I found myself doing what I do, what I love, and that was the birth of my solo career.


aryan kaganof: Pantsula For Life?

kabelo: Basically it’s saying I’m a ghetto boy for life, you can take me out the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetoo out of me kind of thing.

aryan kaganof: You’re talked about as the bad boy of kwaito.

kabelo: Ag it’s all about drugs and rock ‘n roll you know what I mean? When you’re involved in the drugs scene you just don’t behave like a normal person you know what I mean? And I mean I was heavy into the cocaine and the ecstacy and the alcohol and I was a rock star at the same time so those things just didn’t go together. I thought I was the be all and the end all of the world and that wasn’t true cos it landed me in a whole lot of trouble you know? I’m not blaming it on the drugs I mean I was also involved, but I think the drugs had a major part to play. I’m clean now. Been to rehab an’ all and I’m trying to start all over again cos I mean that whole bad boy image is not so cool you know. It’s bad for business.

aryan kaganof: What is different about you is that you have come forward and talked about this problem openly. Of course one of the most sleazy aspects of the industry is the managers who supply the artists with their drugs in order to keep power over them, managers operating as pushers and dealers in fact, instead of looking out for their artist’s best interests.

kabelo: Yeah in fact that’s one of the many pressures you have to handle. And I opted to medicate myself with drugs and oppress any feeling I had to anybody, any feeling of resentment I had towards the music scene or my friends or whatever and I used the drugs you know. Which wasn’t the way to go. But I’ve learned my lesson and with God’s blessing I hope I don’t go back.


aryan kaganof: Does kwaito have as much of a political stance or function as hip hop as we know it?

kabelo: You know I think kwaito is still in the early stages, I mean at the beginning of kwaito it was about the rejoicing of having a free South Africa. And then now because everyone’s learning a bit more about what’s going on in the country and stuff, and kwaito therefore is getting more politically inclined. But hip hop’s been around for longer so I feel if kwaito is around for that much time it will get politically inclined. The production side of kwaito is going to improve a lot. It’s going to have to. There are certain people who are setting a standard and people will definitely have to meet that standard in order to compete overseas you know. Same as the content, you know people must just talk about their normal life in general, you don’t need to lie and talk about someething that you’re not. Just be real and straight to the point.

aryan kaganof: Who were the kwaito artists that you were listening to when you were coming up, your heroes.

kabelo: I had a lot of respect for Mandla Spikiri from Trompies, M’du Masilela. Those are the guys that I basically grew up on in terms of the kwaito scene but obviously as a kid I listened to Brenda Fassie.

aryan kaganof: There is a lightness, a kind of four dimensional spatiality that distinguishes your productions from any other kwaito producer’s. Where does this springy texture come from?

kabelo: don’t know…(struggles for words) … I feel your music should be happening. I believe in electricity and energy flow. I feel my music does have that, a lot of energy flow and it seldom drops from where it starts, it goes up, higher. I’m really finnicky about that in the studio, the energy flow should be the same in the beginning as at the end, I feel that’s my formula.

aryan kaganof: Who is Bouga Love?

kabelo: (chuckles) Bouga Love, when the name started it was all about being a ladies’ man you know. But Bouga Love’s now a one lady’s man. I kind of evolved from a crazy rock and roll superstar on drugs and alcohol to a responsible member of society. But it’s still the same person in a way.

aryan kaganof: We’re here at the Melrose Arch, you’re sitting in your BMW Z3, you’re obviously everybody of your age’s idea of success. You’ve made it. You’re there. Is that not a terrible responsibility?

kabelo: My job does come with a lot of social responsibility but I mean I urge people not to look at how I’ve done things but to look past it. Cos success is not judged by material things, and what you have. Fine yes in the music industry it’s cool to sell a couple of hundred thousand units, stuff like that. But you shouldn’t judge success like that really. You should always judge success on whatever goals you set for yourself and achieve at any given time.

aryan kaganof: What’s your personal favourite of your own songs?

kabelo: (thinks for a long time) Gee whizz. I could say on my first album there’s a track I did, Amasheleni. I produced it with a late friend of mine, Moses Molelekwa, he was a brilliant jazz muso. And he’s actually one of my icons. He passed away sadly. It’s one of my favourite songs cos it had a lot of jazz influence in it and I love jazz and I’m just looking forward to incorporating jazz with my music more and more and more.

October 16, 2006

the kwaito story: m’du masilela interviewed by aryan kaganof:

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 9:56 am


m’du: Yebo.

aryan kaganof: How did you get to become the Godfather of kwaito?

m’du: This kwaito thing, the genre of music, it started in the early nineties. But I grew up in a musical family. A gospel family, my grandmother played organ and piano in the church so that’s how I got into the music. I started the professional side, just backing all those top artists in South Africa, at the age of twelve. But I at school so we had a problem with my mother, but my granny siad that’s fine you must do what you want, but my mother was not impressed. She wanted me to focus more on education. But I was doing both but I loved music most, because I grew up listening, my mother likes to buy music, and my granny likes to play it. From about 1987 I started to do sessions I was a session piano player, and this was the apartheid times. Early nineties you know we decided to come up with something that’s going to, because we as youth in South Africa we were very angry, it was this chaos thing of fighting and stuff, but as a musician just to calm the youth down, I decided to, I mean I recorded some of the umzabalaza songs then, late eighties, I call them toyi toyi songs. When you’re having like boycotts and stuff, there’s certain songs that you sing to send the message across you know, so I recorded those songs just to spread them around, for other people to know about the songs that we used when we did that mzabalaza thing. So later we knew that Dr. Mandela was going to be out of jail so I just had to come up with something that’s going to calm the youth down. To look forward to the future. It was early nineties. So when Dr. Mandela was out the youth thought we were gonna fight but I like what he said, let’s not look back, let’s not fight, let’s look forward to the future. Let’s just educate ourselves with knowledge. Because most of the time we were interrupted at school you know. That’s another thing that made me love music, because while school was interrupted with demonstrations I would go to rehearsals and stuff. So this kwaito thing started early nineties, and the reason for it was as I say to bring the youth down, and look forward to the future to get the youth to conecentrate on the future of the country as well. And we kept that going until such time as deejays, South African deejays, brought out their own house compilations, now they’re trying to kill kwaito. But kwaito is our culture, so I fought for that. Kwaito is South African. It is music that you only find in South Africa. And the difference about kwaito and other musics is that it relates to the townships. How we live in the townships. So some of my colleagues said let’s change it to house music and I said to them no I’m sticking to this kwaito genre because we are the kwaito generation. And kwaito is about looking forward to the future it is encouraging us not to look back you know. In 2000 I came up with a song called Chumiyababa (???) which means Friend To The Kids, and there was a lot of competition then because deejays wanted to be musicians but not musicians creating something just taking songs from Europe especially, just compiling them, si I fought them I said why don’t you come up with something? You can make African house because that’s what most of the French and German guys do they sample African music so why don’t you do that here, you have the ability, but I think the deejays here were lazy they are not creative. So that’s when I got the name Godfather because I started the kwaito and I fought for it to be where it is and there is now an entire young gneration in it and it has the future. The only thing that I am working on now is to introduce it internationally. It will be better if we collaborate with other international mujsicians just to expand the kwaito culture. It’s more of being proud of your language, proud of being African, it has a pride.


aryan kaganof: Let’s talk about kwaito in terms of traditional African music forms. Where does it fit in? How does it fit in?

m’du: Talking about music then. You get Philip Thabane and Ladysmith Black mambazo and stuff. And today’s music which is kwaito. Firstly we are still keeping the culture. But in a modern way. As you know recording is much easier than it was in the past when it was with all those analogue tape reels etc, now it’s digital. But we are still keeping and sampling some of the old African music. And we still use live instruments as well you know. Like for example if I did a cover version of Philip Thabane, instead of sampling it I would like him to come and play the guitar, of the same song, just for him to feel part of the song you know. Revamping old music, kwaito is all about that you know, whereby we take old music and traditional music and fuse them together.

aryan kaganof: Digital technology has revolutionised the position of artists such as yourself in terms of the record companies.

m’du:I remember in the past when I first did a demo tape and I took it to several big record companies and it was kwaito but no one from the A&R understood, it was like, what is this you know? That’s when I decided to form my own company. I wanted to do what I feel. In the creative world you have to do what you feel but you have to have the guidance from someone. The I started M’du records. Because no one wanted my stuff. And then suddenly when the big companies hear that it’s big then they started knocking, saying listen we want to sign you and stuff. But that’s what happens all over the world, every time when you come up with something new they reject you first until they see that that type of music has a potential you know. So we are collaborating a lot with older musicians. My plans are to work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela as well, Miriam Makeba just to mix kwaito and the old style heavy African traditional music. I’ve done a couple of songs with Jabu Khanyile and it was so nice. African and kwaito. I came up with this kwaito rap and he sings African. In music you can take any elements, classical music, mix it with anything, there is no apartheid in music. As a creative person I like coming up with new ideas and new elements all the time.


aryan kaganof: How does hip hop relate to kwaito?

m’du: I should say kwaito and hip hop is the same thing. The difference is hiphop is the American culture, they singing about the ghetto about how they live, the way they talk. To them swearing is normal but to our culture swearing is like, you don’t respect or something. So it’s exactly what we’re doing here in kwaito, keeping the township culture going.

aryan kaganof: Clearly kwaito is a mirror of the township culture but as the country slowly transforms itself, more and more successful blacks will not be living in the townships, they will make the move to the suburbs. What does that mean for the next generation who will not be of the township culture, how will kwaito reflect their lifestyles?

m’du: I think in the past black people were not allowed by law to be in the suburbs. But to us it’s still our country. That’s what we fought for, to live anywhere where we want to. Not for someone to decide to put us in a corner. It’s our country. I don’t think that township culture will die out. It’s still here in the suburbs, to us it’s still the same. We’ve got a whole lot of black people living around here and to us it’s our country South Africa.


aryan kaganof: African people never chose historically to live in ghettoes. That was a choice imposed upon them. So there’s a kind of glorification of the ghetto but essentially people want to live in dignity and surely the music must reflect that basic human urge and right, to live a dignified life?

m’du: The only dignity is your own culture and what you believe in. I can go and live anywhere but I’ll still keep my culture. It doesn’t mean when I’m out of the ghetto I will have changed. we are moving on of course, especially by being more knowledgeable and being more educated, and having skills to improve our country and to share this culture with other countries. Yes there are still shacks and stuff but we are working so hard to change that. The only way to change the fact that our people do live in shacks is through education. I’m the ambassador for the kids you know, that’s the information that I give them; reading, knowledge. You don’t have to steal to change your life, like we used to do in the past, because we were never allowed to come to town or something so we ended up stealing and doing all those negative things but today we are just pumping this knowledge of looking forward to the future. You must work hard at school in order to change your life.

aryan kaganof: You grew up in Zola.

m’du: Yes.

aryan kaganof: How come so many great kwaito stars come from Zola?

m’du: Firstly as you say, Zola people, the language, you know, how we speak. In New York you know there’s a certain language that they speak that everybody’s interested to know so I think our influence was the language that we’ve created within the neighbourhood. It was a unique language and everybody wanted to speak that language. From kwaito’s point of view I think that’s what made most of the kwaito artists who were born in Zola.


aryan kaganof: Let’s talk about language. In the apartheid days music on the radio and on recordings was strictly compartmentalized by ethnicity. Kwaito changed all of that.

m’du: Firstly, in Zola we were Sothos, yes there was a section for the Sothos, but to us we could live in the offically designated Sotho section if you were Sotho or not, so that’s when this mixing of languages started. At school guys who spoke Sotho guys who spoke Shangaan guys who spoke Zulu guys who spoke Afrikaans, so we mixed all these languages you know in order for us to communicate with each other. And yes the radio stations had separated those languages but to us we are South African, we are one. Even though we speak different languages we are one. If you are South African now you live where you want you speak what you want, we’ve changed that, we fought fo it. We are one. You see kwaito started as a tsotsitaal, a thug language, they call it a thug language but even the grandmothers are speaking it. And we have to put some English in it for it to be understood by white South Africans, by all South Africans.

aryan kaganof: How will kwaito be understood in the international arena?

m’du: Well firstly music speaks a universal language. We love North African music, I love Salif Keita, I love Bona(?), I love to listen to Youssou Ndour, we don’t understand the language but you feel the music, music is all about emotions you know. Yes, some of the soungs, in order for Europeans to understand it will be better for us to colloborate with the top musicians and for them to interpret what we are saying in our languages, Zulu or whatever, then the Europeans will understand our music. By doing so together as musicians we will be taking it to another world. I like what Black mambazo did. They collaborated with all the top musicians in the world and it worked. And South Africans love to see their musicians working internationally, not only in South Africa.


aryan kaganof: So can we expect The Godfather to be collaborating soon?

m’du: Yes sure. I worked with Jean Michel Jarre, I’ve re-mixed two of his songs. I’ve worked with Kenny Latimore I’ve worked with Quincey Jones and they are all saying the same thing: collaborating is the key to the world!

October 15, 2006

the kwaito story: mandoza interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:37 am

Friday 14th February 2003

mandoza photo by hens van rooy

aryan kaganof: Mduduzi Tshabalala.

mandoza: That’s my name.

aryan kaganof: How did Mduduzi become Mandoza?

mandoza: It all began with a love of music you know. I started being in love with the industry since I was a baby. I didn’t care whether it was acting or presenting or whatever, whatever, because I wouldn’t see myself if it was in twenty years time sitting in an office like this you know? Such a boring work for me. I need something which is active you know.

aryan kaganof: You grew up in Zola.

mandoza: Well Zola is the roughest part of Soweto. It was difficult to grow up under that situation and with those influences around us. Thuggish. It was all of that like, it was so difficult for us to grow up under that. We used to feel in love with being a thug, we all wished to be thugs when we grew up. Thugs were the only role models in our township you know. And there were comrades while we were fighting the struggle. They were the only good role models of which you can think of. We didn’t have good role models like we have now. So we were blinded by the situation that was happening in the ghetto.

aryan kaganof: So as a teenager you actually got involved in the thug lifestyle.

mandoza: Yes. Because you were not a man if you were not involved in that direction. And people were going to look at you like you’re scared, you are a coward. You know what I’m saying, stuff like that. We had to. We had to do that. I got into car theft. We stole cars and stuff like that. At that stage I got arrested. I sat for two years in jail. I sat in Sun City (Daveytown Prison) in 1992, the biggest jail in Gauteng. It was like that. But my heart was not there. I did what I did just for fun, just to get a name in the ghetto. But that wasn’t my life.


aryan kaganof: So there’s no fronting with Mandoza?

mandoza: What you see is what you get. I’ve still got the ghetto mind. Although I’ve moved into the suburbs now. But you know you can’t take the ghetto out of me. I’m still that M’du they know.

aryan kaganof: Tell us about Chiskop.

mandoza: As I just said, that was not my line, being a thug and stealing cars and stuff like that. Me and my friends we had a dream, we had a dream to be on tv, by then we were dancers, we loved dancing and stuff like that, we used to imitate songs, overseas stuff like hip hop and stuff like that. We used to perform concerts in the ghetto, our own concerts. In our local halls. We used to win some competitions, got into tv imitating some of the American stuff you know what I’m saying. We loved what we were doing and we wanted to take it far. And then we got hooked up with Arthur. Arthur who is the man who started kwaito you know, we hooked up with him, and he gave us a deal. And then we called ourselves Chiskop. It hasn’t got a specific meaning, it means a man who is bald head. Cos in those days the fashion was being bald on your head you know. Cos everybody by then was scared to shave his hair. You thought you were gonna look ugly without your hair. Because the fashion was just coming in. So we were brave enough to shave our heads. So we set the trend, you can say that, and we called ourselves Chiskop.

Our first album went well. We went to platinum. The name Chiskop became strong. We did our second album it went well. We did something like five albums, the first two went platinum, the others went gold, because we had no proper management, no proper marketing strategy. Originally there were four of us, the other one died, we lost our friend Sizwe Motaung. He died of pneumonia cos we were doing a lot of gigs you know. And sometimes we drink, we don’t sleep, we were doing promotions, tyring the best that we can to promote our album. So I think Sizwe got sick then. But after he died our spirit became more stronger, we came together and became like brothers. So that is why we’re still together today. We agreed that if one of us did a solo that the name Chiskop would remain, would continue. I was lucky enough to be the first one to do the solo. It went well. I went triple platinum with my first album. At the same time we kept the name Chiskop alive. But for me it was beginning to have a lot of work in a year. My year was beginning to be shorter you know. I have to do Chiskop, I have to do Mandoza, and then some other projects on the side you know what I’m saying. Between those two projects you need some time, after you release you need some time to promote the album, to market it right and stuff like that. So the year became kind of shorter to me you know.


aryan kaganof: You work mainly with producer Gabi Le Roux.

mandoza: Gabi Le Roux started to work with us from the first Chiskop album. He’s a white man. And he has this heart you know he used to feel what we want to present to the people. So he’s the one who used to always understand and so for me to change another producer when I was doing the Mandoza project it was difficult you know. We’ve done everything together with Gabi until today and he’s a good musician, he used to be a jazz player, he can collaborate all styles you know.

aryan kaganof: There have been two significant reconciliatory moments in the post-apartheid period. One was when Mr. Mandela donned the jersey of the Springbok rugby team and gave the whites a chance to identify with him and feel embraced into the new dispensation. For me the second most important event politically in terms of this reconciliation has been the way white youths have identified with Nkalakatha to the extent that it has become their own unofficial South African national anthem. How did that happen?

mandoza: I don’t have a specific explanantion for that, for me to analyse it you know. I think it’s God who did this. Who made all these things to happen for me you know. He is the creator, you know what I’m saying. I didn’t have those kind of intentions to bring whites in, I was not there you know what I’m saying, my main aim was doing nice music for the people. No matter what colour it is black or white but I was just doing music. If you love my music thank you for that. But you know God has blessed me with that song you know dos it has brought a lot of black and white on the same dance floor. If I come to look at it if I’m on the stage performing it’s like wow! Cos I have crowds like that you know black and white dancing to Nkalakatha and they go crazy when the song starts! For me when I see that happening and I’m on the stage it’s like wow you know and sometimes when I get off the stage we pray. We pray when we go to the stage we pray when we go out of the stage because it’s kind of like a miracle. Nkalakatha is gangster talk it means a man who has got it all, like you are a man, Nkalakatha, you’re the man!


aryan kaganof: Is Mandoza the role model for all young South African children?

mandoza: Well I don’t know about that. Cos there’s a lot of good guys in the industry who are doing good things. Office people you can look up to you know. I wouldn’t consider myself a role model. I’m a sinner too you know what I’m saying. Like all other people. If people see me like that well, ‘nuff respect. But me as an individual I don’t see myself as a role model. But people always tell me that, that now you’re a role model you have to start doing this and that, so they’re feeding things in my head. Of which I don’t want to. Things must happen naturally you know what I’m saying. I’m a grown up, I can think for myself.

aryan kaganof: The birth of your son Tokollo has had a big influence on your life.

mandoza: Big time. My son is like me. When he sees me performing on tv you wouldn’t switch the tv off because he’ll kill you, you know? And he loves going with me to the gigs. When I go with him to the gigs he’ll cry to perform with me of which he can’t perform with me we’re doing a sequence on the stage you know what I’m saying. He’s like me.

aryan kaganof: Is he going to go into the industry?

mandoza: Well, he must finish school.


aryan kaganof: What is kwaito?

mandoza: Phew. Comes a tough one. I can put it this way, kwaito it’s a language that we use, a music that we use to express our ghetto lifestyle. It’s the way we talk in the ghetto. South African ghetto. And now it’s crossing over to the whole of Africa so you can say African ghettos. What we do, what we always do, what we like to do. Cos we only talk about that and the life that we live in the ghetto. That is why we call it kwaito.

aryan kaganof: Historically for hundreds of years black people have lived in ghettos. But that was never their choice.

mandoza: Yes.

aryan kaganof: So what is the future of kwaito.

mandoza: The future of kwaito is crossing over now. Like you just said, we created our own culture in the ghetto when we were forced to stay there, through that culture we had to create our won things that make us happy. Things that would remind us back to the struggle. Not forgetting who we are. Our language which the next person who doesn’t understand where you coming from can’t hear. We have to give it to them now. And explain it to them. What kind of a level we used to live and stuff like that. And I think that’s the way forward of the kwaito. We wil do collaborations with other overseas artists. Like right now I just did a track with Beenie Man. It’s opening doors. I see kwaito growing big time.


aryan kaganof: Who are your favourite kwaito musicians?

mandoza: There’s lots. Every good kwaito album I love it. I can’t be specific. Every good kwaito album which has got message on it. No just these fun songs but somethening which has got a message on it, good music, I love it.

October 14, 2006

the kwaito story: zola interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 9:25 am

Thusday 13 February 2003

zola: It’s Bonginkosi Thuthugani Ka Dlamini! You see when you grow up on the streets right you get a name associated with the things that you do, for example if you play soccer you’ll get a name like Shoes or Pele or Maradonna, they always give you names you know and then with what we were involved in which was more like we were a bit of naughty kids but we had a passion for art and we were doing kwaito from when we were young then I inherited the name like Zola. Which of course is also my township, I grew up in Soweto and there’s a little small place which for years has been known for being notorious and it’s actually called Zola so that’s how I got the name Zola. I grew up in Zola, 100%.

aryan kaganof: Where does this word kwaito come from and what does it mean?

zola: Ok. It all begins with the Dutch people. The voyagers when they come to South Africa and then all the other nations mix up as South Africans integrate into what it becomes today but basically you had Dutch which of course when it mixed up with other languages ended up as a language called Afrikaans and in Afrikaans there’s a word called kwaai, sommer baie gevaarlik, somebody who’s dangerous, like very cheeky you know, hard core. And then back in the sixties there was a gangster groups called Amakwaitos which of course were the most notorious boys around. I don’t know exactly if they were from Sophiatown or Soweto, one of the two, but that’s basically where the name came from. So we had a bit of Afrikaans a bit of Zulu a bit of English a bit of Tswana Tsonga Tshona and then all those languages came up together when people started working in the mines when people went up to Joburg with the gold rush and then they had their own language. That’s where the name kwai came from and as the years went by music changed and it ended up being called kwaito as in Amakwaitos.

aryan kaganof: What relationship does kwaito have to hip hop and house?

zola: A lot of people would argue that house is European made but really if you think of it you know if you go up to Nigeria the people called the Griots which are the best drummers in the world and that’s where they sample the drums of house and then digitalize the whole thing you know so house would very much with us be more like an ancient culture. And then on one side you’ve got hip hop which is more like your modern culture which is how people express themselves on the street but then again if you take that very same African beat, gugh gugh gu gu gu gugh, and then you put poetry on it right, and then you rhyme with poetry then you end up with hip hop and since it’s street music people will end up talking about street stuff and how the street affects them good and bad. So those two genres of music, how they relate to kwaito is the whole fact that I also grew up in the ghetto I also grew up in a very tensely political country even though now everything has now settled down and we are happy our economy is growng and stuff but then again what happened is we still had to adress street life, abberational families, rape, sex, drugs, prison, education, church, culture, cult, myth, all those things come out through our version of music which is kwaito. We sing about those things before we can start singing about suburban life because truly speaking we don’t know suburban life. I’m still fighting the same struggle that my brothers in the States and all over the world are fighting.

aryan kaganof: What was the point that you cracked into the industry?

zola: Ok, for one I’ve been bubbling under for ten years. Which we can safely say that kwaito stole my childhood but for the beauty of it, right? But I did a movie called Yizo Yizo, it was a tv film but very much movie quality. And which adressed the problems of the South African youth, predominantly black. And I played a character called Papa Action who was an inmate and he was going through his problems, like spiritually and problems at home and stuff, and what happened is they were also doing a cd which would come with the film and I did a song which became the main track called Ghetto Fabulous which basically was a dedication to my people that even though we suffer we still ghetto fabulous. And basically that’s how I managed to break into the music industry but I had to go via acting first.

aryan kaganof: Tell us about your debut album.

zola: mdlwembe means stray dog, a dog with no owner right. A dog with no owner will eat from a garbage can , bite when it has to, will run away when it has to, it’s got rabies and it will go and basically mess up your lawn if it feels it wants to use it as a toilet right. Unfortunately in life there’s people who treeat themselves exactly like that, they are always a thorn in society, they are always bugging people, they always trying to hijack a car, trying to take a bag from an old lady and those people we refer to them as imdlwembe and basically the song was dedicated to them as in saying the good people are taking back the streets, we are taking back our pride, we taking back the reason why we fought for this country to be liberated, we will not be bugged by a young kid just because he’s got a nine millimeter. We not afraid of them. So it was a warning to the minority of criminals that we have that this country is better than that. And because people related to that and they were sick of what was happening it blew up and became a big song.

aryan kaganof: What is Woof Woof about? Why did you use the ragga form?

zola: Well it’s a very personal story. I had a girlfriend sometime back who dumped me, badly, for the simple fact that I had nothing. Right? And she’d gone out with a guy who had more. So I saw her about two years after I had struck it successful in the business and then I don’t know, somehow a song came up you know and Woof Woof basically says wherever I go all my dogs bark, they respect me and yo, sister look at me now, look at what I became, but thanks for dumping me because I would have been stuck with you for the rest of my life not knowing that you were in this whole business for money, not that you loved me truly. So her dumping me was a blessing but it did hit a nerve because I was young and I was really in love with her. It’s more of a thuggish, dirty, down into the dirt-like take me as I am you know, if you don’t love the thug then get out of my way you know? Because I cannot picture myself all romantic and walk in the park feeding the ducks because we don’t have that where I’m from. The only kind of water you get flowing down is when a sewer gets blocked you know. So I cannot be romantic as in an R&B singer, I can try to be romantic but in my way, my kind of music.

aryan kaganof: when you were a kid at school you used to be called mubi, mfene, mnyamane, what was that like?

zola: This is very much a story of the ugly duckling right. Because I came from a poor family and we still lived in a country whereby even my complexion kids would tease me because of it because the most beautiful thing was being white. So automatically anyone who was lighter in complexion sort of appeared nicer in society. We even had wedding songs like wanangstalalilikadag??? meaning this beautiful maid she’s beautifully coloured meaning she’s light in complexion and stuff. So it got to a point whereby I was a skinny kids, came form a poor family, didn’t have much of dress code and stuff and with kids what happens is we rank in society, if so and so has a rich father he becomes the leader of the boys, if so and so has got a poor father or a mother he becomes the servant of the boys on the street. So I was more like a servant. And my mission was to prove that a kid from the ravages of the ghetto can actually grow up and become an example in the country because we have Mandela, we have Bantus Steven Biko and our current president Thabo Mbeki who came from that situation and they became something better. So unfortunately with the kids it’s a different story because they’ll always tease each other and say bad things to each other and so metimes it gets to a point whereby it becomes a seriously sensitive issue where another kid will go and seriously hurt another kid. You’ve read about this around the world where kids can just walk into a school and shoot everybody else or you hear that so and so just killed somebody and the whole issue just started over a girlfriend or who was ugly and who was handsome. It happens. But I survived that and I live in a country whereby a lot of kids can actually toelrate that , we live in a country of different cultures, different races, and different religions and we were this close to a civil war, but we survived it. That’s why we stand as a proud example to the world that we have our liberty back without an actual civil war. And if my country could survive that then I as an individual can do more.

aryan kaganof: Would I be correct in assuming that Tupac played a big role for you in terms of inspiration?

zola: The life that Tupac lived, played an inspiration. He was a man, I don’t know him, I never met him. The stuff that I read about him, the stuff that I saw on DVD and back then in the tapes about his about his documentaries and that beautiful book called Rose In The Concrete, those are things that gave me an I nsight of what kind of a man he was. And how he died, how he lived his life, how his mother was an active member of the Black Panthers and how that in a way related to my life from when my mother was poliitcally active to how she lived and how she was preganant with me right in the heart of ’76. She gave birth to me in ’77 and how I lived a miserable life, how my father left me, how I grew up hard and how I had fights with my mother when I was 17, 18, because I was a teenager and how I struck it gold and how me and my mother reconciled and healedand I became a voice of the nation. I understand what Tupac went through because I went through exactly the same, the only experience that he had that I haven’t been through is that I haven’t been killed yet. Rigth? So I feel him, I understand him and I also understand that he could not sing about swans in the park, he could not sing about the beauty of how some western books portray life because he grew up on the concrete and he was a rose. He grew up hard and I’m going through the same thing right? And even worse in my country I can never have the money that he had. But he also taught me that sometimes it’s not about money, it’s about letting it out and be fully used before you die right? So he used all of his energy, he fought every day, he fought pollitically, he fought spiritually, he fought socially, so even though he was a brother from another country, but what he was is like in direct parallel of what I go through every day of my life. Therefore I feel him. I feel his pain, I feel his joys, and I feel what he was trying to achieve and he was in a struggle. And a struggle is something that you never achieve, it’s something that you fight until you die. Therefore I shall also fight until I die. Him and I are birds of the same feather. It’s just that I’m still here and he migrated.

aryan kaganof: If we look at Bob Marley in reggae or Tupace in hip hop, would it be pretentious to say that you assume a comparable role within kwaito?

zola: I do assume but before I can even say I assume it that role was given to me before I was born. That political role, that consciousness, that struggle, that pain, that pain that Bob Marley fought all of his life, the things he talked about in his music, for he could not pick up a gun and shoot a man therefore he took a microphone and fought it onstage. Same thing that Tupac went through. I can say in a true sense that role was given to me before I was even born. And it’s something that I’m supposed to take all the way for the rest of my life and hope that before I die other kids will pick up after me and take the same role and move on. Until whenever the powers that be truly understand what we are trying to talk about.

aryan kaganof: There is an element of the messianic in the tragically young deaths of both of these great men. Is kwaito the music form that will deliver up a South African messiah?

zola: Julius Caesar was killed by his own friends. Christ was betrayed by his own friend. Shaka Zulu was killed by his own brother. Tupac’s death remains a mystery. Bob Marley’s death I’m still trying to figure out up to now. I do not wish to follow a legacy that I’m gonna die. But I know that that’s the way of the flesh. But what I’m living I’ll be preaching and I’ll be singing. However, being god’s servant is something that I very much like to do but I cannot necessarily say that there is a messiah in me. I may be a voice that maybe I might have inherited it from Bantu Steven Biko and Mcenge (?) and Tsiyetsi (?) and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the Mahatma Gandhi. I’m a different voice that speaks a different language to a whole new different population. But I do not seek a messiah in me, I only seek to be god’s servant. And if God decides that the time has come for me to go I will go. And how I go will b eentirely depending on the situation. Somebody could shoot me. I could die from AIDS. I could die from a car accident. Anything is possible but I know that one day I shall go the way of the flesh. The most satisfying thing about it is that, you know Tupac when he says he was watching Marvin Gaye’s show yesterday, I’d like to sit with Martin Luther King one day and Batus Steven Biko and maybe grow my dreadlocks with Bob Marley, that would be a great feeling for me because I do not believe that when I die that’s it. I believe that when I die I move to a greater power, a position which I was born for. The whole life, whether I live for seventy years, is nothing more than a test, the longer I live the longer the test is extended. But there’s a life after this and that’s exactly where I’m going. And if they decide to write books and movies about us it will be great because they will push on the legacy that we tried to teach. But we only got to a situation of teaching because us ourselves were taught and my greatest teachers in life are these kids because they know nothing about apartheid even though they are getting the reflection of it because they live in the ghetto, but they get a better chance than me and if they ever tell the stories that I tried to tell they will tell them better, they will become better individuals than I am. So every day a new generation will work towards cleaning the mistakes of the past and creating something new. What I’m doing almost has got nothing to do with the present, it’s got something to do with the future, which, unfortunately, I won’t be there to see, cos I’ll have to move on. That’s the way of life. And why I wear a seven on my neck every day, is based on a simple fact that if you follow your Bible right, you’ll see that God workds around the number seven. The alphabet itself, G for god is the seventh letter of the alphabet. The Israelites circled Jericho seven times and the walls crumbled. Christ is killed on the sixth day and the first day he rests on his grave is the seventh day. God creates Earth and Man and then he rests on the seventh day. So we wear a seven as a form of respect and a tribute to what God has given to us. And I could wear it in Gold and the reason I wear it in silver is because Christ was sold with silver coins. So for us it is a very tense spiritual thing that I cannot explain. So when I get on stage and I see 40 000 peole, I see beautiful black people all the way to the back there, and I got the microphone and I can hear them scream, I think I know exactly how soccer stars feel when they score goals, when people scream, when you’re in the final or maybe you’re Coby Brian (?) and you shoot the last basket, and your team wins and takes the league, I feel exactly that. And my struggle though is a very political one and a very spiritual one. We are doctors of the soul. And everything around us is guided and protected by God, otherwise I would have died at birth, I wouldn’t have survived. So the reason I am here is mainly to serve. And we strongly believe in one verse in the Revelations that says behold for a powerful nation shall rise in the South. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we do this. And if we get paid while we’re at it so be it because I’d like to say that the God that I worship has got the most expensive account ever. He’s more than a billionarie because he created all matters and all treasures. I refuse to be poor because there is this thing that if you believe in God and if you follow God you must be poor. There they hit us off guard. Because that’s how other people got rich and other people got very poor, right? And the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I believe that if I drive a big nice car, if I live in a house that makes every boy want it as a dream house, that means I shift the mind of a four year old or a ten year old from looking at a drug dealer as an example to looking at somebody who does something good. So if you’re Christian or whatever religion you follow and it’s associated with God and you’re rich and you got money you can stand up and testify that I’ve got all of this because of God. You don’t have to do crime, you don’t have to kill another person. If I get money and I ended up being rich one day for me it would be testimony that God gave me kwaito as talent here I am and anybody can follow me instead of my young brothers and sisters looking at drug dealers as examples. I dream for a day when Christians and Moslems and all the people who do good will own all the houses and the big cars because basically this is god’s testimaony that a man who follows God can live a clean life. King Solomon, King David, they were billionaires of their time. And they were given their powers by God. Why shouldn’t we live like that now? My biggest bank is up in heaven.

October 13, 2006

the kwaito story: lance stehr interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 3:11 pm

lance stehr: It all happened by mistake. My name is Lance Stehr and I’ve been involved in the record industry for the last fifteen years. Started off initially working in tv and always had this thing about wanting to produce music and wanting to ge tinvolved with artists and expose South African music to the rest of the world. For about seven years we concentrated on one artist and that was Prophets of Da City which we managed to get out internationally and we toured Europe and did a lot things with them but it was more on a political level that we were focused then and then we decided when we came back from Europe in 1996 that we should look at other commercial music forms that were happening. It was our decision then to have a bash at kwaito. We actually didn’t really like kwaito at all at the time. We were more into hip hop, because at that time for us kwaito actually the lyrics that were happening were very repetitive, we didn’t find the music exciting at all, and in hip hop there were just more lyrics and there were just more things that you could say. And then we started with the first group called Skeem and we recorded them and we took Ishmael who was in Prophets of Da City, put him in Skeem and the main reason why Skeem was formed was because Ishmael was supporting his friends and it got to the stage where we said well your friends have got to do something and he said well why don’t we just get a kwaito group together with them and that’s actually how Skeem was born. Skeem came out with a track called Waar Was Jy? which actually went to number one and all of a sudden we found ourselves right in the mainstream of commercial music in South Africa and we’re very lucky because we followed up Skeem with O Da Meesta, a track called Wena U Bani? which went huge and it was all very fresh and exciting and we neglected Prophets of Da City, they actually went on a backburner and we decided to actually look at a lot of other groups and the label just suddenly burst out with about seven eight groups which we were very stupid in doing in terms of not focusing at all and we sit now with some very hot talents happening and over the last three years we’ve maanged to discover, manage, record and market new talent out to the rest of the country.


aryan kaganof: Such as?

lance stehr: Well we were very fortunate in looking at Zola. But Zola had approached us a year before but he had these huge fat dreads and the huge fat dreads for me it was a problem and the music which he was doing at the time, which was hip hop, was a problem, because we knew that in South Africa hip hop just doesn’t have the sales that kwaito has. And then when he auditioned for Yizo Yizo, cos we had done the soundtrack for Yizo Yizo, we were looking at taking an actor from Yizo Yizo and blowing them up. So in the middle of auditions we discovered Zola and Zola arrived, the same person, with no dreads, and this sort of really amazing energy, and although I can’t understand one word of Zulu, so people tell me, amazing lyrics. In the end it’s very difficult because you’re feeling the music you’re n ot understanding the lyrics and you just have to go with the feel of it. We’re fortuinate because I’d rate Zola as one of the best writers in the country. And then from Zola we did Mapaputsi which blew up as well which was great because that was also fresh, a fresh sound as well, and Mzeke Zeke. So for the last two years we’ve really had a good run. And it’s very difficult in this industry because the industry is really competitive and I think it’s like that globally in different regions where yoyu’ll only have X amount of artists selling records. You won’t have fifty aritsts selling records you’ll only have maybe four that are selling, that are actually bringing in the amount of money that you need to keep a record company going. This last year we were fortunate because we had three huge artists. We’re also fortunate now because we’ve got a new act called Matswako and it’s changing direction slightly because it’s not kwaito at all, it’s more a mixture of classical meets house meets African and it sounds amazing.

aryan kaganof: What influence did Yizo Yizo have on the development of kwaito?

lance stehr: I think that Yizo Yizo dealt with a lot of issues that people weren’t really prepared to talk about, especially at school. Whether it was sex, drugs, etc. I don’t think in terms of Yizo Yizo the lyrics really depicted that, I think it was more when Zola came out with his solo album that’s when he really hit it hard. And most probably made the character Papa Action, which he played, sort of like expanded from that and lyrically just sort of blew it up from there.

aryan kaganof: How is Ghetto Ruff different from the majors, like Gallo, EMI etc.

lance stehr: I think Ghetto Ruff as a small independent record company operates on a very different level to majors. I’ve had a long association with majors and the feeling is always yo9u’re much closer to the street and you’re much closer to the artists and also the artist’s well-being in terms of if the guy hasn’t got any place to stay, or the guy hasn’t got any food you actually there and you try and build the artist at the same time as building the music. Also I just feel that independent record companies more or less live the music and it’s sort of a life style, you’re surrounded with the music like 24 hours a day. I think it’s very easy in a major record company to be very comfortable, be an executive and have your office, you knoiw that you’ve got your meetings at this and this time and you actually lose a lot of catches because if you’re not listening to every single track that comes in which the majors just don’t have time for they’re looking at that huge machine that they’re trying tofeed all the time and the thing is just to get the product out there and to sell that volume. I’m very fortunate that the people that work with us and the partners we have, Ready D, KB, Zola, they are very in tune with the youth and ideas are always bounced around. And also if you’re fortunate enough to have ears that everybody else feels the same, it’s not like having special ears, there’s no bullshit like you have special ears to find a hit, it’s just having normal ears that you can hear wow this sounds amazing, I think another two million people will appreciate it. That’s the way we operate.
The music industry is notorious for hype and I think the hype actually extends to other areas as well, every record company wants to shift those units so what tends to happen is the hype is just so big that you give your buyers that they stock it in really huge believing that this is going to sell because in actual fact a lot of the buiyers donb’t have ears, they will sit there and they will believe what the record company tells them. What happens at the end of it is if the record doesn’t sell at all a lot of that stock is returned and it’s unfortunate because for me it doesn’t matter how much you can hype a song it’s about the song itself. You can do the hype, you can run around and tell everybody how brilliant this is and it can be spread all over the shops and that but if the song isn’t there that people want you’re not going to move those units out of the store at all.

aryan kaganof: What about taking kwaito into the rest of Africa as well as the rest of the world?

lance stehr: Kwaito has already gone over the borders, in Zimbabwe there is a huge market over there, even in Zambia and in Botswana. There have been kwaito concerts that have happened in London in Germany, Zola has done concerts over there, because there are a lot of South Africans that live all over the world and there are a lot of Africans that live all over the world. The crossover effect in terms of getting it into the mainstream by which I mean selling more than 25 000 copies in the German or Dutch markets, I think there is going to have to be some more work done to it. There are certain tracks at the moment that can do it, but it’s not strictly kwaito, it’s not your generic kwaito in terms of what is selling here. I think that we’re going to have to do some collaborations with different artists and that is actually what is going to break it into different territories. I think that all genres of music have got a lifespan as that particular genre and then they evolve, like you’ll still have kwela, which comes from sixty years ago, it’s still there, there are different strands of it but it has evolved in the same way that kwaito is going to evolve people are going to merge it with hip hop. At the moment the hip hop scene in South Africa is blowing up. It’s not blowing up in terms of sales but the market is ready for hip hop and we’ve been trying to sell hip hop in South Africa for the last fifteen years and it’s only now that it’s working out. Strangely the hip hop heads would rather listen to it on the radio or tape it from someone’s else’s cd but on the kwaito side people actually go out and buy the music. So the two genres are coming together. It’s interesting because on Zola’s album we had one or two hip hop tracks which were huge and the more sort of Zulu rap, that is acutally what is happening, not your English rap.

aryan kaganof: What do you think about the distribution deal Arthur cut with Gallo recently?

lance stehr: Arthur’s always been distributed by a major (EMI) so this isn’t a new thing at all, I think all the independents have to go through a major to get distributed. I feel very sad because I don’t think that it really worked out for Gallo as they wanted it to work out because he didn’t have any tracks over the Christmas period so there’s nothing that’s actually happening there, but you never know, his next hit might just be around the corner and he’ll bounce back again. I think it’s another business decision that’s been made on the level where they threw a lot of money down the drain. There’s nothing really that you can gain from a major record company except a ton of money. Otherwise msuically, sure they have a lot of muscle in certain areas, but a lot of the muscle they just buy.


October 12, 2006

the kwaito story: mzekezeke interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 6:37 pm

the masked mystery man of kwaito: mzekezeke
(photo hens van rooy)

aryan kaganof: Who are you?

mzeke zeke: My name is Zakhele and in the township some of my friends they call me Zakes some of them they call me Mzekezeke. Just like if a person’s name is Joseph they can call him Joe or Joey, so Mzekezeke is from Zakes Zakhele. I’m just a normal boy 22 years old from the township, from the ghetto of Tembisa in the East Rand just about 30 km East side of Joburg. Me I’m from the East Rand but I represent any ghetto anywhere it doesn’t have to be east or west. As long as a person knows the struggle and the life of the township in the street and growing up difficult, I represent that, I’m the voice for the people in the township.


aryan kaganof: So why the mask?

mzeke zeke: The reason why I wear the mask, number one, I think when you look at the ordinary people in the streets like that man who’s walking there, the hobo, nobody listen to the hobo man, they look to him they’ll think he’s poor, he’s useless. And the people who just walk and they sell vegetables in the street and they can’t come to tv or they cannot voice their opinions or whatever they think so me I represent those people and I’m a voice for those people. Those people they are not famous, they are not known and they just want to speak how they feel, so I speak how they feel and I’m their voice that’s whjy I wear the mask cos I’m an ordinary people myself also. I’m not famous, that’s why I don’t want to become famous I’m just an ordinary people who is a voice for ghetto people.

aryan kaganof: Are you in any way a continuation of Mzwakhe Mbuli, the poet of the people?

mzeke zeke: Oh I did not think of it that way, that is very interresting because Mzwakhe was a very good voice in the times of the apartheid when we were struggling. I never think of it that way but you can say it’s similar, ja.

aryan kaganof: But you’re not going to end up in jail for a bank robbery?

mzeke zeke: No me I’m not a criminal. I represent for the people I n the street who are working hard who are sturggling and who have a positive mind, I’m not interested in crime or criminal things, no. I always encourage people not to get into crime and they listen to me because they understand the language that they speak and they are like me they struggle like me, they wear work clothes when they go to work, I also wear overalls just like them. I’m just like people, I’m ordinary. I’m not wear gold chains, gold rings, I’m not like that and I don’t like that bling bling thing. Even if I can have money to buy I don’t want those things because I’m just ordianry you see.


aryan kaganof: On your hit Sguqa Ngamadolo you rap that you don’t sing in English because it’s not your mother tongue.

mzeke zeke: I’ll tell you one thing, number one, in South Africa most people like the youth you see, the youth they watch too much media like tv , newspapers, magazines, tv shows, radio shows, music videos, so they like too much of the American stuff. So much that when they speak in the street or at school or on the radio they like to speak like they are Americans and when you speak like me with just a normal township English then they are not considered to be the man enough you see. So me, the thing that I’m trying to change by all means I’m trying to do is to try and get our many African brothers and sisters out there as many as them as I can to try and understand that knowing English ot speak like an American does not make you the man enough. If you don’t know English you don’t know it it’s fine you can teach yourself to speak it better but it does not make the next person better than you it does not mean if you cannot speak proper English you are a stupid. If you look at the overseas stars, the soccer stars, the music stars, they speak their nice French languages, they speak their Spanish languages, some of them they don’t know how to speak English, they have translators who translate for them. But people don’t look to them and say they are stupids but why do we have our own brothers here they look to us they say you don’t know English you are a stupid. So my song is saying, I’m not saying I’m not gonna sing in English, I’m saying guys don’t think that when you know better English or because you can speak with an accent you are better than me you are not better than me and another thing we must be very proud to the African languages of ourselves because here in South Africa we’ve got eleven official languages and you are allowed to speak any one of them. So me I encourage that let’s be proud of our languages and at the same time let’s be proud of our own African music before we can try and admire the music overseas. I don’t like this thing of South African people trying to make their music like Americans we must be original Africans or if you are from any country be original. Americans are original they are not trying to become like us. And Americans they don’t play our music and I think their media is corrupting our youth. That’s why the musicians of South Africa we always fight so that our music is played more on the radio than the overseas music but if you look at the case now they playing more overseas music than our music.

aryan kaganof: Lefifi Tladi from Garankuwa taught me that African languages are fourth dimensional languages, the way they deal with grammar is on four dimensions and English is a two-dimensional language so when African people lose respect for their own languages they lose a full two dimensions by mastering English at the expense of their mother tongues. And essentially you are a masked freedom fighter in the new liberation struggle, the war of the mind.

mzeke zeke:Of course, because even before I start to sing I’ve got the five minute program, just five minutes a day, on the radio, Monday to Friday, my show goes on quarter past four, just for five minutes, from quarter past four to twenty past four, but I tell you it’s the most listened to five minutes of the radio station, if you look to the rating it’s very high because people identify to what I say and those things that I talk about is happens every day and I represent them that’s why on radio, before I started singing, I’ve always been fighting all the negative things like but why do we have to look down to the African brothers and sisters of ourselves because they cannot speak better English, why do we not have to treat people from the ghetto ok like they are people from Sandton, why do other lives have to be expensive other lives is cheap because that person is a hobo, it’s not like that, God created everyone equal. So on the radio, me, I call people, like yesterday on the radio on my show the comedian he got a tv show, he speak bad about a different race group but it’s ajoke you see. But he say no Shangaan speaking people are like this, but it’s a joke that he made on tv, but I did not like that, but he apologized to the Shangaan nation, but I phoned him on radio to say why do you do like this? Are you teaching our children to go to school to the Shangaan children and laugh to them, it’s not good because we are all the same, we are all children of the same God you see. So I speak of issues that happen every day like in the taxis, right here in the taxi, the taxi drivers sometimes they drive not in good cars, they shout to the customers, they don’t treat them ok. I speak like that on radiio, I phone the taxi driver, I ask him why would you treat people like this and sometimes I call the hospital people hey why do the nurses have to shout to the patients because they are sick you can’t shout to them, what if they die? I also call celebrities and some of them who have got a negative way of treating people or negative way of thinking I call them and I shout them out on air that Hey! Who do you think you are? You not Michael Jackson, why you behjave like that like a superstar? You are a normal people like me and you. So you can not expect to treat people like nonsense. That’s why I say I am a liberator, I just fight for people in the township on radio, through my music, and everything I say all the time.

aryan kaganof: You spoke of people making fun of the Shangaan people, in Godfrey Moloi’s book, My Life, he describes how people in Soweto always used to make fun of the Shangaan people, calling them sausage eaters, so it’s nothing new. And of course in the townships people call each other mubi, mnyamane, mfene.

mzeke zeke: But why do you have to create open up for the old wounds. Those wounds are old of the old people making fun of the Shangaan, but we are changing with the times. But when people start making jokes to national tv, what are they saying about Shangaan people. Let’s say I’m a Shangaan children, I’m just a kid, my friends are going to laugh at me, they gonna kill the esteem of myself, I gonna have a low one because they laughed me. It’s not good, even if they do it in the 1930s I don’t encourage it. All the races, the Shangaan, Zulu, Xhosa, we are all the same, why you have to make jokes about Shangaan people, no I don’t like that.

aryan kaganof: So what is kwaito?

mzeke zeke: Kwaito is a music which was formed from the township, from the everyday things that happen in the township. It’s a township slang when we speak and we combine that with the beats. That’s kwaito. And then you get people that say no, kwaito people they cannot sing, they are just talking, but that’s our music. Why does it sell more than anything else here? Why has it employed too many people in this country? A lot of people are employed because of kwaito, a lot of radio stations they are what they are today because of kwaito. A lot of people are successful and a lot of people have got bread to their tables because of kwaito. So we speak it but we change it to a melodical form you see. And we mix it to a beat and people realte to it and they love it. And that’s how I am I grew up loving kwaito I’m kwaito I’m living kwaito. It’s the culture that I live. Loxion kulcha, it’s the music that I understand more than anything else. And for example a new artist like me I sell 100 000 copies because people identify to what I say. But once you get a person singing American style R&B in English check how many copies they sell, not even one of those artists for South Africa was ever selling 20 000 copies. Me I’m a new artist in just two months I sell 100 000. I believe in what I do.

aryan kaganof: Is it relevant to consider the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison as the birthday of kwaito?

mzeke zeke: It’s very relevant because for example Mzwakhe Mbuli was the voice of the people then, he mixed poetry with beats and we loved it we identified with it and that was the birth of kwaito, but after Nelson Mandela was released from jail we couldn’t cry about struggling this and that anymore, black people had found a black president and what was it time for now? To celebrate. Because all these years we had been making sad music, about wanting freedom, being the minority of ourselves, but after our black president started and our new government, we could not make sad music anymore, what for? We had to be happy. Because Mandela was out, it’s time to praise the lord he’s answered our prayers and we moving on with life, we celebrating, so kwaito was born. Mandela was born, a couple of years down the line we had to come up with something to make us happy. When you listen to kwaito we talk about parties, we talk about things that happen in the townships, but it’s no longer the struggle, it’s the way forward. It’s the music that was born for celebration, and yes, we’ve reached our freedom, but where to from now? But let’s not make any sad music anymore, let’s embrace God and let’s be happy, township style, youth style. And me being here is not the end of it, it’s only the start.

aryan kaganof: Tell us about the clothes label your wear, Loxion Kulcha.

mzeke zeke: Loxion Kulcha is a brand of the clothes that we are very very proud of which was started by two very talented young township guys, they are also from the ghetto. Loxion means township. The names of them is Wandi (??) and Sechaba. At first when they came with this label people were negative thinking who are these guys, what label are they bringing but a lot of township people they could identify to this thing and relate to it because if you look at the things they make it’s the things that you like in the township so we were very happy to get a label like that and if you see most kwaito artists eveywhere they are wearing Loxion Kulcha. And I didn’t want anything famous or expensive from overseas I just wanted Loxion Kulcha because it represents me, the township culture that we live, the clothes they make they are also from the township those guys, even the team of people they employed, they employ guys from the township and they don’t make them to work for them, no, the tell those guys here is the little we can offer you, work for yourselves, the sky is the limit. That’s how Wandi and Sechaba operate and they are so big now, no youth person in this country does not know Loxion Kulcha. It goes hand in hand with kwaito music.

aryan kaganof: In the Freedom Charter it specifically stated that the land would be shared by all. But now when is that going to happen?

mzeke zeke: You know one thing I’m gonna tell you is that number one, when I look at the present government of our self I think they have been able to do very well. I think me, I’m proud of what the government has done despite of the opinion of other people, everyone has got a different opinion but I think they have done so well to keep to their promises. It’s not possible to just do everything in two years or three years. Transformation takes years you see. But so far I think they have been able to prove themselves very good and the land issue, when you look at what people are saying, this and that, here and there, I personally think that we’ve been able to live together as whites, Indian, coloureds, yellow, Chinese people, Nigerian people are here, we all living in this country. Ok if you go in the townships it’s dominated by black people, but even if you look to the suburbs we live together everywhere, I think it is shared, the l and is ahred. But when you go to the rural areas at the same time, we say emaplazini, meaning the rural areas, there are still too many places that are still owned by those boere with big money. We understand that they own these farms but I personally feel that if I owned such a big land I would share it with the people. It’s up to them what they decide but it’s their lives and their money and their land because now they own it those people but as people of this country were created by the same god I think a lot of the farmers should divide the land or maybe sell it at a good price or whatever but so far I think we have at least being trying to get to that stage where we are living together you see. So the land should be shared and so far the government I give them good props I think they do a good job you see.

aryan kaganof: What is the relationship being poetry and kwaito?

mzeke zeke: I think poetry is growing very well because if you look to poetry like you were saying about Mzwakhe Mbuli who is a poet also, it is expressing what you feel, the environment that you grew up in, the everyday things that you see. Because poetry is mainly about that about what you feel and how you look at things in life. And kwaito is also like that. It’s the same thing, it’s just that kwaito has got music underneath, poetry you just speak it. But at the same time poetry goes deeper you see. Y FM is promoting African poetry in a very good way. And there are a lot of good kwaito artists who are poets, if you listebn to their rap they are talking about conscious things to their life and about what they see everyday you see.

aryan kaganof: What is your massive hit Sguqa Ngamadolo about?

mzeke zeke: Sguqa Ngamadolo is a dance. it means kneel down. The line Sguqa Ngamadolo means “we are kneeling down”. We’ve heard a lot of different dances in kwaito, we’ve heard a dance called Mnike, Mnike means give it to them, and we had a dance called Iminwe Phezulu (??) meaning fingers up in the air, we also had a twalaza dance, so Sguqa Ngamadolo was a brand new dance that just came for everyone and people were just enjoying it. Because no one can ever think of I cannot make a dance which makes people kneel down, how can people dance kneeling down it’s very difficult I’m gonna kill people but me I was like no, if it’s good enough they will kneel down, I’m starting it. And people loved it so much December time even now every weekend every party people there trousers are dirty. they also accuse for me they say their knees are broken because of me because the song is so good that they cannot ignore it. Everytime it’s played they Sguqa Ngamadolo, they kneel down and they dance, even old people which is a very good thing.

aryan kaganof: What’s Mzeke Zeke’s future in kwaito?

mzeke zeke: Number one, it’s not easy to last in the industry and to be consistent for people to like you forever like now there are a lot of people who don’t like me or don’t like my music or the way I speak or whatever, undrstand. But the way we planned it with my managers TK and DJ S’Bu, the managers of the label where I am, it’s called TS Music, it’s a brand new company it’s independent and they signed me and a friend to me, his name is Brown. So their plan where we’re taking Mzeke Zeke is number one, a tv show because when you look to tv right now they say it’s very cheap to broadcast American shows or overseas shows than to produce our own but I think we should have our own more local content to the tv than overseas stuff so I see the gap for a show like that what is going to represent the people in the twonship and adress those issues from a normal ghetoo boy’s point of view. because when people look to me they think I’m stupid they think I don’t know anything just because of the broken English I speak but from the point of view of people like that who represent millions of people like that I think there is a very big gap for a show like that on tv. So we’re taking Mzeke Zeke to tv, the Mzeke Zeke show and another plan in the pipeline, is it possible to take Mzeke Zeke to a national radio station, to go national.

Tape 13
Mzeke Zeke in Noord Street Taxi rank

mzeke zeke: In this country black people always used to wear a mask, in all their dealings with their madams and masters, in order not to let themselves be revealed, in order to retain their true dignity and sense of self. Now that people have won their struggle, have achieved their goals, they do not need to wear that mask any longer, so Mzeke Zeke wears the mask for the people, in order to remind them of what they have achieved.

Intelligent people in this country love Mzeke Zeke, they have so many explanations for the mask, they think it is the most brilliant thing to come out of the entertainment industry, even some of their explanations I don’t understand but that’s ok you see.

October 9, 2006

the kwaito story: kb interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 1:54 pm

kb in the ghetto ruff mixing studio
(photo hens van rooy)

KB: My name is KB, I’m a music producer for a little company called Ghetto Ruff. It’s just an independent record label we strictly deal with R&B and kwaito and hip hop. I’m from Rustenburg which is about two hours away from Joburg. I started by studying sound engineering, it was a one year course then I started getting into the whole production thing after working in the studio. I actually grew up in a musical family. I used to listen to a whole lot of jazz and golden oldies, blues and stuff. My father used to work for a radio station, he was a compiler, so you can understand he had a whole lot of different music. So I actually got my influence from there growing up listening to all these records and it just got into me.

aryan kaganof: What is kwaito?

kb: My explanation, my definition of kwaito would be for South Africa what hip hop is to America because this is how this whole kwaito thing started. It’s street music, it’s street lingo, it’s young it’s exactly the same for South Africa as what hip hop is to America. It actually got to me when I started listening to Arthur, one of the mainstream artists of kwaito. Before him it was more of just dance music but kwaito came about when Arthur started to incorporate the whole street lingo thing.

aryan kaganof: Your production of Zola’s first album Umdlwembe made it an instant classic, tell us how that came about.

kb: Actually Zola was one of the main characters in Yizo Yizo which was the most successful tv series in South Africa and they asked me to come and do something with them and I met him and they actually wanted someone from the series to participate in the music album. So a whole number of the actors did auditions and Zola got through and that’s how we got to meet and he really impressed me and we started working from there. We build these things up over a period of time together. What I do is I try to come up with something fresh, something new, like I would take elements of ragga on Woof Woof, or elements of hip hop or even house music. Every time when I come up with a new album I try not to copy the previous style but just carry on inventing new and different styles. Kwaito is very fluid there are no rules and the audience appreciates that. Sometimes we use live bass and live guitars in the studio hardly ever live drummers. I would love to see kwaito exported to the global market. We did a little tour in Germany and the reception was pretty awesome I didn’t expect that from them so I’m looking forward to taking this whole kwaito thing to the international level. I’ve worked with Ishmael, I’ve worked with Skeem, with O Da Meesta, Getto Luv, in fact everything on Ghetto Ruff records I’ve actually worked on.

aryan kaganof: Was Mzeke Zeke wearing his mask in the studio when he recorded SGuqa Ngamadolo?

kb: Of course not!

October 8, 2006

the kwaito story: mzambiya interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 5:37 pm

Thursday 13 February 2003


aryan kaganof: How is it possible that someone as young as you can already be a kwaito star?

mzambiya: The thing is more than anything the township that I’m from because more than anything there are a lot of artists which are coming from that township where I used to stay, the township that inspired me. Because there are a lot of kwaito artists which are coming from that township which is Zola. So Mandoza is from there, M’du is from there, Chiskop is from there, a lot of artists, a lot of popular artists and those guys gave me inspiration so I followed them.

aryan kaganof: What is so special about Zola as oppposed to other areas of Soweto, other townships?

mzambiya: The thing is Zola is known as a rough township, more than anything, there are a lot of bad things which are happening there, so we as artists we decided that because a lot of bad things are happening, beacause there are a lot of tsotsis and thieves and stuff, so we should change that. Because even now we should put something on top of that as musicians to talk about where we come from.

aryan kaganof: What is kwaito?

mzambiya: Kwaito I think started with a genre by the name of bubblegum, so kwaito is something like a township thing, it’s talking about a lot of things that are happening around you , in fact you’re tallking about your environment, and it’s not R&B, it’s something specific to the township that you must talk about. In kwaito actually me I’m using Zulu but for it to be known internationally I think you have to put some kind of lyrics in English you know? But I’m doing kwaito in Zulu.

aryan kaganof: Do you write your own lyrics?

mzambiya: I do write some lyrics but because we work as a company, as members of a company, in fact we work together, me and my producer we make up some ideas together and work as a company.


aryan kaganof: How old were you when you started?

mzambiya: I think I was eleven years old. I went for the auditions at a youth program and that’s where they discovered me.

aryan kaganof: Isn’t it strange being a schoolgoer and a national star at the same time?

mzambiya: Well I’m happy that my managers arrange time off school for me but more than anything school is an everythday thing so I’m doing my music thing on weekends and stuff, holidays, you know. The thing is I spend a lot of time in school so it doesn’t disturb my concentration, I’ve also got time for music. But I’m taking my time to finish my schooling, even now I gave you just thirty minutes for this interview so I can get back to school.

aryan kaganof: Don’t the girls at school go crazy for you?

mzambiya: Well as a young artist people expect someone who is regular and does his schoolwork so I don’t see any use for girls. Because if you are well-known they will be next to you and stuff so as a young kid for my reputation I have to be straight and be a kid.

aryan kaganof: What are your ambitions?

mzambiya: Yeah the thing is I want to achieve a lot of things. I want to take my music internationally I want to go to Hollywood some time because I want to put my music out there so I think I have to work hard more than anything. I want the whole world to know what I’m doing here in South Africa. And I also do films, because there’s one that we’ve done by the name of The Wooden Camera so maybe we will be shooting that movie at the end of March. I went for the auditions and I think I went well.

aryan kaganof: How do you find the process of doing video clips?

mzambiya: Yeah it’s hard you know but more than anything I’m happy that my managers are there because they’ve been in showbiz for long and so they’ve given me ideas and also given me some time to relax. But doing videos is hard more than anything because it takes the whole day and you have to focus and stuff. There’s a lot of things about the cameras and stuff but I’m used to it because I’ve done a lot of videos.


aryan kaganof: Which producers do you like working with?

mzambiya: In the future I would like to work with Gabi LeRoux but now I’m working with Bonjai (??) and TeknoP (?) and my manager producer Bra’ Uzi because he also gives me some ideas, how to put there, what what what. Oscar and Nimrod ne. So it’s a nice company but in the future I would like to work with Gabi Le Roux because he’s a nice producer, he can play hey, he’s cool big time.

aryan kaganof: Who did you listen to when you were a kid coming up?

mzambiya: There was a group in my township, the first group, by the name of Chiskop, I was looking to do what they were doing so I tried my luck and it went well. After they released I was next to them saying well guys can you help me and they gave me some ideas, like hey boy no take your time and stuff and then you’ll be ok. Then I went for the auditions so more than anyone Chiskop inspired me. You see we artists from Zola it’s like a family thing because we give each other ideas and stuff, we support each other, share ideas, it’s tight like a family thing.

aryan kaganof: How do you feel about hip hop?

mzambiya: Actually I would like to mix hip hop with kwaito, because there is another artist from our company, GP Gangster, they’re doing hip hop so I would like to take them to my next coming album and do something hip hop with them. I would like to mix hip hop and kwaito.

aryan kaganof: And house?

mzambiya: I do listen to house. Because more than anything I rhyme with house music if I haven’t got my beat. I listen to DJ Fresh more than anything and I also can write lyrics with his music.

aryan kaganof: Are young people of your age still interested in traditional music?

mzambiya: In fact they do a lot. You know I wanted to do something like that because I don’t want to move from my culture because you know in primitive days there was music to listen to they were playing some heavy beats so I think I should go back there and start afresh mixing my traditional thing up with kwaito so that people can see that I haven’t forgotten where I am coming from.

October 7, 2006

the kwaito story: orrack tchabangu interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 8:59 am

orrack tchabangu: I’ve been in the music industry for about eighteen years now. My background is that I’m a teacher and I quit teaching because basically there was not enough room for one to play around in teaching you know so far as remuneration is concerned. I’m a person who works hard and the harder I work I feel I’ve got to be remunerated accordingly. I do not imply that there is a lot of money in music however I branched because it was something that was exciting, that I felt was challenging and I joined EMI as a Sales Representative and four years later I moved and I actually joined a company where Blondie Makghen (??) who was one of the freedom fighters and we did a lot of music that was anti-apartheid government at the time, but we did it instrumentally because we wouldn’t be allowed to put any l yrics, but people knwe the lyrics, so they were chanting while they played that music in the background. They knew exactly what the songs meant. Because most of them were freedom songs. I progressed to become a Sales and Marketing Director of our company. Later on, when the recession started hitting the country in the late eighties, we then sold the company to a company called Tusk and I worked at Tusk music until I moved and I went to BMG when they came into the country for the first time. From there I was recalled back to EMI as a Promotions manager and I moved and became Marketing Manager until I ws promoted to be Marketing Director of CCP Records. CCP means Clive Calder Productions, Clive Calder is the guy who sold CCP to EMI Music South Africa and moved to become one of the biggest independent record company owners in the world, Zomba, the one that has artists such as R. Kelly, Joe, Justin Timberland. He then sold that company to BMG as everybody is aware. At the moment I’m the marketing director of a company called CCP, which has quite a lot of history in so far as developing kwaito music. The way I understand kwaito music it is music from the streets in the townships. It was formed exactly the same way as hip hop in America where kids were hanging around the streets you know they started composing songs which were relevant to what they were doing in the streets, you know naughty guys, tsotsis, like little hooligans and it developed to be a force to be reckoned with and there are quite a number of artists at the moment like Mandoza who has got crossover music, it’s a combination of township feel with a flavour of rock because his producer/composer is Gabi LeRoux and he’s a white South African from an Afrikaans background and he palys piano and his music has been very much influenced by rock. And Mandoza coming from the township is hardcore coming from an area in Soweto called Zola and their combination has actually created music that today is actually being appreciated by everybody in South Africa across colour lines.

aryan kaganof: What is the significant difference between kwaito and earlier forms of popular music in South Africa?

orrack tchabangu: To be honest popular music in South Africa has been influenced by outside music like, in the seventies and the eighties we were consuming quite a lot of American music , mostly coming from Motown and the difference is kwaito music is a complete sort of music that has been brewed in South Africa. It’s a South African cultural mujsic, let me put it that way, there’s no kwaito anywhere else in the world. For example the music that we had in the seventies and eighties here, the music was really influenced by American music but kwaito’s rhythms are its own. Hip hop culture and kwaito culture is the same culture in the sense that it’s guys coming from the underprivileged classes in society so there is a similarity between kwaito and hip hop however, hip hop is American music completely and kwaito is South African music completely, it is in our own indigenous languages, it is ours.

aryan kaganof: Who are the important kwaito artists to watch?

orrack tchabangu: I have an artist called Jamila, he’s completely new, he’s got fresh ideas, he’s an artist that I’ll be pushing and I have another artist called DJ Twassa, she’s actually a dj and she’s a presentor on one of our most popular televsion programs and she’s gonna rock. Those are the two that I’m actually working on at this point. Besides the ones that are established like Mandoza.

aryan kaganof: Is there a real chance that a kwaito star will hit the international scene big time?

orrack tchabangu: The advantage with kwaito music at the moment is that it’s a completely South African brew. A lot of people overseas are taking notice of what kwaito is and of the musicians who are producing the music. We have done shows all over the world, in clubs all over and we strongly believe that the kind of music that will be coming from South Africa that will hit will be kwaito. It’s going to take time, that’s true. Kwaito is a youth music but you must not forget that the youth of today are going to be the parents of tomnorrow and what will happen is that the music will grow into different formats, even right now if you listen to a lot of kaito albums some of them have got real adult messages and the music will grow with its audience so the percentage share kwaito has of the local market is going to increase in the future.

aryan kaganof: What’s your favourite music for listening to at home?

orrack tchabangu: I listen to Bach, Beethoven, I listen to Mahlatini, I listen to Mambazo, I listen to Mandoza and I listen to R&B. In my business I’ve got to listen to everything.

September 24, 2006

the kwaito story: lebo mathosa interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 6:24 am


Lebo Mathosa is one of the hottest female singers in South Africa. Her professional dance act, sexy look and unique sound, which is a fusion of R&B, African music, dance and funk, has set new standards in the local music industry.
Lebo shot to fame in 1994 as front vocalist and dancer for the multi-Platinum success story, Boom Shaka. In 2000 she launched her solo career with her debut single Intro, a track that features on her debut solo album Dream. Four weeks after the launch of Dream, the album went Gold and in 2001 Lebo won Best Dance Album for Dream, Best Dance Single for Intro and Best Female Vocalist at the coveted South African Music Awards.
In 2001 Lebo performed at the South African edition of the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town, the Celebrate South Africa concert in London’s Trafalgar Square, on tour in Malaysia and Singapore and for the Malaysian queen. Back home she performed to over 16 000 people at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday bash, to thousands of fans on Youth Day and Heritage Day. In 2002 Lebo performed at an Aids benefit concert in Botswana and Swaziland, for the showing of The Vagina Monologues and on tour in the United States.
Most of her performances have been broadcast nationally and internationally. She has shared the stage with world class musicians and recorded tracks with local and international artists, including with Keith Sweat on his Africa only album release. Lebo is known for her acting and singing roles in top South African television shows Generations, Backstage and Muvhango. She won the 2001 Style Best Dressed Woman of the Year Award and was nominated by FHM Magazine as one of Africa’s sexiest women. Lebo has been on the cover of almost every local magazine and is regularly in the society pages of South African newspapers.

lebo died tragically in a car accident on the morning of 23 october 2006. images-7.jpeg
Lebo Mathosa: I started off at the age of seven, I started singing at church and at the age of fourteen when I moved to Joburg and boarding school that’s when I got involved in the music industry and at first it used to be called bubblegum music. And we actually changed the whole thing I was involved in a group called Boom Shaka we were one of the groups which started the whole controversy about the changing of the music which we call kwaito. At first it was Gong but then they said no we want a better name so it was kwaito and I guess I took it from there. I’ve been in the industry for ten years now and I’ve recently just done my solo project which is totally different from kwaito so I don’t classify myself as a kwaito artist at all. With Boom Shaka yes, we did kwaito music but what I’m doing now it’s totally different from what I used to do. I do a mixture of everything, which is African rhythms and house beats and a little bit of R&B and pop in it.


aryan kaganof: In what way was Boom Shaka different from the bubblegum music that came before it?

lebo mathosa: The difference was with us, like I say, we were the most controversial group in the country. The first thing is we changed our national anthem, and we put a dance beat in it. No one is allowed to do that but we were able to pull that off so that actually shows you how much power Boom Shaka had behind the music scene itself. We sang in our African languages and when you added a little bit of house to the mix of African melodies and rhythms it became kwaito. It was kwaito because we didn’t want to be categorised with the old artists who sang bubblegum music, people like Brenda Fassie, Kamazoo, Senyaka, they were the top people in the music industry before we came up. So the youth wanted to have something totally different from what the others had done before. And kwaito was also different from any international music, so it was something the youth could represent themselves as. Kwaito has been going for as long as I’ve been in the industry now, it’s been more than ten years. If I had to change anything about kwaito music it would be the lyrics in order for the foreign countries as well to be able to understand. They call it kwaito because it is more of the kasi music, I mean the kasi tongue, we speak in our tsotsitaal, and different languages according to how you grew up. So I would change it into something that everyone would be able to relate to and understand and they would be able to sing and say the words that we are singing. Most things that we sing about are more fun things, it’s nothing seriious, nothing political, nothing out of this world that you wouldn’t understand. It’s the same thing that you hear over and over again from other different types of music but now the difference is that we’re doing it in our own language, in our own mother tongue, our own tsotsitaal, the way we were raised in our loxion kulchas. So we’re trying to change things now because the language that most people speak is English so if I spoke my tsotsitaal in English you would be able to understand it.


aryan kaganof: What is loxion kulcha?

lebo mathosa: I would say it is more the youth that have grown up in the ghettos, we have our own kind of life that we live and we call it our kulcha because only you can be that or live that even if they take you out of that loxion, I mean loxion means location, even if they take me out of that location of Soweto or Daveyton or whatever, and put me in the suburb, but you can’t take out what I’ve always lived as out of me. So I will always be that loxion kulcha because I was raised and born in the ghettos. It’s the taal in a way. It’s the youth kind of way of talking.

aryan kaganof: There has been a boom of pride in the past decade among black South Africans.

lebo mathosa: Yes. If you check out old musicians from the fifties, the Kofifi time, they were doing almost exactly the same thing that we’re doing now but the difference is that theirs was more original than ours because now we’re trying to modernise everything.


aryan kaganof: How do you feel about the increasingly dominant influence of America on our South African youth culture?

lebo mathosa: Well I can say the whole world is influenced by different cultures, it doesn’t matter whether it’s American or African or European or Asian, it’s not that exactly. It’s what people like out of what they see, if you come and present something that the people love that they want to listen to and that they get interested in the whole world will love it. Like now most South African artists have never gotten the opportunity to explore their talents and to teach the world about how we make our music. This is because our industry is a very small industry, not as big as the European and American industries. So we have less and they have more. We are original Africans that actually have something to share and show to the world.

aryan kaganof: Kwaito seems to be a male dominated form on every level.

lebo mathosa: Yes yes yes. I can say years ago it was very difficult for women to get involved in the music industry whether you wanted to be a producer or whatever, because you’d get some kind of harrassment in a way, it could be sexually or it could be moneywise or mentally. It all happens in different ways. So most women here at home aren’t very much exposed to the industry and the ones that have made it are the ones who have stood up for themselves and I must say it’s very very difficult because every producer that you meet in our country is male there isn’t even one female producer that you could say ok I like that record that is produced by so and so. But it’s not such a problem for me because I have made it through ten years of the industry and looking up to women like Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie that have made it before me. Miriam Makeba has made it all over the world, but she’s the only one you see and Busi Mhlongo has made it all over Europe but not back here at home. Only now that she has come back home has she started making it big here. And if you look at all the musicians who have made it overseas they are all old musicians, like Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

aryan kaganof: But isn’t the sexism in the music industry merely a mirror of the general societal trend?

lebo mathosa: As you know South Africa is the country with the highest figures for rape and women abuse, I mean we have issues like that. I mean in this industry you have to sleep with someone to get into a recording studio so when you came up in my days you were very lucky because at that age I was like fourteen years old and the people who produced the album that I worked on it was old musicians like Don Laka and Oscar who had been in the industry a long time before me and I think Thembi (Thandy) and I were the only two girls in kwaito at that time. But we kept Boom Shaka in the public eye because of our controversial dancing, of the way we dressed, the sexy way of dancing. It was not easy for people to accept that because I think the elders found it very dangerous because of their past experiences.


aryan kaganof: You mentioned earlier that your new material is not kwaito, is this just a temporary move or are you leaving the kwaito scene for good?

lebo mathosa: Kwaito is one two three music, it’s like those three words kind of songs, where you sing “ai wena uh uh uh ai wena uh uh uh” and then it’s a beat and it just carries on until the song stops. It’s just little things, short phrases. But I’m more of a writer, I sing and I write my own songs. I love R&B, I listen to all kinds of things, I love jazz music I love Gong and my voice doesn’t allow me to stick in the limitations of a vocal style that only allows me to sing three words at a time. I like to explore my voice’s potential more than just singing an ABC song. I can do kwaito but my voice is versatile and I can do so much more, I can do deep African soul sounds, jazz, ballads. Lately I’ve been given the opportunity to perform on stage with people like Puff Daddy and I have a dream as an artist to qualify to be a world artist. A song is a very important thing to me, if I have to sing a song it has to be good lyrically, musically, in every kind of way. Kwaito is too limiting for the international audience to get into. African music and African rhythms that express the spirits of our ancestors, now I get that kind of feeling when I’m onstage, that’s what I can give international audiences. That African beat that comes through me onstage, well I’m a totally different person onstage from the person that you see sitting in front of you right now.


aryan kaganof: Who is your favourite kwaito artist at the moment?

lebo mathosa: I would mention somebody who says he is a kwaito artist but I think his music could fall under any other category, pop, R&B or maybe house with an African mix in it, call it what you want, it’s Kabelo. Kabelo has made a huge difference in his latest album, Rebel With A Cause, and he’s really pushing the kwaito sound way out of its limits. I don’t know what Kabelo’s music is but I don’t think that it’s kwaito because it’s too good to be kwaito. I recently asked him to write me a song, because he’s a good writer. What I love in Kabelo I can listen to his songs and learn from them because he doesn’t repeat his lyrics over and over again, for me he’s on the same level as Ja Rule, Puff Daddy, any of the international well known rap artists. Kabelo delivers in his own African way the way we can understand and no one can do it that way, except maybe some of the older musicians who did bubblegum before, and actually Kabelo is taking us back and telling us that music is not just about getting in the studio and singing the ABC but you have to live it, you have to be in it, you have to write music that will be able to heal people and m,ake them want to share the experience with the rest of the world. His music is not just for dancing, not just for kids, like most kwaito artists write music for young kids. Kabelo has set a great example in his album, he calls it kwaito music but I don’t think so. I think it’s way better than kwaito, way better than bubblegum, but you can see that it was taken from bubblegum.

September 23, 2006

the kwaito story: dj fresh interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:20 am

dj fresh: My name is DJ Fresh I do the breakfast show on Y FM. Y FM is an urban youth radiio station in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’ve been at Y FM since 1997 and I started on the afternoon drive show then I moved to the morning drive show and I’ve also being deejaying since about 1985 so I’ve been in the industry for quite a while. When I started in 1985 I covered everything from pop to rock to Bon Jovi to George Michael, basically anything that was ahit in the eighties but lately I focus more on kwaito which is a local dance music in South Africa and house music.

aryan kaganof: Kwaito’s been around for about thirteen years now. How did you get into it, how did it get into you?

dj fresh: Basically what happened was that I think kwaito is almost a child of house music, just in terms of the influence of the groove. If you were to listen to a kwaito song and speed it up a little bit you’ll notice that it sounds similar to house music. Having played a lot of house music myself I immediately was able to relate to kwaito. I started playing kwaito around about 1993. That’s when I really started getting into it. Also because prior to 1993 there wasn’t a lot of kwaito to play in the first place. So from 1993 production started stepping up more people started producing kwaito, more artists came up, more producers came up and it’s where it is right now where people from overseas want to know about kwaito now.

aryan kaganof: Is kwaito more than just a music form? Is it a cultural expression in other media?

dj fresh: I think kwaito has helped youth express themselves in South Africa the way hip hop helped black youth express themselves in America in the late seventies early eighties. I think it was a way of, now I can express myself in my own language, to my people, I don’t have to sound American, I don’t have to imitate anybody in America to speak to my own people. So I think it was an expression of the new freedom that people gained in 1994 when the democratic elections came. We reached a point where we felt I’m now part of the country. Previously I couldn’t vote, previously I couldn’t live in certain areas, previously I couldn’t use certain toilets. All of a sudden I can do what I want and I think that in itself is worth celebrating. I think kwaito is almost a new form of liberation, another reason to be proud to be in South Africa I mean previously you didn’t have a reason to be proud to live in a country where you couldn’t even vote. Now I can vote, I can go where I want, I can wear what I want, I can say what I want, all of a sudden I can watch movies that previously were banned on tv because they spoke out against the old South Africa. So it is like we have something to be proud of, something that’s ours that is our own. And I think that is the way kwaito has been embraced.

aryan kaganof: But is kwaito culture also capable of deeper analysis and of critical analysis?

dj fresh: I think unfortunately kwaito, just in terms of lyrical content, has been more about the good time as opposed to social commentary at the level where maybe policies could change, where maybe you start singing about empowerment, you start singing about giving young black kids the chance to be part of the economy. It has not reached that level yet of consciousness, I think it’s still in its infantile stage, where it’s still about we’re having fun, it’s still about we’re young and there’s nothing wrong with being young and having fun but I think it will reach a point where it adresses social issues, where it says to the government I’m not happy about this, I’m not happy about that. And I think music has been one of the biggest vehicles in this country for getting messages across. And I believe kwaito will eventually reach that level of consciousness.

aryan kaganof: Yet on the ground kwaito has in fact become the very vehicle of black empowerment that so many academics and theoreticians only bleat about from their comfortable offices.

dj fresh: I think that is one of the biggest things kwaito has never been credited for, the employment it has created. The dreams it has realized for certain people, now you are having people living in areas they could never afford to live in if they maybe just had a regular day job, you are having young people driving their dream cars, young people hiring other young people, creating jobs. I mean there are about at least a hundred independent record labels, some kwaito some house, but just to give you an idea of how people want to get into the industry and if I’m not going to do it through one of the big multinationals I’m going to do it myself, I’m going to establish an independent, maybe hire one or two people, and just take it from there. You’ll find that a lot of independents have actually said we’re not going to wait to be empowered by government or big business, we’re going to do it ourselves. So I think kwaito has literally taken the msuic industry by the scruff of the neck and said we’re going to do it our own way. Even if you look back at the history, the multinationals were not interested in kwaito initially, it blew up and all of a sudden they are interested. That’s one of the similarities between kwaito and hip hop. I mean hip hop at one stage was outselling country music, and country music sells! And I think kwaito will reqach the point in the country that it will get the respect that it has been sking for for the last ten years.

aryan kaganof: So Gallo have signed a deal with Arthur because they have to jump on the bandwagon before it is too late?

dj fresh: Money is starting to talk. And record companies are starting to realize that they can make a lot of money from some of these young cats. For me it’s sad, because now looking at local hip hop , it has never really been given a chance, but lately Y FM is almost playing more local hip hop than kwaito and that is now starting to emerge. Young people are starting to spend money on local hip hop , they are starting to go to the concerts that the young hip hoppers like Skwatta Kamp are setting up. So once again like with kwaito, until they are sure there is money to be made the record companies are not going to be interested. Now we find in kwaito that Arthur is bought by Gallo and people are being given huge advances just to ensure that they deliver five or six albums.

aryan kaganof: Does radio still have the impact that it used to have, given that there are now more television channels and given the rise of the internet media?

dj fresh: I think radio has more impact now in that people thought radio was dying but in fact I’m seeing that more and more people prefer radio as an information and entertainment medium to any other medium. You can listen to the radio without really listening, tv you have to sit and watch, the newspapers you have to sit down and read, but radio is a good background medium. So I think radio is still a big shot in terms of exposing music and in terms of entertaining and informing people.

aryan kaganof: Who is the kwaito generation?

dj fresh: For me the kwaito generation, if I was to give an average age, I would keep it at 22 because 22 for me is eiether still at varsity or about to leave varsity. I’ve got money I can spend. And I can now realize what my dreams have always been. And I think kwaito for me is symbolic of that. Kwaito symbolises a new sort of freedom. And your average 22 year old is leaving university to be free, so to speak. And those are the people who are spending money because they have money to spend, they are no more a student. And just to give you an example of this new pride, even with local clothing labels, a lot of young people now are turning to local clothing labels as opposed to your FUBU’s, your ADIDAS and all the other big brand names. The one that is standing out right now is the likesof LOXION KULCHA, but if you look at the Y FM shop there’s at least about twelve new designers whose stuff is on show. And it is being sold literally every week. They are bringing in new stock all the time. I think people are almost coming back home, before I didn’t feel like I was part of the country because I didn’t have a voice. Now goodness, let me be proudly South African, let me buy South African, let me support South African. So there’s this whole new almost renaissance going on in South Africa.

aryan kaganof: Do we still say South Africa or do we say “mzansi”?

dj fresh: Well that depends on where you are and who you are speaking to. Also just in terms of the way people speak, I mean for me nobody now just speaks one specific language, it’s almost like a melting pot of everything and each and every week there are new words being added to the vocab. It evolves all the time.

aryan kaganof: Given the nature of this melting pot of languages which is reflected in kwaito, do you think this music form has a chance of making it in the global market?

dj fresh: I think the biggest hits in the world were sold on a hook as opposed to whether people could hear what was being said or not. So for me if there is a hook , if it’s catchy, if I hear it and the next day I’m humming it, for me it’s sold. So it’s not always about the vocals or what they say. To give you an example there’s a song by Mafikizolo called Loot. They sing in, you can either call it Sotho or Tswana, depending on where you come from, but Masters At Work released that single and Louie vega says he was playing it all over the world and people from all over the world, from Japan from Australia to the United Kingdom were singing along to the song, they don’t know what they are singing but the hook just says hey I’m in your head, if you like me hum along. I think that’s what very important, the hook. The song basically means “he’s won the lottery”. But the people were humming that, like I said, they didn’t know what they were saying. I was at the Miami Music Conference last year and people were humming that song all over every dance floor we went to at the conference. I found that amazing.

aryan kaganof: In terms of music icons, Bob Marley in reggae, Tupac in hip hop, do we yet have such a figure in kwaito?

dj fresh: To tell you the honest truth for me there’s no god of kwaito yet. I think there are people that have earned respect, the likes of M’du, M’du I think has paid his dues. Arthur has been around for a while, Brothers of Peace who are part of Kalawa Jazzme Records have played their role. I think between those three they’llk be competing for that title. For me there is no real god but those three, yes, ‘nuff respect, they’ve done enough for kwaito.

aryan kaganof: What’s the direction you would like to see kwaito go and what’s the direction you think it will go?

dj fresh: What I’m seeing happen lately is that a lot of producers are going the house route where the beats per minute have also upped. I mean kwaito was about 110bpm. What’s being produced nowmore often than not is at about 120, 122 bpm. So I’m seeing it go that wayand perhaps that’s another way of exporting itsuch that it can bump on any dance floor anywhere in the world because for me at 122bpm that’s on average what people are dancing to all over the world. Outside of electronic music which goes up to a million bpms. I think that’s the future of kwaito, to make it more accessible, more exportable, make a re-mix, make a house re-mix. There’s nothing wrong with making house re-mixes, if Madonna releases a song she has seven re-mixes for every market on the planet, so why can’t we do that with kwaito?

aryan kaganof: Are we going to have Fresh re-mixes for every region on the planet?

dj fresh: I’m busy building a studio at my house as we speak. My studio will be up literally first of March so I should be sending you a couple of songs, yes.

September 22, 2006

the kwaito story: rude boy paul interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:16 am

Wednesday 12 February 2003


rude boy paul: I’m Paul Mnisi a.k.a. The Rude Boy, that’s sort of my stage name, my radio name. I started in the industry round about 1995 when I worked for a community radio station called The Voice of Soweto which broadcast to the masses of Soweto, the South Western Township of Johannesburg. I worked there for about a year and for me that was a stepping stone because I had the opportunity to learn everything within the radio field from being a field reporter to being anewsreader and ultimately landing a gig as a dj. In 1997 I joined Y FM at its inception from day one and that was a great opportunity for me. It was a young station going on air for the very first time. I was young, I was 19 years old at that point so what better opportunity? And I’ve done a couple of tv shows since then but at the end of the day radio will always stand as my first love. That’s where I give all of me.

aryan kaganof: Were you a colleague of Penny’s at Voice of Soweto?

rude boy paul: Penny Lebyane yes, in fact there were a lot of us that came from that school so to speak; the likes of Bond Nduli who is with us at Y today, music managers who have gone on to work for other SABC radio stations, so for a lot of us that was a great stepping stone.

aryan kaganof: There is talk today in the city and indeed, the entire country of the Y Generation.

rude boy paul: Yes, the Y generation does exist, and part of that I’m glad to say, has been formed by Y FM and the personalities upfront, on the frontline of the battle. It’s about lingo, it’s about lifestyle, it’s about dress sense, it’s about being hip, being happening and we like to educate young people on how to achieve their dreams, get up in the corporate world if that’s where you want to go, so that’s what the Y generation is all about and it’s a pity it only exists in the Gauteng Province of South Africa because we’re only a regional radio station. We would like to see a scenario where the broadcast authority gives us a larger footprint so that we can get to all four corners of South Africa. And once that happens we will have done our bit.

aryan kaganof: What does get to all four corners is the magazine, Y mag.

rude boy paul: Y Mag kicked in a year after the radio station kicked in. It was devised to have a sister brother relationship with Y FM. Obviously being nationwide and it hits other countries such as Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe as well, so that was devised to give other regions an idea of what we’re trying to do, this youth revolution that is different because we’re not throwing sticks and stones and petrol bombs anymore, it’s about uplifting ourselves as young people. Y Mag is now wholly owned by a company called Yired (Pty) Ltd. which owns Y FMwhich runs Y Mag, so everything is internalised, the Y shop as well would form under the Yired Group. I jumped aboard in 2002 as editor of Y Mag and I’ve just been having fun ever since.

aryan kaganof: Is it a black owned company?

rude boy paul: Yes, a large percentage of the company with the rules and regulations in South Africa about black empowerment is basically sort of more or less a larger percentage of black people who sit up there. We do have one or two you know a couple of white people who sit in there but I mean generally it’s about black empowerment.

aryan kaganof: So Y is not like traditional magazines such as Bona and Pace which are directed at a black audience but owned by white companies?

rude boy paul: Yes Y is distinguished from these magazines, I mean we won an award just towards the end of 2002, Best Consumer magazine in the country and Best Youth Publication and for us coming in under Yired which is a company that’s basically unknown within the media circles or publication circles, for us it was wow! What have we done? But I think at the end of the day we can attribute those two awards to the content because we speak directly to the youth in a language that they can understand and we serve their interests very well.


aryan kaganof: I notice that in the magazine you never use “South Africa” but always “mzansi”.

rude boy paul: Mzansi is actually a Xhosa word, one of our eleven official languages that we have in this country, when you say mZansiAfrica in Xhosa you say Southern Africa, so umzansi means down south. So we like to use that term because again it’s become some sort of a slang term that is used within the townships in and around Gauteng. So it makes more sense to say mzansi than say South Africa. Young people can identify with that. So it’s little phrases like that I think that make YFM and YMag what they are because young people can identify and say when I talk to my friends and I refer to our country I say mzansi.

aryan kaganof: So there’s no relationship between that word and Azania?

rude boy paul: Not really. That’s just a straight cut Xhosa word that means Southern Africa. But in the townships it’s always referred to as a slang term.


aryan kaganof: Now what is kwaito?

rude boy paul: Kwaito is a platform that serves to drive thoughts, ideas, gives kids from the township a voice in which to speak on what their concerns are, social ills happening around them, the fact that they can’t find jobs out there, HIV and AIDS awareness as well. It really kicked in round about 1995 when the likes of Oscar, Arthur, M’du, who are the main kwaito producers in this country, came about and there were all these sorts of messages around young people on what their aspirations are really. It has since taken off and filtered through to overseas, I can mention a few groups like Bongo Maffin, who are great, who have spent the better part of last year touring overseas. In fact I bumped into them in the Netherlands at the Lowlands Festival and I didn’t even know they were there, I was like, what you guys doing here? They were like, we’re here to perform! So kwaito is a voice of the youth and really it serves to voice out their concerns about what’s happening around them. Obviously being a form of music that has taken the country by storm.

aryan kaganof: Where does the name kwaito actually come from?

rude boy paul: If I think back as far as I can, not that I’m too old, but back in the Sophiatown days where a lot of musicians and sense of dress code and the cars they used to drive was influenced by this American culture. You had certain gangs within the Alexandra township they referred to themselves as the Harlems and whatever, there was one particular gang or segment of people which was referred to as Amakwaito. They loved to have a good time, they would mash up anyone on the street at any point in time so they were rough you know they were pretty much well respected within the community and I think that’s where these guys derived that name from because really kwaito is not refined in any way. It’s rough it’s rugged but at the end of the day it’s mission is to get that message across to the masses and especially to the young people.

aryan kaganof: It seems obvious to me that kwaito first emerged in the townships around Joburg and Pretoria and then spread to other townships in the country.

rude boy paul: True enough. It had to have started within the realm of Gauteng as a province within South Africa which would be Pretoria, it would be Johannesburg, and maybe just a little bit further afield, because a lot of these producers, though coming from other areas, they were able to connect within Johannesburg, within Gauteng. This was the connecting point because this is where all the record companies are and this is where they were trying to hustel and get this music through to the people. At first I think they had a difficult time because doors were being shut right in front of their faces and they had to ultimately go to the taxi ranks with their cars and sell their product out of the boots of their cars. So as you can see it started with a very humble beginning but I think at the moment it is a force to be reckoned with and a larger part of the revenue that the music industry locally in South Africa generates can be attributed to kwaito.

aryan kaganof: What is the relationship between kwaito and on the left hand house, and on the right hand, hip hop?

rude boy paul: In the South African context kwaito is very big and obviously kwaito has been somehow derived from the house music element because back in the day in your early nineties that’s what we were listening to. And a lot of producers began to sample the house music that was coming through, maybe from the UK, maybe from the States from Chicago where house music was big. But what they did is they began to slow it down just a little bit because it was too fast in terms of tempo and pitch for South African audiences and that’s how they started putting across the element of our lingo of our township talk to be able to get that message through. As far as hip hop is concerned in this country I think it’s still a genre that is not really well grounded at the moment, we’re still trying to find that formula that will kick start it and I think we’re on our way there because the formula really is to rap in our own languages. You know we’ve got eleven official languages so we can play around a lot. You find a lot of mc’s or rappers coming in here and they want to twang like DMX does or they want to rap like Jay Z does and they want to talk with a bit of a twang in their voices and for us really we see it in a context that you can’t do it better than the Americans so maybe try and get inspired but do it in Zulu, you know what I mean? And so far I think we’re well on our way there because they understand this sense that people have got to identify at grassroots level with the message they’re trying to bring across. If you’re twanging and trying to be an American no one will give a fuck about you.


aryan kaganof: Talk about the nineties and Yeoville please.

rude boy paul: Yeoville I think for many years stood as a very rich night life circle within Johannesburg, obviously that would stem from your Hillbrow area, it soon was run down with crime and people starting moving, there was an exodus of people moving from that end to Yeoville. There were great clubs such as Picadilly’s, and Tandoor to name but a few. Tandoor was well respected for their ragga sessions which they hosted every Thursday night. Any international act coming to South Africa you had to take them through to Tandoor and most of them came out of there sort of amazed. But within the streets of Yeoville that’s where you see the true street culture and diversity of South African youths about their business, whether it’s business, whether it’s play, whatever. They are there, they’re hustling, they trying to do something. It’s a pity at the moment a couple of the hot clubs closed down in the Yeoville area but I’m sure with the whole rejuvenation of Johannesburg City and what the government is doing putting in money to rejuvenate it from your Newtown Precinct which is a cultural centre within the City, where there are theatres, there are dance factories, where there are venues for huge live gigs, I’m sure that rejuvenation will move on and at the end filter into Yeoville and rejuvenate that whole street culture again. If you looked at Yeoville ten years ago just the diversity in terms of racial circles, their were white people and black people living in Yeoville and then there was an influx of black people you know getting accomodatio, renting flats, and somehow I have a feeling that white people began to feel a bit insecure about petty little things like the crime rate and whatever and they started moving out. That’s why when you look at Yeoville at the moment it’s not as diverse as it used to be. And I think that is part of what killed that rich street culture within Yeoville because back then you would see black kids skateboarding with white kids on the streets you know, that’s where I saw my first couple of interracial relationships going on where a black man and a white woman were just strolling down the street holding hands and for me it was like, wow where am I, is this South Africa? But slowly that’s changed because a large number of white people have sort of moved out and that’s why Yeoville sort of lost its touch.


aryan kaganof: So how come thousands of white kids identify with Mandoza’s Nkalakatha but they don’t want to live around black people?

rude boy paul: You see that’s what beats me and it’s great that you mention Mandoza because he’s been one kwaito artist who’s managed to break ground in terms of having a mass appeal with white people and black people as well. We see him getting a lot of airplay on white radio stations in this country he is featured on white tv shows in this country and really they love him to bits. What I can’t stand or understand is the fact that how can we not you know, being black people and white people, get together in one place and have a good time, listen to a bit of Mandoza, little to a bit of Springbok Nude Girls. There’s one element though that I’ve seen in the past two years, it’s a festival called Oppikoppi that takes place in Pretoria every year. It was initially a white festival but we’ve been seeing a bit of diversity lately and last year you sw the likes of Mandoza, and Zola performing there, amongst groups like Just Ginger, rock groups you know. Just being there within the grounds and seeing the diversity of black and white people together for me was great and we need to stage more and more of such festivals in this country.


aryan kaganof: Let’s get back to radio. Is there a parallel to be drawn between what Y FM does now and what Radio Freedom was doing back in the day?

rude boy paul: Radio Freedom was the underground station of the ANC, it used to broadcast into the country from transmitters in Tanzania and Zambia and of course listening to it was not legal. Its main purpose was to broadcast information through to the masses of South Africa on the struggle, on projects which were being undertaken by the liberation movement and basically to mobilise young people at that time to come in and be part of the struggle and I think it helped a great deal because a lot of people would listen to it underground but you knew that at a certain point in time you’re there with your comrades an you’re listening to certain messages that were filtering through and I think Y FM is similar in that context but then it’s a different fight that we are fighting now. It’s ironic because before Y moved into this glamorous mall in Rosebank our studios were in a place called Bertrams where the Radio Freedom institute used to operate from. Somehow technical people that we used to work with were fully involved with the running of Radio Freedom so for us as deejays it gave us some political mindset of saying you know what we’re here and we’re not these glamorous deejays but we need to make a seerious contribution out there for the development of the country and the youth. I mean we would sit there for day listening to old tapes of radio Freedom when they used to broadcast underground and it was amazing we used to hear the freedom songs, we used to hear the chants and the slogans, speeches by some of the greatest politicans today. So for me personally this gave me a sense of listen we’ve got to take on the struggle now as young people. It’s a different struggle but we’ve got to take it to another level.

aryan kaganof: Let’s get back to the print media. Traditionally always the role allocated to black people has been music culture and sport. So how does Y Mag broaden the spectrum of what black people allow themselves to become good at?

rude boy paul: As much as there is a sister brother relationship with Y FM, Y Mag is aabout developing young people, not only within the music and the arts field and sports as you’ve mentioned but we’re trying to broaden that whole corporate scenario. For young people to say you know what there is a corporate industry out there and we can make our way in there. Because at the moment if you look at black people in this country , pollitically yes we might have attained that liberation and the power, but economically really we’re not running corporate industry. Thewre are only a chosen few like your Cyril Ramaphosa’s and your Tokyo Sexwale’s who were both part of the ANC and have diverted to business, having shares within the gold industry and whatever. But that’s only really just a tiny segment I think economically we need to still make inroads and attain that sort of economic empowerment and I think we are well on our way in doing so. As far as Y Mag is concerned I think those are the type of messages that we need to bring across.

aryan kaganof: Let’s go back to the early days of the magazine when it used to be edited by Ithumeleng Mahabane and S’busiso Nxumalo, it seemed in that year that it was more political, more overtly political and somehow when S’bu left writing and Thumi moved to the Financial Mail Y Mag became more fashion orientated and less political.

rude boy paul: Yes that’s correct. S”busiso Nxumalo, as far as I know him, is a really sort of politically orientated being, so quite naturally there was a more poltiical stance. He’s of a generation slightly older than I am so 1976, and I was born in 1977, so 1976 he was there and well aware of what was going on and I think from that end from his experiences he still had a lot to let out, a lot to question through his experiences at the time. Ithumeleng as well age group wise they were more or less on the same level, so that was their drive, it was a pollitical drive, when they jumped ship Y Mag turned around and it was this whole fashion Elle magazine thing, and as soon as I came in we tried to balance things out in saying ok you know young people like to look good and feel good and have the trendiest clothing but let’s not forget the messages, so at the moment we’re still just trying to strike the right balance in saying yes we still have political problems in this country, we still have to obtain economic empowerment but then again you can look nice.

aryan kaganof: Who are the kwaito writers, the kwaito novelists, who are the people who are going to deliver the great literature of this period?

rude boy paul: There’s one gentleman that springs to my head at the moment he’s a journalist and his name is Bongani Madondo. He’s a youth activist, he provides certain workshops around the Windybrow Theatre in Hillbrow. I think he’s been very instrumental as a scribe in trying to uplift kwaito in a sense. He’s an elder but he’s able to come down to our level and so you know here’s a musical genre that is spreading positive messages to the youth and somehow it’s helping in developing the youth. The likes of Themba ka Maathe as well is contributing although he’s more diverse you know.

September 21, 2006

the kwaito story: themba ka maathe interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 2:01 pm

themba ka maathe: What can I say about myself? I’m Themba ka Maathe, cultural activist, journalist and free lance writer and I’ve written for probably everybody in South Africa.

aryan kaganof: What’s the particular direction of your writing?

themba ka maathe: I started from the community newspaper background so my writing was very much informed by the issue of development in the mid-nineties. My beat was housing and then I moved on to do arts and culture writing and also to reciting poetry, this was in the late nineties. From there on I’ve done some films and my poems have been in many anthologies. Last year I won the Arts and Culture award for journalist of the year.

aryan kaganof: Essentially you’ve come up as a writer in what might be called the kwaito period.

themba ka maathe: Yes. The nineties up to now, this has been the kwaito era. Kwaito has become an industry within an industry.

aryan kaganof: How would you explain what kwaito is to people who don’t know the music or the culture?

themba ka maathe: Even here in South Africa I don’t know if there are many people who can break down this word kwaito. You know you get a guy like in the music industry telling you what kwaito is and then you’ll get another guy, a musician, giving you a different meaning altogether to this word. But kwaito, according to my own knowledge, when I started listening to this music, we’re talking 1991 to 93, the time of Seebee (??), for me the guy who really started this thing, so kwaito is like township slang. Kwai is Afrikaans for something that’s hot and then to for township and so together it become kwaito, anything that was hot was kwaito. And then you get other guys telling that kwaito was coined by Amakwaito. You remember there was pantsula music? Pantsula being a way of life, it was about how you were dressing how you were dancing how you were walking in the townships. Everybody embraced pantsula, not just the youth. In the way somebody walked and dressed you would say he was pantsula, it was very stylish, wearing Brentwood trousers and so. So kwaito started off as dance orientated msuic but then it soon developed into something more as the artists used township slang in their rhyming. You see guys were not singing in the beginning, they were just taking house beats and slowing them down and chanting over those house beats. So kwaito was a way of saying things in the township style, chanting things. In the apartheid days the various languages of South Africa were kept separate on the radio and any recordings were only made in one language or another. But kwaito fused all these languages together, like if you look at the music of Arthur when he started, Don’t Call Me Kaffir, there was Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and township slang. Everything was just there in one. This in itself was apolitical statement given the way the apartheid state had previously determined what we could or could not do. So you could say that the transformations in the state, on the broader political level, laid the ground for what happened culturally in the form of kwaito music itself. If it had not been for the excitement that the people had about the new democracy, kwaito would never have happened. The music was and even now still is, a celebration.

aryan kaganof: What can you tell us about the Tandoor and about Rockey street in general?

themba ka maathe: The Tandoor in Rockey Street is the place were a generation of kwaito stars were born and came up. But not only the Tandoor. The whole of Rockey Street was where everything happened in the nineties. In about 1993 everybody started moving into Yeoville, from Hillbrow and from Berea and also from the townships. Boom Shaka used to hang out in the clubs in Rockey Street. M’du used to own a club at Record Palace there in Rockey Street, and everybody used to come to the Tandoor after the other clubs closed. Although it was more of a ragga thing upstairs but downsstairs they palyed kwaito and house and other dance music. You see everybody moved from the townships when they could, they rushed into the suburbs because it was the first time that they had had access to these spaces. So Yeoville was one of the few spaces that really allowed for them to come in and integrate. This was in the period just before the democratic elections of 1994. At that time there were a lot of writers here, a lot of political activists, and even some Ministers were staying here. So Observatory and Yeoville were some of the few places in the country that actually became integrated. But you can see now that it has changed altogether. The texture is entirely different, it is more African now. Basically the whites all left. There are no simplistic answers as to why that happened. The crime is used as an excuse mainly.

aryan kaganof: There is crime everywhere.

themba ka maathe: Exactly. Moving to Sandton there is crime there too. Hijackings, shootings etc. But you see certain people still have their fears and they don’t want to really really integrate, they would rather move to other neighbourhoods. That’s the truth. Crime is used as a smokescreen to cover up the fact that whites don’t want to live next door to blacks. Then you also get the blacks who feel that because they have moved to a nother class level in society they can’t afford to be shopping in Checkers or mixing with black people poorer than they are. But people still come in to Yeoville, a lot of kwaito musicians hang out in Time Square, Eric Miyeni holds his Tuesday poetry night there. But what is deceving about Time Square is that a lot of people hang out there but do any of them live in Yeoville? You see where most of them live, be it Randburg or be it Norwood, they can’t really get themselves together, there are no cultural centres there so they have to come back to Yeoville to have a scene. Time Square is a very influential cultural centre in Joburg. South Africa is still in transition, I don’t know how long this transition is going to take, and people are still experimenting with the direction the country must go. So even kwaito itself is a mirror of this, it is experimental music. So people are just experimenting. For example a lot of people are moving out of the suburbs now and back into the townships. They had gone to the suburbs when they were not yet ready, they got their houses repossessed. But I think everybody want to have access to a better life style and that is symbolised by these plush houses and designer clothes, flashy cars. You see the spirit of collectivism has been replaced with one man for himself now. It is a necessary phase.

aryan kaganof: And at the end of this materialist phase there is a rainbow with a bucket filled with lotto tickets.

themba ka maathe: There is nothing in that bucket. Just the promise of tata ma chance tata ma millions.

aryan kaganof: But people always lived on the promise in this country. The promis of liberation. One day. But that day has come and gone.

themba ka maathe: Now the promise is different, there has been a change of focus. The promise now is the 23 million rollover jackpot. But you have to buy the ticket. And how many times are you going to buy that ticket? A weekly investment on the promise and the hope.

aryan kaganof: But the real investment is education. Let’s get back to talking about kwaito.

themba ka maathe: For me a lot of kwaito music is more about the Self than about social issues. The artist, his environment, that is the club where he hangs out. It’s about the girls that he wants to hang around with. The subject matter of kwaito is still too limited. They really need to explore deeper issues, bigger political questions of the day.

aryan kaganof: But won’t that happen naturally as the music form grows up and develops?

themba ka maathe: The problem is that once the ghetto musicians have the money they forget about the issues. At the moment now every Tom Dick and Harry wants to make a kwaito record and break into that industry. Grab and run. But of course there are kwaito musicians that have been around for the past ten years and look at Arthur, when he started he was heavy but now it’s just “mnike mnike mnike”, “give him give him give him”. What is that? “Haai bo haai bo” it’s just uncomplete phrases. Just fragments of phrases that don’t even say anything. But then again is it the role of the kwaito musicians to do art? To do pollitics? You see poetry is big now at the moment. Every community hall, every café, has a group of people meeting and reciting poetry. And most of them aspire to record their own music. But does this record industry which is so obsessed with making a quick buck really accommodate these people? The companies don’t believe that the poetry people have got a market and so they won’t invest in them. I think that Saul Williams and Sara Jones’ coming here really inspired a lot of poets to take their art form seriously. Kwaito unfortunately contributes to people just feeling happy and forgetting about the problems that they’ve got. So it is almost the opposite of the hardcore poetry scene.

aryan kaganof: But don’t people deserve to just dance and be happy?

themba ka maathe: Yes of course. But how much does it cost them to be happy? Sometimes you have to be drunk to be happy. You see every kwaito hit comes with a dance style of its own. Because that’s what pushes it. It becomes a little phenomenon. Like Mzeke Zeke’s Sguqa Ngamadolo which means get down on your knees, so everybody was dancing on their knees.

aryan kaganof: We’ve talked a lot about dance culture but what are the kwaito kids reading, what are they writing, what movies are they watching?

themba ka maathe: Today thirteen years ago Mandela got out of prison at four in the afternoon. And people have changed, as we were saying they have been living on promises for a long time, and I think there is a wave of consciousness that is going around and quite honestly I don’t think kwaito is really on the level of that consciousness. Kwaito has inbuilt limitations because it is associated with all these major record companies. What kwaito lacks thus far is an underground of the underground, within itself. Kwaito ultimately is just about sounds, danceable sounds. You know I was at the bus terminus at Ghandi Square one friday afternoon and I was watching hundreds of young boys running around and they told me they were slamming, and some were rapping, and I think rap or hip hop is the way for kids at high school to imporve on their English or to get a social consciousness. Hip hop is a kind of literacy. It’s the oral poetry tradition, different from the late nineties youth, concerned with different things. If you look at most of the kwaito stars, like Mandoza, he was a carjacker, so kwaito helped those guys to get out of the traps of the township, the crime the drugs. In and out of jail, being chased all the time, at least they found a credible way to make a living. It is sad to say this but we are living in a society that is celebrity crazy. The various industries thrive and feed on the celebrities. The drugs industry, the fashion industry, you know if you are a celebrity BMW will come to you and they will just give you a car, and this is how the consumer culture sustains itself. It sells itself through the images of the lifestyles of the celebrities that black people look up to.

aryan kaganof: Could it be that the very people who used to own the country explicitly, now have retained their economic stranglehold on the country by putting up the camouflage in the media of the celebrity culture; showing them in their Houghton houses and their BMW’s and thereby masking the fact that not all that much has actually changed for the masses. In other words the media and the entertainment industry serve to take people’s minds off the fact that the urgent issue of the land question has not yet been adressed?

themba ka maathe: There is an element of truth in what you say. If we look at the media, who is still owning the media? Y magazine has a black editor and black staff but it is still published by a white man. So Y is ultimately Yite. And who owns the land? So that’s why the record companies don’t bring these kids from Orange Farm in to record them, because they are angry and their messages will upset the apple cart. So that’s why they don’t get record deals, no matter how on point their raps and music may be. So essentially the media is still in the hands of the forces who are served by the status quo. And those who own the entertainment industry are serving the status quo by making people happy and unquestioning and stupid. The government even wanted to make the lotto an every day event. So people would have no time to think about anything. People are basically diverted from the real things in life, they think about playing the lotto, they think about watching crap on television, listening to the radio, reading about the celebrities on sunday in gossip columns.

aryan kaganof: But as a poet surely it is up to you to supply the antidote to this culture of escapism.

themba ka maathe: But how much influence do poets have in a society that is obsessed with nonsense? Poet are you driving? You can coin those words, but can you coin the money? You need to be able to coin the money and it should be seen that you are coining it before people will listen to you.

themba ka maathe: I’m Themba Ka Maathe, 28 years old, I come from Mpumalanga, got to Joburg in 1989, stayed in Tembisa for some time, got to the inner city. It was rough then in the early nineties. And I’ve been on the streets for some time, you know a lot of people have been on the streets, getting into Joburg it wasn’t easy because there were very few people that I knew. So I had to find a way of either being in the clubs until early in the morning or sleeping rough, sleeping on the streets, so you can then sleep during the day. Then I started with the poetry and I was peeling every day of my life and I was giving it out to the people to consume, I was giving it out to the whole world. Taking out every layer of myself. I was saying this is what Themba is, this is how Themba lives, I was making things up , it was my reality, so that’s how I started as a poet. And when I started out I believed that I was going to publish my poems and become this BIG poet but then you know going from one publisher to the other I found out the truth about poetry and making a living. You can’t make any living out of poetry.

Kwaito. Some people break it down into two roots. You know, kwaai, as in something that’s hot and to you know, coming from the township, then you get kwaito.

I think that’s one good thing that kwaito has done to the languages. ***** People speak this township lingo much more better than their mother tongues. Kwaito is for many people a way of getting out of the ghetto. You know you get 30% 40% levels of unemployment. What’s the way out if you don’t have an education? You can either do crime or live straight. And what’s living straight? But if you do a record or two and then you could be a millionaire. Chances are. Because people are taking chances now. You could get yourself out of the ghetto and out to the Northern suburbs and live large. Become a celebrity overnight.

aryan kaganof: What is the spiritual future of our people as they increasingly choose for the green bucks?

themba ka maathe: I think we are actually at the crossroads. I am not sure what’s going to happen. Maybe once this bling bling phase is over the musicians will start to comment on the bigger issues of the day. But as long as the recording companies are going to keep it tight that’s another story. At the moment kwaito is dominated by glamour, sleaze and entertainment values.

aryan kaganof: But aren’t the people tired of the struggle? Don’t they need something different? Don’t they just want to enjoy themselves now?

themba ka maathe: The revolution is actually permanent. The struggle is always a permanent fixture. You can’t be tired of changing your surroundings, you have to be changing it all the time otherwise it’s going to change you. And when it changes you, you go down, six feet. For me what is so important about having a music genre like kwaito is that young people, it was actually a platform for them to get themselves heard , expressing themselves, rather than having adults or academic people pushing messages down to them. But now all they are talking about are themselves, you know their aspirations, girls etc. Nkalakatha, Godoba. You get to the music scene you want to be the king of kwaito. So you forget about the challenges that are actually facing your cousins, say in Orange Farm, there is no water, there is no electricity, now you are not talking about all those kinds of issues.

aryan kaganof: Shouldn’t those social issues be talked about by the poets, leaving kwaito to the entertainers?

themba ka maathe: No. I don’t think so.


September 19, 2006

the kwaito story: antos stella interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 2:35 pm

antos stella: I’m the Managing Director of Gallo South Africa. Gallo is a record label that has been in the South African industry for 76 years, it’s the oldest label in South Africa, and probably in Africa. I started there in the legal department, 19 years ago, assisting with artist’s contracts and went through the gambit of being public relations manager, but I’ve always had a passion for South African music so I inevitably found myself in the South African music dividsion. I spent four years promoting South African music to the rest of the world and now I run the Domestic Division and I still run the International Division which takes care of promoting South African music to the rest of the world.

aryan kaganof: Are you an exception to the Old Boy’s Club rule in this sexist industry?

antos stella: I don’t thing it’s only in South Africa. having travelled extensively around the world I think that the music industry I n general is still very sexist, not intentionally so, I think there’s just a perception that women don’t have ears so A&R is normally left to men. And also you find that the vast majority of the artists and the producers are male based. What is fantastic now is that we have people like Missy Elliot that are not only sinigng in front of the mic but are producing behind the desks as well. South Africa being a little bit behind is a male dominated industry. It’s probably just the passion that’s driven and not fighting with the boys saying look here I’m a woman, I often say that I’ve got to this position by default because I can’t say that I ever wanted to be Managing Director of a record company. It was always just the drive to see South African music develop locally and internationally, that’s where the reward comes. To see that it is music that can be exported to the rest of the world and see the appreciation for South African music around the world. I am unique in South Africa as the only female Managing Director of a major company.

aryan kaganof: Why did Gallo get involved with Arthur Mafokate’s 999 Records?

antos stella: Gallo has always been at the forefront of the new music. Unfortunately kwaito kind of came at us by surprise. We were the pioneers of reggae music, we were the pioneers of township pop and we went through a period when we were perceived as a bit of an old label because we’d been around for a very long time and we do represent the legends of South African music, Miriam Makeba, Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. And I think in terms of A&R, Artists & Repertoire, our eyes were taken off what was happening at grassroots level. So we like to make a reference that we possibly missed the kwaito bus. A lot of people were talking about the young producers and this thing was happening but it took us by surprise. We realized that kwaito was being created by a band of producers that were generating this music and the buzz. My personal opinion and the opinion of Gallo as well is that Arthur was one of the founders of kwaito, he came out with some very controversial songs at the time, he’s had a lot of hits and we started discussions with him. The one thing that we had a huge amount of respect for is that he wanted to retain the identity of his own label being 999 Records and we saw an opportunity for us to do a label deal with him whereby he had the freedom to retain his identity as 999 Records and continue to generate this music from the youth, but within a bigger infrastructure that Gallo offers. It took about a year of discussions on and off with Arthur before we struck the deal, which is still in its infancy, it’s only been a four, five month deal now. Certainly for me I think Arthur is one of the few artists that can export kwaito to other territories.

aryan kaganof: Are you only distributing or do you own his company?

antos stella: No, it’s a license deal where Arthur has creative control in terms of what he records and then we sit down as a team with Arthur and talk through the marketing aspect and the distribution aspect. We’re not tapping into his creative abilities. He signs the artists and we license the product from him. Gallo is now owned by a black empowerment company, Johnnic Entertainment, one of the biggest black empowerment companies, it’s a media entertainment company.

aryan kaganof: How is Gallo redressing its history of exploitation and non-payment of artist’s royalties?

antos stella: It’s a Truth and Reconciliation process, the country went through it as well. Look, it’s a very controversial subject. I think that in defence of Gallo, a company that started out 76 years ago in a country that was very rigid in an apartheid era worked in that environment to the best of its abilities. We worked through a lot of third parties being producers, there was never a direct dealing with the artists. But certainly since I’ve worked with Gallo there’s always been a very transparent relationship with its artists. If there are problems, as I’m sure everybody’s read in the media, we’ve resolved our issues with Miriam Makeba, and they are ongoing. But it is all far more complex than it sounds. There are deeds of Assignment, there’s the composition side, there’s the sound recording side, there’s the publishing side and there are people who aren’t around anymore to say this is why I did it and this is How I did it. We’ve had to go back through historical documents, but certainly even before Johnnic came on board, and more aggressively since Johnnic have become our shareholders, we are reviewing all those legacy issues.

aryan kaganof: Cynical observers of the music industry would say that two things are happening, 1. Gallo is desperate to jump on the kwaito bandwagon that left them standing and that they need Arthur to legitimize themselves in this new music climate and 2. the old style policies of exploitation will merely find new jackets to garb themselves in.

antos stella: I will defend Gallo in both of those views. Music is music. Every record company wants to be where the youth are. Arthur is one deal that we’ve done. We have signed, certainly since I’ve been Managing Director of the South African music divisiion, a number of kwaito artists direct to us, tried and tested. Kwaito is moving.I think we’ve just had the first Christmas where the biggest seller wasn’t a kwaito artist but more what we would term an African pop artist being Mafikizolo, not definitely defined as kwaito. The A&R process is always to find right throughout the industry, what is going to be the next big sound. Gallo is just one of many record companies that will continue to chase the youth market. The fact that we’re exploiting artists, absolutely not! The deal with Arthur and a lot of the other artists is very transparent. Arthur comes into the relationship as a partner, he’s not an artist signing, none of his artists are signed direct. Not that there’s anything wrong with the artists that have signed direct. The one thing that we haven’t done in terms of our relationship with our old school artists is walked away from that. We continue to record artists like Lucky Dube, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with whom we’ve had relationships for over thirty years. There’s certainly no exploitation there.

aryan kaganof: What percentage of the local music market is taken up by kwaito sales?

antos stella: I would say close to 40-50% of the sales last year (2002) would have been through kwaito artists, Mandoza, Arthur etc. But this Christmas things have changed. We’ve now had a new phenomenon with Mafikizolo, I mean there track is not necessarily defined as a kwaito track but it’s something that has appealed to the youth market. If you look at Brenda Fassie, she’s not a kwaito artist, but she holds the record in the past two years as having one of the biggest selling albums. Mandoza is kwaito. An area that people just ignore completely is traditional music. Some of the biggest selling records are still your truly traditional mbaqanga, maskandi, iscatamiya.It’s a very complex market. But certainly the youth are driven by kwaito and house music.

aryan kaganof: How is Gallo going to export this hip saleable South African commodity? What is your plan?

antos stella: We have spent quite a bit of time with our international counterparts, with our partners, some of them new independent labels, and there is a buzz around kwaito. I’ve just come back from MIDEM, the biggest music conference in the world, it’s held in Cannes, and everybody’s talking kwaito. What appears to be from one on one feedback is that kwaito is right, there’s something happening, but there’s still work that needs to be done in the production. And that is exaxtly where we are at. We’re saying if we had a Graceland of kwaito if there was a merging of hip hop artists, or rap artists or ragga artists, from America, with kwaito artists it’s the one platform that is needed, as Graceland did for South African traditional music. But there’s definitely more week that needs to be done in the production and that is not necessarily my personal opiinion, that is the feedback that I’m getting from producers and deejays and people internationally. We are fast tracking that and we are not only saying it’s Arthur, we are saying you know what guys, if it’s Mandoza, if it’s Oscar, tell us what it is that needs to happen in order to get the music exported internationally because we do believe that kwaito is going to be the next big sound internationally.

aryan kaganof: The level of the kwaito music videos is extremely shoddy. Poorly conceptualised, put together on shoe-string budgets, very often by people who do not understand the language of the music they are filming.

antos stella: I obviously work a lot with the production houses in terms of doing videos. Video budgets are relative to sales, as it is worldwide. Unfortunately there is also an issue in South Africa that needs serious adressing and that is the opportunities with broadcasters. We are very limited in terms of the number of music videos which get broadcast on the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Channel O which is a fantastic 24 hour music channel is pay tv. There are possibly a maximum of three programs on SABC that flight music videos. This makes it very difficult for a record company to justify a big budget video if that video is not going to be broadcast on the local broadcasting corporation. And so it’s a catch 22 situation.

aryan kaganof: Unless you’re thinking of the global market of course.

antos stella: Unless you’re thinking of the global market and then it becomes another issue. We do it all the time. We make big budget videos of our big artists like Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Lucky Dube who have big sales internationally. But very seldom do we see those videos get onto MTV and VH1, because of the format. Can we go to MTV and ask them whether they know about kwaito? And would they play a kwaito video?

aryan kaganof: Well they would is Missy Elliot was rapping on it, for example.

antos stella: Exactly. That’s where we’ve got to go. If we’ve got an Arthur doing a collaboration with Missy Elliot then we’ll make a big budget video that’s going to go onto MTV. I personally think that maybe we shouldn’t only look at kwaito merging with mainstream western pop, I think that if you had a top rai artist collaborating with a kwaito artist there is a lot of synergy in the sound, and those are the type of things that we are currently investigating. It doesn’t have to be that we have to collaborate with an American artist, we also want to retain some of that unique flava from the continentand I think that rai music has proved itself. In the UK there is a huge banghra hit in the charts. There has to be some synergy with kwaito.

aryan kaganof: Do you think we yet have a kwaito star with the potential international significance of say Bob Marley or Tupac?

antos stella: Yes. I think we’ve got a couple. I think that Arthur has the suss to get there, he has the determination and the drive, and he’s always managed to come back with a hit and to see him in the studio is amazing. I think that Oscar from the Kalawa stable is potentially, and I’m talking producers here. But then I have to look at the Brothers of Peace who had the biggest hit in kwaito last year with a re-vamping of an old Mahlatini mbaqanga hit and this is what I think is going to drive kwaito, merging it with traditional iscatamiya and mbaqanga which is music which the ears of the rest of the world are familiar with and putting it into a kwaito sound. Then Mandoza. I think that Nkalakatha was one of the best songs. It’s phenomenal to hear that song on white radio in South Africa, it was amazing to hear Mandoza when the South African cricket team came on to the stadium, they had chosen to play Nkalakatha, which is now like the unoffical national anthem of South Africa. If we could only get Arthur, Oscar and Mandoza to merge and come up with something it would be phenomenal. And I think that those are the three kwaito artists and producers that can generate its internationally.

aryan kaganof: Do you listen to kwaito at home?

antos stella: Well it’s very difficult. I have to say by preference it’s not always been my favourite genre of music. I’m probably a little bit more of the old school. I like the more traditional and world sound. I really really enjoy the debate around it, I enjoy people telling me but this has got a hook. The problem is there is so much kwaito music at the moment and there are so few songs that stand out. So, do I listen to kwaito music? I do listen to it but if I had to sit at home and make a choice I would probably have Mandoza and Oscar and Arthur in my selection of music that I’m going to play for the night but it would be the top kwaito albums that I would listen to not necessarily everything.

September 18, 2006

the kwaito story: mafikizolo interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 1:29 pm

mafikizolo photo by hens van rooy

aryan kaganof: What does Mafikizolo mean? Why did you choose this name for your group?

Nhlanhla Mafu: Mafikizolo was actually one of the songs that we did on our demo tape with the help of this lady called Lido, she took our demo to Oscar who is one of the biggest producers, he works for Kalawa Jazzme Records and he loved the demo so much, particularly that song Mafikizolo, and he decided why don’t you call yourselves Mafikizolo because we don’t want a fancy name, an English name, we just want something raw, something local, something that will fit into the kwaito industry, and that’s how the name came about.

Theo: And the name Mafikizolo simply means new kids on the block, I think we were the youngest group to be signed by Kalawa Jazzme records, so he said that you guys will just have to choose a name that will go along with the music that you do because we do kwaito music, kwaito music is a township music, so he needed a name that would associate with the music we are doing.


aryan kaganof: But now that name does not represent you any more because you’re not new guys on the block, you’re the number one sellers in the country.

Nhlanhla Mafu: A couple of people have suggested that we change the name to something else but we’ve worked so hard to build the name and we’re still trying very hard to make it a brand so it’s not easy for us to change the name into something else because people associate us with the name now.

aryan kaganof: Please introduce yourselves and tell us how you got into the music business.

My name is Nonhlanhla Mafu and I’m from a township called Kagiso it’s right here in Johannesburg. I started singing since my primary school and I sang in my high school years and I also sing in church and I met Theo first at a talent search competition and he’s actually the person who came up with the idea of stating a group.

My name is Theo, Nhlanhla and I are neighbours, she stays in the same street, not very far from each other. So I had this idea of wanting to be in the music industry because I was attending a lot of talent search shows and I was imitating dancers but I said to myself I have to take this thing further and one day I decdied that I want to form a group, I want to form a band. The reason why I wanted to form a band is that I’m so talented like in terms of writing songs and everything, you know it’s a god given talent and I wanted to expose that but I couldn’t do it without having a band or without having other people to sing the songs that I’ve written. So I met Nhlanhla at the talent search competition, so I invited her to my house, I wanted to hear her voice and I was impressed and I told her about the idea of forming a group together and then we started cutting a demo together.

My name is Thebogo Matiwane, I’m from Meadowlands, they like to call my township No Fire. Before I used to be a dancer for Chicco, so Chicco used to be one of the biggest artists here in South Africa, including Mandla Spikiri from Trompies and Lesley from Alaska and Jairus from Trompies so when times goes on I became a mafikizolo as I am Mafikizolo today.


aryan kaganof: Kwaito? What does it mean to you and to the youth of South Africa today?

Nhlanhla Mafu: Kwaito is very South African, it’s something that represents the youth of South Africa basically and especially from the townships. It’s the way that township youth express themsevles in music.

Theo: I would just say that in our country South Africa during the struggle young people didn’t really have the time to enjoy themselves because they were more focused on the struggle and then after the release of our former President Nelson Mandela in a form of you know, rejoicing, and enjoying the freedom, this music genre called kwaito started with artists like Brothers of Peace, Arthur Mafokate and other artists who were there long before us started formulating this music that we have today. It’s a way for young people from the townships to express themselves, after all this struggle and everything, it is a way of saying you know we’ve worked so hard.

Thebogo Matiwane: I think kwaito has got a message for the young people, so they must stay away from drugs. If you are with your friends you know you just take the simple words that you use and make music with those.

Theo: It’s a form of expression. Young people from townships expressing themselves with their lingo with their language, expressing their situations in their townships, and then they will express that through music. In their songs they will talk aobut dancing, about the way they were brought up etc.

aryan kaganof: What sort of relationship does this township expression have with, on the one hand house, and on the other hand, hip hop?

Theo: House and hip hop are very influnetial on kwaito music in a way that kwaito is a dance music and house music is a dance music as well so in the use of computers and samples it borrows certain elements from house and in the use of rap it borrows certain elements from hip hop. But the lyrics will remain South African, the people always express themselves with their own indigenous language. Whether it’s Zulu or Tswana or Sotho, because we’ve got so many different cultures in South Africa.

In America house and hip hop are virtually opposed to each other, almost in opposition as it were. Whereas here kwaito has fused the two beautifully, peacefully.

Nhlanhla Mafu: Kwaito is so broad. When you look at kwaito you look at it as an umbrella, there’s other music coming out from that umbrella of kwaito, like you find your Afro-Pop, you find your Afro-House, you find your traditional African music under kwaito as well. So actually you’re not limited when you’re doing kwaito, you can play around with the music and with the instruments and with the lyrics.

Theo: A lot of people again thought that kwaito is for young people only but kwaito is not for only young people. We as a band, Mafikizolo, the kind of music that we play is kwaito, but the music that we do incorporates young people and it also incorporates older people. Even though it is kwaito it is also appealing to the older market. So kwaito now is very broad. Zulu is the language that really dominates because in terms of the numbers of people in the country I would say the Zulu nation’s numbers are huge and thus it is the language that really dominates in the country. So Mafikizolo is a Zulu word and therefore everybody will be familiar with what it means.


aryan kaganof: What inspired the look of your new video and the album cover which is a retro look at Sophiatown of the fifties?

Nhlanhla mafu: After we recorded the album we sat down and we were trying to figure out what the theme of this album is going to be so we decided on the fifties theme. It was influenced by the first track on the album which is called Marabi. Marabi is basically the music from the fifties in South Africa where you had your Sophiatown and we also went back to our history and we just wanted to celebrate the fifties artists and the fifties music and just bring it back to today because a lot of people our age don’t know what used to happen in the fifties, what kind of image they used to have, the style of clothing, the style of music. We believe that the fifties musicians contributed a lot into the South African musical heritage so we sat down and came up with this tribute to the fifties period. You can see on the cover of the album that we are in our fifties outfits.

Thebogo Matiwane: Actually when we do something we sit down together and share some ideas so that Theo’s got his own idea, I’ve got mine, Nhlanhla as well so we complement each other. Most of the time Theo is the songwriter, although each of us has our own songwriting styles, so we always talk, sit down and discuss everything together.

Nhlanhla Mafu: But basically Thebogo is the rapper for the group, I’m the lead vocalist and Theo is the chief song writer. so we fit together perfectly as a team.


aryan kaganof: Who is in charge of your production?

Theo: Kalawa Jazzme Records is doing our music production since we started with them four or five years ago. So Kalawa consists of a crew called DCC, Dangerous Combination Crew, which includes Mandla Spikiri, who is one of the producers and also one of the band members of Trompies, and we have Bruce Sebitlo who is also one of the membersof Brothers Of Peace, and we have Zayne and we have Oscar, the main man, so Oskido is the one who is the producer for Mafikizolo.

aryan kaganof: We see a lot of the past in your video clip and also sampled now in the music and the remakes and re-mixes, but what is the future of kwaito?

Nhlanhla Mafu: I think we are growing so much as kwaito musicians, some of our music is being exported. On our third album there was a song called Loot which was re-mixed by Lil’ Louis Vega who is one of the top deejays in the States. Now we are starting to perform with live musicians because previously we performed with DATs only and got a lot of criticism for that so as musicians we are growing.

Theo: I think the future of kwaito is very bright, we’ve done a track called Bangradesh with Indian melodies but the lyrtics were still Zulu and if you can take that track and go paly it overseas or in India people will still dance to the song. So I think it is for us as artists to learn other languages and when we write music we should incorporate other languages, for example if I know German I would sing a song in German but it would still be kwaito so that it could get the opportunity to be exported overseas, if I know French then I can write a song in French but it would still be kwaito. So I think if you can only stay focused and not limit our potential to only Zulu or Sotho. We have to just expand our knowledge and expand our perimeters and say we want to do something that has never been done before. We have to just learn to experiment and broaden our knwledge and our minds and our talents. There is still so much room for kwaito to expand to become a global music

Thebogo Matiwane: Kwaito has come this far because you can write anything you like and it’s going further.


September 17, 2006

the kwaito story: oscar mdlongwa (oskido) interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 12:45 pm

oscar mdlongwa (photo by hens van rooy)

aryan kaganof: Please tell your boerewors to riches story.

oscar mdlongwa: I used to be a street vendor selling my sausages out there for the clubgoers and at the end of the night when I was finished with my stock I used to go into the club Razzmatazz (in Hillbrow) and dance because I didn’t really have a place to sleep, so I would dance until the morning and then I would get a place to sleep. And I used to have that passion of music, so one day the resident deejay didn’t pitch up at the club. So the club owner used to give me time to play when the club was empty cos they used to know that I would stay until the club closes, so then he gave me an opportunity he said no since the guy is not here you can come and deejay, here are some records. It was a big night, saturday night, the end of the month, the club was packed and I just grabbed this opportunity with both hands and that night I rocked and the guy said no listen you have to start playing here permanently. So that’s how I got the job of being a deejay. The rest is history. I started back in about 1987 deejing in clubs. At that time I used to play a lot of house music, that’s when rap music was also coming in and from there I went on to do compilations and finally on to producing my own music so finally now we’ve got a record label called Kalawa Jazzme Records.

aryan kaganof: How would you describe kwaito to someone who has no idea what this music form sounds like?

oscar mdlongwa: For me it’s a word which came from the township you know, it’s a street word, it’s like street lingo, and different people will tell you different definitions; some will tell you there used to be gangsters called kwaitos but to be honest I wouldn’t be happy to say definitively this is its true meaning. The music which we’ve done, the genre is now called kwaito, and we’re talking about things which are affecting us and at the end of the day it’s dance music. When all theses things were starting we used to call our music Gong, you know it’s a big sound, GONG!, so it’s a word we used to call our music, but kwaito became the umbrella of the whole movement. Then under this umbrella you have little branches, like with Gong, or some used to call there music Gaz, but kwaito is more of the bigger picture.

aryan kaganof: People talk of the kwaito generation and the Y generation. Are these accurate reflections of what youth culture is about now in South Africa?

oscar mdlongwa: Well this thing really happened round about when we felt that it was getting to the death of apartheid, that’s when kwaito really became dominant in the music scene. The release of Nelson Mandela from prison and then we the youth, I thought for us to keep on expressing ourselves about political things, why not forget about what happened in the past and make music and make people dance. So we started writing some things which were hardcore, talking about the police, things which were affecting us in our social lives. So the Y movement yeah, on the radio, the magazine, and the internet. Y FM came in about four or five years later when the genre was already big but nthey came in and they supported the underground and the kwaito genre big time. When the genre started it was underground, but now with its existence for over ten years now you cannot keep it underground anymore so it has come up big, it is now creating a lot of job opportunities in terms of sales that have gone up, but I think when it started it was more underground because now at least you can hear it different stations but before it was hard for you to hear it on stations because people who were running radiio stations at that time were not ready for the change and kwaito was just right there in your face. It was something different, it was more shocking people to be confronted by the subjects of kwaito.

aryan kaganof: Tell us about Kalawa Jazzme Records.

oscar mdlongwa: Yeah, it started as Kalawa. It was the brainchild of me, Don Laka, he plays piano, he is a jazz musician and also a friend of mine, his name is Christos, so Kalawa comes from our surnames; Ka is Christos’ surname, La is from Laka and Wa is the end of my surname (Mdlongwa), so we combined those three and then Kalawa was born. At that time I was a deejay and Don was a musician so he knew that I was putting out compilations that were good so he told me but why can’t we sit down and c reate our own thing big, create our own sounds whatever, since you’ve got the deejay knowledge and I’m a musician and then we put things together and from there I said ok and then we tried it and our first project was actually BOP (Brothers of Peace). We did a vocal project, it was supposed to be called Ragga Gong, Ragga House, it had the influence of ragga and hip hop and all that and that’s when we formed a group called Boom Shaka. We got some people to come and sing in there and that was the birth of the group. But it was hard for us to go and sign with a record label because they felt the thing wasn’t going to work. So we said ok it’s cool, we couldn’t get any record deals so we started selling it from the boot of our cars, going to taxi ranks, visiting shops, we’d go and leave five tapes there, five cassettes there, I would come after a week if it’s sold it’s sold then I’d get my money. They couldn’t allow us to sell in the bigger stores but we would take the group Boom Shaka to taxi ranks to perform there while we deej’d, they would come in and perform two songs. So the thing just caught up here in Johannesburg and eventually in the whole country. And that project became so big that the record companies now started knocking on our doors saying hey we want this thing, but already we had moved a lot of copies by ourselves and later because we couldn’t reach the outskirts of South Africa in terms of distribution so we signed up with a record label to distribute that record nationally. That’s when people started saying wow so this thing works, so that was the birth of kwaito. It started blowing up around Pretoria and Joburg, in the surrounding townships and then later it started going to the rest of South Africa. Now nationwide would be an understatement, even Africa is under kwaito’s spell.

aryan kaganof: You worked with Moses Molelekwa before his untimely death.

oscar mdlongwa: Kalawa became successful in its own right then we joined up with friends of ours called Jazzme, that’s when Kalawa Jazzme started, they came in with other elements so that we could form a bigger picture. Then from there we started creating different groups, cos once you have different groups within your stable you need to identify them with different sounds, to say this group Group A must sound like this, Group B must sound like this. You know Trompies must sound like this, Boom Shaka must sound different, Bongo Maffin must have its own sound. Sop we started creating different sounds for different groups so therefore Brothers of Peace moved into the more jazzy elements, we wanted to put in the live aspects of it, working with the legendary Hugh Masekela, we said to him even if it’s youth music you come in and put your elements of jazz on it and then from there we worked with Moses Molelekwa. We called him and you know he was a great jazz pianist and he put good solos on those tracks, he gave them that jazz feel so that our kwaito music became richer.

aryan kaganof: Most of the older musicians did not take to kwaito at first.

oscar mdlongwa: Yeah. They felt it was not music for them. Because we were using computers to program and all that. So they hard core musos felt, and even now some of them feel, that it’s not music. But it’s always like that with a youth movement. Older people always come in and say you know this is not right. But there are some who saw that this is going to go a long way and now I think it has become the pride of South Africa. We’ve created our own dance music and for all those who thought it wasn’t going to happen, it has. Americans have got their own hip hop, we’ve got our own thing, kwaito. Even in America when hip hop started people in the jazz scene felt that it’s a genre which is not going to last but now hip hop has become America’s pride when you talk music hip hop is there. It’s just like South Africa, when you come in and talk you talk kwaito. It’s our own. It’s done here.

aryan kaganof: Is kwaito spreading up north?

oscar mdlongwa: Yeah. It’s huge in Zimbabwe, it’s huge in Botswana, we play there, it’s huge in Mozambique and I think it will catch on in the Congo and further North, because it’s computer music, it’s computer dance music, it’s hip music, it’s the music of now. When kwaito started it was almost solely digital, but now we are more experimental, especially with Brothers of Peace, we’re combining digital elements with live elements and it’s a good mix. There are lots of great musicians on this continent so by us using live musicians and indigenous instruments we connect this futuristic music to our African traditions.

aryan kaganof: The Congo film-maker Balufu has a film called Digital@frica where he claims that the binary digital system of numbering in fact started in Africa thousands of years ago and that the rapid spread of computer technologies in Africa is because these are not western imports but in fact the original African invention coming home so to speak.

oscar mdlongwa: Yeah. Well you know they say what goes around always comes around.

aryan kaganof: How did you connect with Masters At Work, the legendary New York based dance record company.

oscar mdlongwa: Yeah well Masters At Work now we’ve really got a strong connection they are now introducing our music around the world which is great. We met Louie Vega when he came to the Y FM birthday bash, I think it was four or five years ago and then he was really interested in listening to what type of sounds we’ve got here in Africa since he’s a dance deejay. We gave him cd’s and he was really impressed and he picked up on one of our groups, Mafikizolo, a track called Loot, which he started playing all over the world cos he deejays on different continents and he was amazed because people were singing along to it and he decided to release it the way it is without re-mixing it and the song became big and when we did the Brothers Of Peace album he was amazed and he said we’re releasing the whole album. Normally they do mainly re-mix work. They listen to an album and if it’s got ten tracks they will say oh listen we are interested in one track but on this one he said listen he just heard something different, the sound was amazing, so he said listen we’re signing the whole album. So now they’ve released one single called Zabalaza, the album’s coming out now, it’s called Victory. So things are getting tighter and tighter together, he’s introduced our sound all over the world and people really appreciate what we are doing and we get a lot of calls now from all over the world, which is good.

aryan kaganof: What about the youth of today, are they aware of people like Tabane and Malombo, are they aware of the rich musical history and the older musicians who are still alive, still making great music?

oscar mdlongwa: Well that’s why with Brothers of Peace we’ve gone back to some of our old songs and then re-mxing and re-making them. I mean the youth didn’t even know who Mahlatini is until we didi the re-mix and they said wooh, we didn’t know we had a musician like this. We’ve also gone down in the rural areas, working with maskandi musicians in KwaZulu Natal. We’ve worked with an artist called Hahlimhlope and we brought him in and we made it more urban but not losing those elements. And that type of music, the youth used to look at it and say no it’s for the rural people not for us urban people, they didn’t want to be associated with it. But once we did it and we made it more urban they are like really wow, we didn’t know we’ve got such musicians. Instead of embracing the overseas stuff, like being crazy about hip hop, now they are beginning to embrace our culture, which I think in the long run that is where the future is at.

aryan kaganof: What is the relationship between kwaito and hip hop?

oscar mdlongwa: I think in terms of the lyrical content it’s like almost on the same thing because hip hop those guys are talking about what’s affecting them there in the States side, their social life, and also with kwaito, at the same time, we’re doing the same thing. And while they are doing that it remains a music you can play in the parties, it’s not a music you gonna sit down and listen to and you’ll be sad, it’s a music which is going to make you happy and you listen to the message and the message just becomes strong. There is that power in hip hop, there is that power in kwaito of saying wow we’re talking about this, if I feel that listen let me talk about the divorce rate, I mean why are the older people divorcing, I’ll put it in music form, so even if people are direspecting their parents I cannot say “respect your parents, respect your parents, why are you disrespecting your parents” but I’ll put it in a way so that when you are dancing you sing along but when you’re singing along the message is hitting your brains then you say, wow, this is what this guy is tallking about.

aryan kaganof: What’s the future of kwaito?

oscar mdlongwa: Well I think the future is bright and I think now our goal is to hit the international market. In South Africa it was a struggle to get it where it is today but now it is being appreciated, people have accepted that this is one of the strongest genres ever, and now what we need to do is that we need to take it world wide, we need to market it overseas, it’s got to be known in Japan, it’s got to be known wherever. You know music is music. Music is what you feel, keep it that way, more spiritual and enjoy it. I think the longest goal is for kwaito to be known all over the international dance scene, on the international stage.

September 16, 2006

the kwaito story: lindelani mkhize interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 11:49 am


Tuesday 11 February 2003

lindelani mkhize: My story starts way back, growing up in a dusty township in Durban, one of the small townships there called Umlazi. I had a small band there, we used to escape from school and go and play music with my friends and that’s where I got the music bug. We were playing a lot of different kinds of music and we would get invited to perform at weddings and funerals to do gospel music aswell, to do parties around the tonships and we sort of graduated from that to playing night clubs. My mother was not quite happy with that and in a way she was sort of forcing me “school first, school first” and I must say I respect her for that. So after I finished my matric I went to study music full time and then after studying music I was discoverred by one of the top musicians and top producers of music in this country who identified some potential in me and he called me in to move from Durban to Johannesburg to work with him behind the scenes, and that was Chicco. I started working with Chicco, helping him in songrwriting, helping him also in starting his own production house and his own label called Chicco Productions. I was still a young boy then, naieve, not knowing much and I was excited that wow I’m working with this big name artist and I must say I learned a lot through that experience because sometimes he would leave me in the studio and say, see what you want to do, and I would play around with sound. Since I was young I was not very much into his sound and I would create funny funny sounds at that point in time which is what I would like to think is in a way the beginning of kwaito. Which is the music for the young people in this country. To me kwaito music is a voice for the South African youth, it is a loud microphone that the youth of South Africa uses to spread their message to the country and to the outside world as well. Kwaito was born more than ten years ago in this country, and it was during the riot era and some of us were not so much into that, we wanted a different way to move away from that and we thought that using our music we could push a political message, a social message rather than we burn this we kill that kind of message, we thought it would work very well and actually it did happen because kwaito music is all about the nice rhythms and grooves with the heavy bass line with these nice chants which are talking about our lives in this country, the young man’s life coming from the townships and coming from the villages that we all come from.

aryan kaganof: Thirteen years ago today Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Do you think that this is a signficiant date in terms of the development of the spirit of kwaito?

lindelani mkhize: It was a very very important and exciting day for us, as young people then we were so naive we didn’t even know much about Nelson Mandela except that we were not supposed to talk about this name. Out of the blue the president then just announced that Nelson Mandela was coming out and we started thinking, how does he look like? This person has been incarcerated for the past 27 years, so we started creating sort of grooves and rhythms around this, and melodies, because as young people we were all wondering how does this man look like now. I remember then there was an old photo film of him with a line on his head and that’s what we were expecting, and boom on tv we are seeing a totally different person with white hair, and that very image actually became the I mage of our country and more than anything we actually got motivated and encouraged, with you know what being yourself, being who you are, you can succeed. So in a way this is how kwaito music really started as we were given opportunites to play around and explore what we were really capable of. So Dr. Mandela’s release did open a lot of doors for young people in the country then.

aryan kaganof: How did you become involved with Sony?

lindelani mkhize: After working with Chicco I was approached by Teal which is Universal Music, because Chicco was signed to Universal Music so they were noticing and realising what I was doing behind the scenes and they offered me an opening, why don’t you join us and work for us full-time, you won’t desert Chicco, you’ll still be working for Chicco but also for a lot of other artists, and they gave me an opportunity to explore. There was a South African music then called bubblegum music and I couldn’t understand it and I thought that it was ready for a change. So I called a whole lot of young producers and friends into the studio then, I can think of M’du, I can think of Joe Nina, who were just plyaing around in the studio. They were very good keyboard players and I would give them direction, ideas and concepts, I would say why don’t you try this, why don’t you try that, and we managed to release three very very good releases with Universal which was Teal then, and then Sony was ready to move into the country and they noticed the kind of potential that I actually had and they approached me and they said , look we want to satart a South African label, we think you are the right person who can do it for us, we don’t have offices, we don’t have artists, we don’t have nothing, so we need a young man, driven, motivated, who will be able to move and get offices and get stuff and sign the right artists for us and that was at the beginning of 1995. October 1995 we started with Sony music.

aryan kaganof: As a young company Sony doesn’t share the negative history in this country that the other majors have.

lindelani mkhize: Sony is the yongest major record coompany in South Africa. We are very excited that as young as we are we have managed to take a major share of what is happening in the music industry. One of the major reasons how we did that was of course because of kwaito music. You see most major compnaies were not concentrating on this genre of music and as a young black man I understood and knew that the music deserved a chance because it was what the young black people wanted to hear. You see Sony could not go in and compete with the other four majors head on in the fields that were working for them so we concentrated on what they were not working on so kwaito therefore is the top selling music at Sony Music. But we didn’t just concentrate on kwaito because we need to be on the same level as these other majors who are very strong because of their back catalogue, because of their history, so we went all out to look for matured or what I would call older South African musicians who really represent what South Africa is. I’m talking of the Hugh Masakela’s of this world, I’m talking of the Jonas gwangwa’s, I’m talking of the Caiphus Semenya’s, the Letta Mbuli’s who are the world renowned musicians who represent, who are the window of South African music. So we brought them in while we were working on the young kwaito genre in order to build a catalogue.

aryan kaganof: Let’s talk about the generation gap between the kwaito generation and the old school musicians.

lindelani mkhize: For a long time, since kwaito started until very recently, there has been a huge gap between the generations. Older people just couldn’t understand what it is. Younger people really saw kwaito as a vehicle to drive their messages. It is only now, recnelty, that the grooves which we are rleasing, I can talk of the Bongo Maffins, the Mafikizolos, where we are trying to bridge that gap to bring these generations together. We a taking a lot of what they used to do before, we are doing it the now way. And the messages in kwaito are more uplifiting than before. Before it was just chants about us, young people having fun, getting down and having a groove, now it’s more morally building messages, talking how we must build ourselves, how we msut move on as young people, make sure that you take care of yourself and all those kind of things. So because of these new positive messages in the music, older people are slowly starting to get into kwaito music.

aryan kaganof: In the early days kwaito seemed to be obsessed with material wealth, with the green.

lindelani mkhize: I don’t think there was too much of that. There was alittle bit of bad language, which older people wouldn’t understand. Sometimes it wouldn’t be bad language but it would be in the township lingo, what we call the tsotsitaal, the language that is spoken on the streets in the townships, the language that the young people understand. Take for instance if you live in Soweto there are a lot of tribes there, Nguni speaking people, which is Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Swazi. There are also a lot of Sotho speaking people, South Sotho, North Sotho, Tswana speaking people. Now these young people wanted to communicate with each other so they only way to communicate was to create there own language. So we were using that particular language it definitely had nothing to do with money, we were young people who just wanted to have fun and have a good time. As we grew up we realized that you know what, this is actually a business, we can create a business out of this. And I think young artists now are in a much better position and at an advantage compared to the older musicians who didn’t understand the business side of the music industry. The young kwaito musicians really do understand business, that is why they are making money, they are actually making a positive living out of the msuic that they are generating.

aryan kaganof: What is politically significant about this mixing of the languges in kwaito?

lindelani mkhize: Let me go back to explain this. Our parents and our forefathers came from all the parts of South Africa, from their villages because they were looking for work, they couldn’t live in the villages because the only way they could survive in the country was through farming and in a way I must say we are just not good farmers. So they all moved to the major cities like Johannesburg. So when they get to Johannesburg, coming from all these villages, from all these parts of South Africa, they come there with different traditions, with different customs, different languages as well, so now they had to find a way to communicate and they were seriously battling at that time. Now they young people created syncretic languages that they were able to communicate in, a kind of cut and paste form of language. What was against the law back then was for us to be in the cities, to be in town after the 8pm curfew. Black people had to make sure that we caught the last bus or train out of town and go and hibernate in the township. We were not allowed to buy liquor. You needed to have a certain license to actually buy liquor. And we all know that to have fun you need to have a little bit of a drink. Now on Radio the Zulu station was only allowed to play Zulu music, the Sotho station could only play Sotho music and so on. But, even with that, the censors would listen closely to the music and if there was even a sentence, or even one word, that they felt was teaching the black community something, and somehow giving them a bit of knowledge, they would scratch that record and take it out of the play list. The authorities then were very very strict about this language segregation. It was meant to prevent us from uniting and becoming one. Even live music became illegal as there was a point in time when if you were gathered together in a group of more than three it was considered an illegal gathering and it was not allowed. The shebeens too, were very much illegal, we were not allowed to have our taverns at that point.

aryan kaganof: The major record companies do not have very illustrious histories in this country. They always worked within the confines of the apartheid legislation, never ever put a foot wrong to disturb the status quo, were quite happy to suppply the market with the ethnic fodder that apartheid demanded and were all guilty of radically under-paying their artists. How has this changed in the kwaito era?

lindelani mkhize: Way back you were very lucky as an artist to get paid. Actually people were just not getting paid. They would cut a record, would be told look you will be played on radio and guys would get excited about that, hoping that at least if my album gets played on radio then I can make money because I will do a few gigs in the townships and make tours. But now the kwaito musicians have been so enlightened, they are business people themselves, they are producers themselves, so they know what is going on. They sit down and negotiate their deals the way they feel is suitable for themsevles and they go back to the studio and create their own music. When in the old days you would find people producing the artists who not only didn’t understand the music, they didn’t even understand the languges the artists were singing in. In those days the record companies would identify the talent, take them to the studios, record them and then claim everything. The kwaito musicians have put a stop to those practices because they keep control of their own music and in some cases they even sell their own music. Sony is the only major record company that has a black executive team running the company and the advantage is that we understand the lifestyle of these musicians, we understand where they come from, we understand their background and everything, so when we deal with them we deal on the same level. And they know that we’ve been there, we’ve done that so we’re on the same wavelength. So Sony has a big advantage in this country because we don’t have that same negative history and indeed we are creating our own history as we pave the way forward.

aryan kaganof: What is Sony’s strategy to take kwaito into the global market?

lindelani mkhize: We do a lot of communicating and business with outside deejays from the USA and from Europe. Because we believe that for us to be able to break kwaito it won’t happen through a major, it won’t be Sony that will break a kwaito artist or a kwaito song, we will need the underground. History does tell this story, every new genre that breaks comes from the underground, in a small night club somewhere, with a dj playing something, pumping something, and the people who frequent this club and get into it and then buy this sort of music. So we work a lot with this kind of dj, I can talk of Mafikizolo who Louie Vega is mixing their stuff, Brothers of Peace from the previous year, once again Louie Vega and other USA deejays is mixing their stuff. Last year we invested a whole lot of money on Bongo Maffin, taking them outside and giving them a chance to perform in these small nightclubs in the USA and Europe. So far the response has been great. But it’s a process, it won’t happen overnbight, but it’s a process that we are committed to because we would love to see South African music culture being represented outside, we’d love to see South African music represented on Billboard magazine, played on the radio etc.

aryan kaganof: But what about the language barrier? International audiences don’t understand tstositaal.

lindelani mkhize: The truth is there is a problem with the language barrier. But we believe in the power of music. Music itself is a language.If the groove is good, if the beat is good, if the rhythmn is good, you don’t care what the languge is. It depends on the beats because once you sacrifice the identity of the music, which is in the language, and you put English language in, then it is just the same as so much music happening out there, whereas now it is unique precisly because of its language and those particular African grooves and beats which youy don’t hear anywhere else in the world.

aryan kaganof: So will the music move towards house or towards hip hop in the future?

lindelani mkhize: The advantage is that kwaito music has got a little bit of house it’s got a little bit of hip hop, it’s also got a little bit of rock sometimes, so in a way we have managed to fuse all these elements and create a style of music that is perfect for the South African ear, but now we are saying what can we take from outside, fuse with what we already have to get to that level that people from outside South Africa will understand it. Our African sound we know they can’t record that, so that is why we don’t go the hip hop route because if we record that it will always sound like second grade hip hop, if we make rock it will sound like third grade rock, so we can always fuse a little bit of these other sounds from outside South Africa but it must always remain first class kwaito.

September 14, 2006

the kwaito story: Penny Lebyane interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 12:47 pm

prominent dj personality penny lebyane
(photo hens van rooy)

aryan kaganof: You have stated publicly that there is too much sexism in the entertainment industry.

penny lebyane: Yes, music, radio, television, it’s all a big boy’s club basically. The deejays are men, the station managers are men, the advertising executives that deal with the radio stations are men, the programme managers are men, the camera crews are men, except for the makeup artists, sometimes, are women. But I’ll focus mainly on broadcast radio which is what I do. Magazines, which is an extension of the entertainment industry, you do find a whole lot of females there. Newspapers in the newsrooms, entertainment sections, mainly men, you get one female out of four guys. When I need to do an interview it will be mainly males doing the interviews, covering the stories. On the radio station which I work for, which has about five million listeners, broadcasts 24 hours nationwide, there’s only one female during the day 9 to 12, and then another one is at twelve midnight to 3am. Don’t ask me why.

aryan kaganof: But surely the only way to change that is by moving into the industry, as women?

penny lebyane: I’ve been in the industry for seven years, and in the seven years that I’ve been in, my goodness, how many females like me are there? None.

aryan kaganof: So what makes you so different from the average woman?

penny lebyane: I don’t know. I don’t think I’m different from the average woman in South Africa.I started out at community radio, there were four or five women at community radiio and out of all of them I am the only one who has made it as far as commercial radio. And it wasn’t easy for me to get to this level, I mean the station that I work for is the biggest, it’s nationwide. When I started out there were only community stations and regional stations and very few females, for example at Kaya FM there is one female in the morning and then the rest of the day there are a few female newsreaders and then you have YFM and they have four females throughout pairing with boys. At some point they had one strong female, which made a big difference, when they had a female on her own, stading out on her own, but when they have four females I call that window dressing. I don’t see exactly what those females represent individually it’s not what I think females on air should represent.

aryan kaganof: Are you not merely Metro FM’s window dressing?

penny lebyane: No I refuse to be. I’ve been there four years but if I look at someone who started out with me at the same time the sexism is still there because the males have grown quicker than I have and the treatment that they get is totally different from me. The funny thing is that they all go along the same line; you know you have radio dj’s they all have compilation cd’s, there’s no individuality, they all sound the same, they’re all the bad boys, big dogs, small dogs, puppies, they all have these silly names that are all alike, all raw and hard, for me they are all the same cos it’s all about their egos. For the females the growth is not the same. Some might argue that I can deliver the same as they do but the management is all still guys.

aryan kaganof: How would you distinguish the role of Metro FM from Y FM, which is closely identified as the radio of kwaito?

penny lebyane: I had the opportunity of working for a community station which had a youth appeal before Y arrived so my argument would be different from a whole lot of people. I worked for Voice of Soweto which represented Soweto and when I say Soweto I mean exactly that, it had the heartbeat of Soweto. And it was early 1994 when young people were really excited about the new dispensation, people expressing themselves, and we came into the industry as a youth station, within three months we had 300 000 listeners in Soweto which is one of the biggest townships in the world by far and when kwaito kicked off we were there. So that’s way before Y FM arrived. All of my colleagues left Voice of Soweto to go to work for Y so obviously the energy, the passion and the excitement of it was transferred. Now when I compare Voice of Soweto, Y FM and I look at Metro FM where I am it’s a different ball game all together. Metro FM has a history, it’s been around for sixteen years, it’s everything to everybody, it wants to be the past and be the future. Y FM has targeted it straight; it says, new South Africa, we are in charge, we don’t give a damn about what you say, we’re all about what we are. So it’s two different situations but in terms of like helping the music grow they all have a bigger contribution to play. You have Y FM which came in and said, OK here’s this new music genre, sations like Metro are sceptical, because of the bureacracy and everything they said what’s this? what are they talking about? And YFM said hey this is new, it’s part of us, we’re all new here, so we’ll take a chance on kwaito along with these guys. And then for someone like me who is getting into the media, I don’t have experience, I’m gonna go out there and kick it no matter who says what and then I go work with a station where they still have a history of being part of the old order and trying to become part of the new order so it’s a little bit of a struggle for someone like me because for me I don’t want to say how did you do it in the past I want to say this is how I want to do it, and that’s what makes YFM different from the station that I work for. When they want to do it they do it. But where I work you have to go and file a report and it’s a bigger process.

aryan kaganof: To get on to kwaito specifically, would you agree that kwaito is really different from what happened before it?

penny lebyane: Yes, it is really different from what came before it and some people look at it and they say, because it’s so different like that, it should have been more concerned about what happened before; it’s actually a big part of what happened before but they just flipped it to be what it’s about now. Right now with kwaito they are going back and looking at what South African music was all about in the past, re-mixing songs, which is not what they did in the beginning when they just used to make the tracks as they did it but now that they have proved they can do this they are looking at what else existed before them in the history books of south african music and it’s a good thing because now it’s growing with more roots in it unlike before when it was just mushrooming and it was scaring everybody because for a whole lot of old people and South Africans who are very conservative it’s a scary thing to see something new coming out. It wa slike what is this? What is kwaito about? It is ironic in a way for a new country like ours where people should be open to new things that they are not. But these are very exciting times for the music.

aryan kaganof: What about the issue of negative images of women in kwaito?

penny lebyane: I have been inside the industry and it is even harder to change it from within. Because now you are part of this thing, you don’t agree with it, but then what do you do about it? I present the top twenty on Friday and I always say ok let’s count how many females we have on the top twenty this week. On a good week I have four. Out of twenty songs. I’d like to see that changing. I think the media as a whole, radio specifically where I work, has a bigger role to play, with more females on better positions, it’s not just about having twenty females but they have to have a significant slot on the stations in order to make a difference, and when I say females I’m not talking about little sidekicks, I’m not talking about little news readers, I’m talking about a female presenting ahard kicking radiio show, for example from 3pm to 6pm, because that’s when people tune in, if you have a female presenting a hard kicking kwaito show you will see more female artists coming up. Whenver females come into the industry they get involved with these issues of do me a favour,I’ll play your song if you do this or do that, you know? If you do this with me I’ll record you.

(Penny slaps her fist into the palm of her hand)

aryan kaganof: You mean sexual harassment?

penny lebyane: Of course! Of course! How many female video directors are there? Two or three.

aryan kaganof: Let’s look at kwaito specifically now. Is it a music form that had its roots in Soweto?

penny lebyane: I wouldn’t say in Soweto specifically. I think just townships basically. And what you’ve got to understand about South Africa is that each region has its own township that stands out for whatever region for example in Johannesburg you have Soweto on the South side and then you have Alexander on the North side and then you also have Tembisa on the far East side and then you have Katlehong. They each have a role to play. It probably carries heavy wieght when you say you’re from Soweto and you play kwaito but I think youth in Umlazi talk exactly the same language, they struggle with the same issues that Soweto youth do. Youth in Gugulethu, Langa, it’s exactly the same thing. It’s a case of how they express themselves. Obviously Soweto youth is about taking charge, Soweto youth is about expressing yourself and not holding back, Soweto youth is about putting your point across and telling it like it is. But youth is youth is youth, whether it’s in Pieterburg, whether it’s in London, whether it’s in New York, if they have an issue they want to bring it out.

aryan kaganof: But in Umlazi pretty much everyone is going to be speaking Zulu which is clearly not the case in Soweto. And one cannot compare the vibe in Joburg to Cape Town. Cape Town is still very old school in terms of how the transformation is taking place. Jozi is faster, more alive, there is more happening here in terms of urban black consciousness.

penny lebyane: Obviously there are more opportunities in Johannesburg. People go out more often here, they go to gigs, they see the artists and they get to have the touch and feel with the artists unlike if you are based in Cape Town you see the artists on television, you don’t have touch and feel. Because of the history of Johannesburg, of the mines, people have always come here to work and so people are used to mixing, hence the development of a mixed language here around Johannesburg. People have tsotsitaal, people have fanagalo. So that also makes people from Johannesburg different from people from other parts of the country because they all left those areas to come here to find work and hence things move faster here. Everything is here, recording studios are here, radio stations are here, life is quicker. But I believe that youth in Durban, youth in Cape Town have a fair chance as well of making it in the kwaito scene if given the opportunity. And actually half the people that are here, the kwaito artists, if you really sit them down and ask them where they are from, half of them are not from Joburg.

aryan kaganof: Let’s talk about the rampant materialism that is infecting kwaito.

penny lebyane: When kwaito started out and people said we’re doing it and we’re doing it our way and this is how we’re going to do it, people wanted instant stardom. It was like you do a song, tell it like it is, everybody talks about what you are saying and you get instant fame. And if it sells you make a lot of money, you’re on television, on radio, the newspapers. And the fame is always associated with money. But I don’t know if that’s the truth about kwaito, who is reallymaking the money? Is it the record companies? Is it the artists? But you see when they say in South Africa that an artist has sold 100 000 copies in three days it is not a case like in the UK where you know that 100 000 singles are in the hands of 100 000 consumers in our case it probably just means the number of units shifted from the record companies to the record bars, 50 000 can still come back unsold. So who is really making the money?

aryan kaganof: But for the first time in the country’s history a significant number of black artists own their own product and have their own record labels, artists like Arthur and M’du.

penny lebyane: Yes, they have minni, small labels, but still the biggest part of the pis still belongs to the bigg white owned record companies, when it comes to distribution, when it comes to the marketing, very few black artists really own their own material. I’m still waiting to see the time when the few guys who have their own labels, like Arthur, Oscar, M’du etc, come together and form their own distribution company. A black owned distribution network is the real future of kwaito, where the real power and money lie.

aryan kaganof: Do you feel part of the kwaito generation? Does that describe you?

penny lebyane: No. Not me.

aryan kaganof: Who are the kwaito generation?

penny lebyane: It is someone who is looking for an opportunity, they don’t really know what the opportunity is, but they have an idea of what the opportunity is and they know that they can get it quick. I think there is no longevity to it, I think people want to do it quick, short, take the money and run and I don’t really want to operate like that, which is why I don’t consider myself part of the kwaito generation. I think if people really cared about the growth of the music they would take more care to develop it. But what happens is they take these kids and just throw them into the industry and their lives become public property, it’s like survival of the fittest. What should happen is that the companies should nurture, develop and allow the form to grow. If kwaito is to properly represent a generation then it should represent what a generation is worrying about. But here we have these kwaito stars who have twenty children out of wedlcok while the AIDS crisis is confronting us. So kwaito seems like it’s just about the music, partying, getting drunk and driving BMWs, let’s not give a damn about our women. If the women are going in one direction and the men are going in another direction there is going to be a clach.I do respect what the music represents and I would like to see if getting better but I do not see myself as part of a kwaito generation. Kwaito is an opportunity of putting South Africa on the map. We can’t when we talk about South Africa keep going back to what Nelson Mandela did, what Miriam Makeba did, we’ve got to talk about what Penny’s doing right now, what Thandiswe’s doing right now. And there are groups like that, there’s Bongo Maffin, they represent what’s happening with the youth, they’ve grown out of kwaito into something bigger. There is growth to them, they are aware of issues of the country, of issues of the continent, of issues of globalisation and I’m not saying we’ve strictly got to have intelligent musicians but I am saying for a country like ours there is so much content, so many issues, to piggy back on and run with.

aryan kaganof: What do you think the future of kwaito will be?

penny lebyane: Gee. Wow. I think it’s probably going to take the same form as hip hop. You know what happened with hip hop, in the beginning you had black youth really expressing themselves and then white youth got interested and then now a white youth, Eminem, is in the forefront of it. I see white kids in Joburg doing better kwaito songs than black kids from the township who really know what the origin of kwaito was about. It’s an art form and artists have to start respecting themselves as such. But for a lot of black kids it’s just a quick way of making money. So the whites will study the details of it and come up with their own form of it. If our blacks don’t start treating kwaito like a business somebody else will wake up and start making real money out of it; you see we blacks don’t own kwaito, there is no sense of ownership, there is no unity about nit, no one can claim that they own it because it’s a people’s thing.

aryan kaganof: So just like Elvis Presley stole rock ‘n roll from black Americans and Eminem stole hip hop from his niggas there is going to be a white South African who will take charge of kwaito and he is going to call himself Ngamla.

penny lebyane: Yes. He’s going to really really make money. There are a lot of white kids in Joburg, especially in Randburg who really listen to kwaito and they really get the call because it is great music. Look at how the white kids identify with Mandoza, with Nkalakatha. Kwaito and rock will soon be played back to back, the youngsters now listen to all the genres, they are open for it. My little brother is eleven, he listens to Eminem, Semisane, Limp Biscuit, Usher, Justin Timberlake, so when I say to him that where I work we only play R&B he just laughs. Y FM has an opportunity to get away with a whole lot of stuff, they are a youth station, who says they must just play black hip hop, they could also introduce black youth to rock and at the same time there are white youths listening to them that are interested in kwaito.

September 12, 2006

the kwaito story: Don Laka interviewed by aryan kaganof

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 1:05 pm

Monday 10 February 2003

don laka in his studio, centurion (photo hens van rooy)

don laka: I was born some 45 years ago in a township called Mamelodi near Pretoria. I grew up listening to jazz and I had a family that was musical, a very religious family. I’m the son of a priest. At some stage in the family we had about ten priests, my uncles and everyone in the family was priests. So I grew up listening to gospel music, jazz, because everyone in Pretoria which is still known as the home of jazz up to today, so it was easy for me to digest that. Growing up playing guitar and other instruments, like bass and piano, drums, harmonica, saxophone, on which I’m self-taught. Obviously living in South Africa in the sixties and seventies was not as easy as we have it today after we have democracy. It was difficult for any young black musician to get proper education in music. I was denied an entry into studying at the Pretoria Conservatory of Music but that didn’t deter me from pursuing my studies. I’m self-taught. I wrote my grades up to a diploma level in high school music teaching and I joined a band called Flood in the seventies which became very popular in South Africa, we sold about 600 000 singles at that time. I don’t think anyone has broken that record to this day. I worked with many bands until 1980 when I met up with Sipho Gumede and Kaya Mahlangu and we formed Sakhile. I was with the group for about a year and a half, left the group and joined Alec Kgauli who was just split with Sipho Mabuse from the popular Harare, and we formed the group called Umoja, and that’s where I met C???, known by the name Chicco today, and I was with the group for about a year, left the group and started a group that we would be with for about ten years called Image. We had very popular records there that we produced in the eighties. I was with that group for about ten years, but in that time I was working with the likes of Ray Phiri, producing almost everyone in the country, from Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Johnny Clegg’s Juluka, Mango Groove, all the top South African musicians.

Late eighties in South Africa the industry just went into a slump and I went overseas and lived in Germany for about a year and a half, came back, started a company with some deejays, Oscar and Christos. The reason why that company was started was because of frustration. When I came back the record companies wouldn’t give me a record contract. They considered my age, he’s a bit too old, and the industry was not even doing well. I decided from that day I won’t look for any record contract, I’m going to sign myself and sign other people. That’s how we started Kalawa Records. When we started that there wasn’t any significant independent record label in the country. The challenges were, we had to start this record label, distribute ourselves, market ourselves, do promotions, do everything. I was fortunate because I kept saving my money and I had instruments but I didn’t have the money to start the recod label so Oscar had about R2000, that’s how we started Kalawa. The first record that we did which was very instrumental and innovative and no one thought it would do anything because it was new music, no one knew what it was called actually, we didn’t have a name for that type of music. I was just playing all the instruments and playing, this will work in a club, to a groove and working with deejays, they would say, nah, this won’t work in a club that’s how the music called kwaito first started.

I was the first person to play that type of music, with the three deejays, we were the first people to come up with that music. The second album that we did with a group called Boom Shaka became the most popular group in the country. We saw the rise of the guys like Arthur following suit, we saw M’du, we saw everyone coming in. The company grew from strength to strength and since then we’ve been selling no less than 800 000 to a million records a year. The company became very successful, we were producing new signed acts, we just get people who have never been musicians and turn them into stars. Bongo Maffin, Mafikizolo now which just had a huge record over the festive season.

In the mid nineties I decided to do a solo album as Don Laka. I didn’t follow the commercial route, as almost everyone predicted that I would. I decided to go into jazz because I grew up listening to jazz and jazz happens to be my first love obviously. I recorded a jazz record which in the country, again, there has never been a record for the past 15 or 20 years of jazz, so I was again pioneering a different angle, which the people had forgotten, the record companies had forgotten. The strangest thing was that I thought it would be easy for me because of the name that I was making at the time to get a record deal, in fact it became more difficult. I went around shopping around with the finished product but no one would give me a distribution deal with that till Sony decided let’s try this, no one has done it. Ands the first record I did which was instrumental sold over 55 000, which is Platinum in South Africa, and it has been released throughout the world now, the whole of Europe. That record is Destiny. I did a follow-up with Super Nova which took me about two years to do the research on cosmology, because I never had a clue what that was. That went over 50 000, another platinum. The second instrumental again in the country to go platinum. And I recorded the third CD which is called Pyramid which has gone platinum as we speak. And the new record which is called Armageddon which is based on the 9/11 events is going almost gold now. I just started another label again called Slam Records. Because I have come to realize that shopping around for record deals won’t help, so I have to rather start these labels and do whatever I like with them. Slam Records is a dance label, I’m experimenting with kwaito music, jazz. The nice thing working small scale is I don’t have you know, there’s no bureacratic decisions that have to be made, I make my own decisions.

aryan kaganof: How do you feel about the terminology kwaijazz?

don laka: My attempt actually, to fuse, it was not American jazz, because I’m South African, I have to come up with something that reflects the culture of South Africa and the people of South Afric, more especially the new South Africa. By so doing I had to mix my experience of kwaito rhythms and the jazz experience that I have. One day I was in a shop when I was speaking about this kwai, which is an Afrikaans word actually, used in Cape Town a lot, when they things is like happening, when it’s hip, they say it’s kwaai. I like that. It’s South African. Kwaai means hip. And hip jazz. My jazz doesn’t make you fall asleep. It’s the type of jazz you’d listen to when you’re happy, when you’re sad, and you can stand up and dance. One dj picked it up and he started calling my music kwaijazz. Titles didn’t mean much to me until I realized that this reflects the new South Africa and I’m comfortable now with it.

aryan kaganof: The fusion of languages in the word kwaito is in itself significant, given the attempts of the apartheid regime to rigidly codify and keep separate the various languages and ethnic identities of the South African people.

don laka: Actually kwaito you would say is rebellious music by people who just got out of a locked room and suddenly found freedom. I remember in the seventies I had about four songs that were banned because they mixed languages, they had Zulu and Sotho in them, and therefore the radio would not play them. So when we started kwaito, the first songs that we did had a mix of Zulu and Sotho and Xhosa and all the languages in one song. It started like that and became a trend. And since we have eleven official languges I think that kwaito actually helps in creating the identity of the people in the country and their relationship with each other.

aryan kaganof: Afrikaans also seems to be integrated into kwaito culture.

don laka: Afrikaans has actually been integrated a lot in this music because it’s hip. I grew up speaking what we call tsotsitaal, it’s actually broken Afrikaans mixed with Sotho and English, it’s just a mix of languages and it became hip in the fifties, kofifi time, and it’s still hip today, we use it a lot in the music. With the eleven official languages there’s no language which is above the others now and tsotsitaal is an unofficial official language. I’m glad to say that all the languages are getting more attention in the new South Africa.

aryan kaganof: Let’s take this discussion back to the Mamelodi of the seventies. How important were Philip Tabane and Molombo on the one hand, and Lefifi Tladi and the Dashiki Poets on the other?

don laka: I was fortunate to have not lived too far from Philip and it was easy for me each time when I went to church on Sundays Philip would be practising outside and I would have a chance to listen to Philip and he was the greatest influence. Iremember my first instrument, when my mother took me to a music shop, she wanted to buy me a piano, and just because of seeing Philip Tabane playing the instrument and carrying it around, piano for me was an instrument that sits in the house and needs to be cleaned every day and I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to have this instrument that I could carry around and girls see me!I wanted to look hip! And Philip’s influence of new music, because Malombo was like new music, it’s traditional music which was played with western instruments and that really made a very big mark on me. Dashiki came from the influence of Philip Thabane and I was fortunate that the guitarist of Dashiki, Lawrence Muloesi was a very close friend who lived not far from me, a few houses away from me, and I used to go to him for guitar lessons. Not only me but a lot of guys benefited from his expertise. He learned to play like Philip and he devised his own style and learned a lot from him. So these two people were very important in my musical career and in helping me to learn new ideas and they taught me if you are different you will always make it and that people want different things. Now another important figure that I’d like to mention that really influenced me was the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. A guy called Geoff Mphakati, who was a jazz fundi in Pretoria used to call me to his place to come and listen, he used to give classes in music appreciation, he introduced me to listening to Abdullah Ibrahim and at the same time Keith Jarrett. And he said to me, “you make your choice”. I couldn’t make a choice then because Abdullah plays something which was close to me which I understood which was South African and the Cape malay thing came up a lot in Abdullah and which, if you listen to my music, it’s got a lot of Cape Malay influence in it. Geoff Mphakati introduced me to the real new world of jazz, hard bop and all the new modern jazz musicians, the avant garde jazz you know, he’s not a musician but I call him a musician because he has turned a lot of people coming from Pretoria into good musicians. He is one of the people that has made Pretoria the home of jazz before the so-called jazz appreciation societies happened in the eighties, back in the seventies he used to take us to his house, buy snacks and stuff and sit there and play and he’d say “now the concert begins” and he would play a record from the first track up to the last track. I remember in 1976 when he just came with Keith Jarret’s Live In Koln, it was on a Friday, he called me and I went to him with a friend of mine, we sat there listening until Saturday, the next day. That’s how important that music became to me and I was introduced to it by Geoff.

aryan kaganof: At the same time the year 1976 was a crucial one in the country’s political history. Aesthetics and politics have always been closely intertwined in South Africa. How does your music reflect this synthesis?

don laka: At that time Black Consciousness was the movement that really drove us to understand ourselves and know who we are, and obviously the influence of people like Dashiki who carried the flag at that time, and you couldn’t escape it, when you were at school you had to join something that had to do with protest and stuff. We were sharing books that were banned in the country. The Long Walk To Freedom we all read at school, the government banned it but we all had it, the whole school, we would read it and give it to another student and that in fact helped us to be what we are today because we understood ourselves and in our music this comes through. With us who come from the sixties and the seventies, especially the seventies, the height of apartheid, and the serious oppression of the eighties, if you listen to the music that we did, because the lyrics were banned and people thought we couldn’t write lyrics so we subjected ourselves to write lyrics that would mean nothing, but deep down, the music that we produced was protest music. It was music that would keep us hoping. And we did it in the eighties, the lyrics would be disguised and the people in the township would understand it. Today you would describe it as coded lyrics. But we understood what we were singing about. Take the song Meadowlands. The government thought at that time Meadowlands is such a nice song, it was a protest song! About people refusing to go to Meadowlands.

aryan kaganof: Obviously with the release from prison of Madiba in February 1990 there is a radical break in the political and cultural landscape. How does kwaito reflect that new kind of political arena?

don laka: We had to reflect the new politics. There was no protest against the government, that was the challenge of kwaito when we started. I remember the first record that we did, the difficulty was, what are the words? What are the lyrics now? And we started using sampled words, just using one word and use that repeatedly. I remember when we did a song called Makwere Kwere I used that word throughout and it became so popular and then people started writing on top of that basic repetiion formula and started writing words that represented the township, how people dress, how people walk, how people talk, that’s how the new language came into the music, people adopting all of the languages of the country. There are also issues like AIDS and women abuse, these are new challenges that are being brought into the music now.

aryan kaganof: When I listened to the Pyramid record I had to think about the Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s phrase “ancient to the future”. I think that’s very relevant to the transition we have in South Africa now.

don laka: I was introduced to the Art Ensemble of Chicago by Geoff Mphakati, as with most of the modern jazz music that I listened to, and he taught me to not discriminate. If you don’t understand something, listen to it and find out why you don’t understand it. And I think that is crucial to the new South Africa, if you don’t understand don’t break it before you understand it. The music on Pyramid was actually composed in the seventies and the eighties, it dates back to those days, but it had to reflect the new South Africa.

aryan kaganof: Kwaito is the first indigenous South African music form that has a significant degree of black ownership and control in terms of independent companies, marketing and production and distribution. This seems to me to be politically significant.

don laka: It is political. The other challenge when starting Kalawa was that we wanted to be totally independent. you need resources to do that. The fact that we managed to control our destiny, and the music that we played, for example we would at any time, if we felt a record was not doing well, it needs some revamping, we wouldn’t have to go to a board meeting. We would decide, this record needs injection, walk into the studio, put injection into it, next week it’s out. Three weeks later we’d find out something is happening, can we change it, we go out and change it. It’s difficult with the bureacratic major compnaies, they have been run in the same way for the past fifty years and it is clear the music industry needs something new and black musicians and black people didn’t have their own record companies in South Africa until the advent of kwaito. So we have become a signficant part of the new economy in South Africa, black owned and black controlled.

aryan kaganof: To strike a necessary critical note, kwaito seems as a movement, extremely obsessed with money, whether it be in the lyrics or the look of the video clips, a clear obsession with consumerism.

don laka: I think the problem of commerical music is that the kids want more money, they want to buy flashy cars, flashy clothes and stuff. Not only in South Africa but this problem is all over the world. You see we come from a period where money didn’t play much of a role. The records we released in the seventies were not earning money, in the eighties money was the last thing on our minds, it was to make great music. But you have to realize this is business, and why should someone else make the money while you the musician are not making the money. The new kids, the kwaito kids, realize that by the way, this is money and I think it is a necessary phase. Now they are making money they think money money money and the music suffers but I think it will taper out and level out and money and art will be equally considered, not only one aspect of it.

aryan kaganof: Kwaito is omnivorous. It feeds off sounds from all over the world. Is this perhaps a metaphor for a new sensibility in South Africa, we have joined the world, are no longer isolated from it.

don laka: We have come to accept globalisation. It has helped to make the new South Africa grow quicker, we became part of the global markets very quickly and the music too has reflected this. Another important thing to point out is that at Kalawa we looked back into the earlier period of South African music, the fifties, the forties, the sixties. I started doing this when I produced Hugh Masekela’s album Sixty. We started with Black To The Future which became one of his biggest records ever in South Africa, it sold 120 000 Sixty is actually much bigger than that, it’s now sitting at 180 000. My intention was to make music that meant a lot to Hugh when he was growing up. He sat in the studio here and played all the music and I chose the tracks that we would fit onto the album and it gave me an idea that if young kids heard this music they would love it, so we would re-introduce this period to a younger gneeration, but we wouldn’t just play it as it was in that time we would have to make it more hip, it must sound like the new South Africa, youthful, confident.And we did that. We took a track Pata Pata with Bongo Maffin, that was our first experience of this music and it became huge. We called it Makeba. The Brothers of Peace did the same thing with Mahlatini and then everyone started to follow. You have to look back and take a step forward and that’s what we’ve been doing.

aryan kaganof: You used the Soweto String Quartet on the Brothers of Peace single Zabalaza.

don laka: Well I introduced strings into reggae. I got a string quartet to come and perform on a record by Lucky Dube which was amazing for the time, I had never heard any reggae record with proper live strings on it or an orchestra, but I did that. It’s always important for me to come up with something different or something new. I like to use classical instruments because of my love for classical music so with Kalawa we used strings from the beginning and now we are introducing the big brass sounds and Brothers of Peace have got brass guys playing with them live. The kwaito sound is becoming much fuller now, we’re incorporating all the styles.

aryan kaganof: What about the jazz exiles like Mongezi Feza, Johnny Mbizo Dynai, Dudu Pukwana, so many of whom died tragically before they had the opportunity to return home, and yet their music is not known by the new generation.

don laka: I’m actually making a collection of all the exile jazz musicians and I’ll be starting to use some of their music because I think it is important that people here know that we had people who were carrying the banner of the sturggle outside during the hard times. Chris McGregor was one of the guys who spent all of his time making the whole world aware of the South African situation through his jazz.

aryan kaganof: In an earlier interview you said you would like to be reincarnated as the President of South Africa.

don laka: I understand that the President’s job is not an easy job, people think that being a President you can just push a button and things happen, for example although the economy might be growing, at the same time the poverty in the country has reached an alarming rate. So although the black middle class is growing we are forgeting about the people on the ground. If I was President I would take drastic measures to make things work for the country. We are part of the global economy but I think the most important thing to be done in this country is to alleviate poverty, is to have running water in every household, to have sanitation, which is crucial. I would enforce free education. Adult education, they need to be educated too, you need to bring them to a certain level while at the same time concentrating on the young ones.

aryan kaganof: What about the land question?

don laka: The land issue in the whole of Africa is a problem, particularly in South Africa now and if it’s not adressed as quickly as it should be it’s going to create the situation we are facing up north. We can not wait for another ten years to try to sort this question out, it has to bedone today. I think people will run out of patience with mere talking ten years down the line, so the government has to speed that up, there will never be another alternative to that.

aryan kaganof: Does kwaito music answer the question, “who are we?”

don laka: Not really. I don’t think it really does that. It’s the youth’s music. I’m probably the oldest kwaito producer in the country. At 45 I’m the only one of my age doing this. And as I said earlier the reason I’m doing this is because of what Geoff Mphakati taught me that every music is important. I have worked with classical musicians like Sibongile Kumalo, I’ll do a jazz record like my solo record, and I’ll produce the Soweto String Quartet, and I’m going to work with Bongo Maffin and Mafikizolo, any of them. I think the kwaito thing is a trend, and a commerical trend, that will reflect what the youth is doing in the township.

aryan kaganof: You said that music is one of the few things that has rejuvenated South Africa. In which way has kwaito rejuvenated South Africa?

don laka: From the political aspect, from the moral aspect, music has always been highly regarded in South Africa and used for many social functions. When we are happy people start ululating and song is just the first expression of emotions in South Africa. People will be so happy and tears will start running down their cheeks and they will start singing a song. It has always been so important even in the protest time, that groups like Blondie Makhena’s youth band kept the struggle music up there, and Stimela, you know there are so many groups to name. And now we are relaxed and the music has changed, it’s different, now we see thousands of people going to jazz concerts.

aryan kaganof: But a lot of people are critical of kwaito because it has an attitude to women that they don’t perceive as correct, or else it encourages drug use.

don laka: You see what commercial music will do it will always focus on certain issues and the media too will focus on certain issues that will make headlines. There is a lot of good kwaito out there that does not dis women and you don’t get much written about that. I remember a good quote from Paul McCartney of the Beatles when he was asked about the drug issue that one BBC journalist asked him, “we have found out that you guys are using drugs, wouldn’t it affect the youth of the world who are following you, don’t you think you are being irresponsible?” and McCartney’s answer was, “who is irresponsible between you and I, because I have tried to hide it, but you want to put it on national tv and tell the youth about it, so who is being irresponsible?” So in kwaito too you will pick up on things that are controversial and the media will blow them out of proportion. It is true because of freedom of speech in South Africa that you can expect such things to happen.

aryan kaganof: What’s the future of kwaito?

don laka: I think it’s evolving now and I’m happy that it’s evolving the way it is going. Because kwaito first started as rap music but now a lot of people are singing. I think this trend first started with Boom Shaka and we did a lot of singing with Bongo Maffin who have become an international group, they regularly perform in the United States and Europe, and Mafikizolo will go the same way.

September 11, 2006

Kwaito’s looking sharp!

Filed under: 2003 - sharp sharp! (the kwaito story) — ABRAXAS @ 5:11 pm

9 April 2003

(zola atop a mountain of fans, photo hens van rooy)

A new documentary film about kwaito culture is spreading awareness about this uniquely South African music form around the world and creating an international market for kwaito artists.

“Sharp Sharp!”, written and directed by Aryan Kaganof, was broadcast in the Netherlands on 8 April. The first film to tell the story of kwaito, “Sharp Sharp!” contains detailed interviews with all the major musicians, producers, figureheads, media commentators, industry executives and others involved in kwaito.

“Sharp Sharp!” tells the story of a music form that burst from South Africa’s computers and synthesizers after the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990.

By the time of the first democratic elections in 1994, kwaito had its first stars, Boom Shaka. Today, there is a veritable pantheon of kwaito celebrities who are idolised by millions, and kwaito is now breaking into the international market.

M’du, Zola, Arthur, Kabelo, Oskido, Don Laka and Mzambiya are just some of the artists featured in the film, which was broadcast on Holland’s prestigious RAM world culture programme.

Johannesburg-based Kaganof, who won the prize for Best Video Made In Africa in 2002 with Western4.33, is currently working on bringing “Sharp Sharp!” to South Africans as a five-part television series.

Voice of the ghetto
The music and culture of the township youth of South Africa, kwaito is the voice and language of the ghetto, speaking of the daily experiences and dreams of the first generation to come of age in the post-apartheid period.

Despite suffering a lack of recognition, and often downright disparagement from mainstream cultural institutions and figures, kwaito has forged ahead, providing employment for tens of thousands of people in the music, radio, entertainment and fashion industries.

To date, no substantial analysis of the kwaito phenomenon has been written or filmed, and the music and the scene surrounding it have often been relegated to gossip columns.

But kwaito is a force to be reckoned with. It is the site of a major sonic revolution: the dawn of the digital age in South African music.

Dominated by a radically different approach to sound, kwaito is a music of textures and repetitive modal vamping, as opposed to classical song structures. Rather than a weakness, this is kwaito’s great strength, for this is the direction that popular music culture across the world has taken since the mid-1980s and the onset of house music.

Purely SA dance music
Kwaito, then, is an addition to the library of world dance music; a uniquely South African contribution to global dance culture that is respected precisely because of its distinctive South African qualities: the languid, rolling bass lines and vocal chants that imbue this music with characteristics that are purely South African.

These chants and phrases link the music form to American hip-hop, but kwaito’s lyrics come straight from South Africa’s townships and convey the street language of these townships: the tsotsitaal, the kasitaal, the street “lingo” that is a glorious pot-pourri of all 11 official languages that puts paid to the apartheid mythology of separate development.

Kwaito is a wild, eclectic mix-up, a boiling, cooking brew of language and sound that could have happened nowhere but in South Africa.

Source: Franki Hills

this article first appeared on south africa info

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