SAMTHING Soweto kept his word, by sharing his side of the story about no longer being part of acapella group The Soil and how that affected him and his family. “…It was tough. I chilled by myself ekhaya, endlini and I watched it all happen from my TV screen. My Mom will testify, we switched off the TV whenever The Soil came on.”
With deliciously warm lighting on him and the band at the Joburg Theatre’s Lesedi stage, Samkelo was an arm’s length away from his eager audience, creating an intimate setting. At times it felt like being at the Orbit, without the dining.
Like the future of Eskom, Sam’s set on the night at was divided into three sections. He first performed with his band at the centre of the stage, then moved to the corner of the platform where he dedicated his time to talk about The Soil and belted some songs in acapella and for the last section he went back to his chair on the middle of the stage to re-join the band, performing his upbeat tracks backed up by CD jays.
Rocking a Maxhosa cardigan,Sam began his narrative where it all began, at Tetelo Secondary School’s assembly where he heard the choir sing Ndikhokhele Bawo. “So, that’s how I met The Soil. The song was led by uBuhle and I was like ‘yoh, I need to sing with these people.’ Because I had this idea, that we should be this group that sings songs, songs that we can afford to sing. And I say afford, because everything out there was programmed or played with instruments and we couldn’t afford that, so I was like let’s use our voices.”
Samthing sang Ndikhokhele Bawo on Friday night with the audience joining him and for about five minutes, the theatre turned into a church service with most of the room on its feet singing the solemn song.
But two years prior to meeting with The Soil members, Samkelo Mdolomba had been arrested. “…What’s funny is that we were robbing people at a cemetery, e Avalon. It was a scary thing.” He got a suspended sentence, which meant not going to prison.
The reason he thought acapella would work, was because during his detention in Krugersdorp, he and his inmates sang often. “I found out that you could add creativity to acapella. That’s how I learnt that you can take a Kwaito song and sing it using Gumba Fire (prison style of singing) and something else comes out.”
An air of nostalgia swept through the room when he sang The Soil’s Joy, exactly how they sang it as a group-impersonating his former group members. “I think we did that for about six years, unsinged and undiscovered but everyone knew us.”
It’s during this period that the group met Native Rhythms boss, Sipho Sithole who was very keen on signing The Soil to his label. “To be honest that’s where the trouble started,” Sam told his audience.
So while The Soil was on the verge of reaping the rewards of their six year toil, Sam was simultaneously teaching himself how to produce which resulted in his solo project This N That Without Tempo and he was also making music with another clique, The Fridge. “So he (Sithole) set up a meeting and sat us down. He said these songs sound the same. He was talking about the Samthing Soweto stuff, but I think he was mistaking it for The Fridge. He said the Fridge sounds similar to The Soil…and we didn’t agree. Then of course I left, and no one had the guts to say exactly why I left, on both parties.”
Silence on the matter gave rise to rife speculation on why he was no longer part of the group. Stories ranging from him being somewhat of a rebel, to being unpaid for his work and even being dubbed a trouble kid with a drug problem. “For your information, I wasn’t doing drugs at the time-I was actually a vegetarian, I didn’t even drink cold drink. I did stuff before in my younger years. The herb and even harder stuff like madrax, but never when I was with The Soil or doing music, it was way before.”
“I need you guys to know, I never fought with the guys, it was never like that. It was really odd to me also, I’m hoping one day I’ll have a show and I’ll have them here and they can say exactly what happened from their side. We had the meeting kwa Bab’Sipho Sithole, and then tomorrow we’re not talking, I didn’t understand why.”
Sam was comfortable to talk about this now, because he and The Soil members recently started talking. “I was talking to Ntsika and he said sorry. He said ‘now I understand what you were trying to do all those years ago.”
Speaking to Tha Bravado after the show Sam’s younger brother, Musawenkosi Mdolomba said “Seeing him now, after everything [he’s gone through] I’m still in shock that he is where he is because usually, when things go badly for most people, it’s hard to recover and be as big as he is now.”
Sam’s two hours on stage were emotive and quite personal. The structure of the show was indicative of his musical astuteness and his versatility as an artist.
It’s fitting that he addressed the elephant in the room, before releasing his debut album in a few months, so no one brings up his past with The Soil again.
While most of the world unites in their muting of R. Kelly’s music, DJ Akio on his first night playing in Bangkok learnt that locals couldn’t be bothered by the world’s latest fad. “Surprisingly they haven’t muted R Kelly yet. The DJ before me dropped a couple joints and people were getting down to it like it was Kelly Rowland,” says the DJ.
Akio was DJing at a spot called Marumba Bar last week Friday, showing the people in Thailand why he’s known as the most Shazamed DJ in Africa. “It was cool. Cops shut us down at 2AM so a bit anticlimactic. These first bookings in a new country are always a feeling out process because you never know what goes down. You really have to give the crowd a taste of everything and then process it as you go.”
He plays another set tonight at Marumba Bar and tomorrow at the Continental Hotel Pool Deck for Sunset Splash. Early into the year the Kool Out man put out a list of cities he wants to tour in 2019, with Bangkok sitting at the top. “Most of the cities I mentioned I got a seed planted or a plug that side. I got a lot of goals I keep to myself, because people don’t need to know what you’re cooking but sometimes it’s good to make them public to motivate you further,” the DJ says.
“I feel pretty confident about getting at least three more this year. The opportunities are there. It’s mainly about timing. Realistically I can only go to the city once in a year so I want to get the most out of the experience.”
He’s been in the Asian country for more than a week now and that his gigs are far apart in days, bar tonight and tomorrow’s sets, this has given him time to explore the metropolitan in its fullness. “I love how open the city is. Life is on the streets. Everyone eats outside. You always feel the warmth of other people and it’s also mad safe.”
“I still handle all my Kool Out responsibilities so I spend a good portion of the day working and then I just hit the streets and engage. People think I’m joking when I say I just want to be surrounded by Asian people. I’ve been making it a point to go out and find basketball courts so I can run some pickup games with the locals.”
Rapper Soulja Boy has forced his way back into the mainstream, through the countless interviews he’s done on various media platforms in the US. But despite this, Akio was shocked by the number of times he’s heard Soulja’s Crank That in Bangkok. “It’s like Sister Betina out here. I don’t know why, but I’m assuming it’s because of the dance. They get hella white tourists out here and I think Young Draco stays big with that demographic so it stays on the playlist.”
Akio says Hip Hop remains on the final frontier in Thailand, like most parts of Asia. “While there is a new school/trap market emerging, it’s still very Pop and EDM. I feel like there is a place for me to make an impact, but I’m really gonna have to spend some time here to figure out gaps.”
The DJ isn’t sure whether he’ll fly back straight to Mzansi. “I’m booked for two events at SXSW in Austin, Texas so I might go straight to the States from Bangkok.”
IT’S one thing to win an award deliberated over by a panel of industry experts, but it’s another to be chosen by the people. The significance of this is that, ordinary people go out of their way to vote for you because they genuinely believe and vibe with you, even the OGs.
“…The legendary Zubz telling me that my music is incredible and exactly what the game needs. He had a lot of praise for me, which was a shock considering I didn’t even think he had heard about me,” says Touchline. The rapper was reflecting on a moment with OG emcee Zubz the last letter, at the SlikourOnLife Verse of the Year awards in Braamfontein last week. Touchline won the Hennessey People’s Choice Award, with 700 votes.
The Muthaland artist says he believed he could win, but didn’t think it would actually happen. “Fortunately I have manged to build a core fan base that holds me down in times like these. Plus, they really relate to 5Grand which is the song that got me the award. I can now attack some of the toughest situations knowing that they have got my back,” he says.
In a statement, awards founder Stogie T said “These awards were created to salute Hip Hop and to celebrate skill and the art form of MC’ing.”
Touchline’s storytelling is soaked in township syntax, delivered in great word play and hard-hitting lyrics. Because of his skill, he’s being compared to Pro Kid, especially after releasing the heartfelt The Procedure after Pro’s passing last year, where he rapped on the Uthini Ngo Pro beat.
This comparison can come with a lot of pressure for a young artist trying to certify his place in the game. “It’s only motivation, the only pressure is from me to hit the heights that I truly believe I can hit. The pressure is never external, being compared to my idol only validates me doing this for so many years.”
The award winner promises to release new music this year, he’s already released Celaukuthi which he did with DJ Citi Lytes.
The ceremony was attended by over a 100 Hip Hop heads in the industry such as Sabelo Mkhabela, Azizzar Mosupi, YFM’s DJ Sabby and MTV Base’s Sandile Ntshingila among the list attendees. Some of the night’s winners include Kid Tini, Kwesta and Laylizzy.
“It’s hard for me to look at things [problems] and then have a simple answer for it. ‘These people hate these other people because of colour or this or that’-nah, it’s often really complex and people don’t wana hear that ’cause that takes thinking,” says Samthing Soweto.
“…Constantly, I find that in politics and a lot of things in life, that we want quick answers. It’s like ‘why do I suffer, I suffer because I don’t pray to God ka khulu if I prayed five times a day, six times a day, maybe things will be better'”
Referring to a Plato quote on democracy, Sam explains how most people want instant and simple solutions to their trials without necessarily understanding the process and order of things in life. No one is better positioned to talk about patience and process like Sam, who for a long time, carried the insipid tag of being a ‘former The Soil group member’ this is while the acapella trio sold-out shows, won awards and toured the world singing songs he wrote.
I have an interview with Samthing Soweto on the upper level at the Joburg Theatre; the red carpeted floor would have you thinking we’re inside a casino, but our conversations aren’t a gamble. The chat is the most earnest I’ve had with the artist, ranging from African history, audiobooks, and content creation to religion. This while rain gently comes down outside, all over Johannesburg. For two nights this weekend, Samthing Soweto will be performing at the Joburg Theatre for his Samthing Soweto Tribute.
In the last 24-36 months he’s detach himself from that aforementioned tag, rebuilding his brand and introducing himself to the greater South African public.
“They call me the feature guy now,” says the vocalist on Akanamali, bursting into laughter. “It’s nice man, it’s like a drug. There are very few things in life that you could do, to make people happy just to see you. Like literally you showing up, makes someone’s day. I only started understanding this recently to be honest. It’s a privilege at most, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s fleeting- today that could be the case, but tomorrow I know that it might not be. Because now it is, I’m just happy to live through it-do I wana prolong it? Of course, it’s nice.”
The small contingent fans of the man’s music, long thought of him as a great artist, but the Sowetan has newfound fame and fans, who have faces of bewilderment when seeing him in a queue at a retailer or at the ATM. “People lose their minds and ask ‘why am I in line’. I guess ’cause people think nice song means money, but I’d ask the same people nami, how many of them actually bought the song? I’m not mad about that, I’m really happy.”
“…I truly believe music should be free, because like, everything else is money. I think having a song should be like a bonus to life. Like uvuke one day, if every artist drops music you can get it for free and then you pay to go see them perform or whatever.”
Samthing remains an independent artist, but signed a distribution deal with Platoon. “They are a distribution company and their core business is also artist development.”
The last three to four years haven’t only seen Samkelo Mdolomba become a celebrity, but the artist has also become accessible to his fans, whether through his One at One shows on Facebook or through the media where he’d detail his multifaceted past in interviews. His vulnerability indicates his growth. “I just know what it feels like not to have fans, like have fans that are fans of your music but not know who you are, I just know that….and because I come from that, The Soil. People knew my songs, they didn’t know I was the one singing there. Even the video ye Baninzi, abo Ntsika are literally singing like they’re me on that thing, and they had to do that because I wasn’t there and I respect them for that.”
He’s cool with his former crew, but says he’ll talk more broadly about his time with The Soil this weekend at the Samthing Soweto Tribute. “I think I’ll be talking about everything, I’ll talk about The Soil-because no one knows really. I have to talk, I’m tired of holding it in, and people need to know. And now that we’re fine with the guys and everybody, I think it’s time to speak now.”
His album is nearly done and should be out in the middle of the year. Late last year he released two singles, Telefone and iFridge which are lyrically Samthing Sowetoesque, but are sonically upbeat, something his new fans have gotten use to thanks to the collaborations he’s done with House producers. “It was a direction I wanted to take last year, but I’ll be honest this year I’ve taken another direction. I recently started working with DJ Maphorisa. We’re working on really dope songs, I can’t wait for everybody to hear them.”
“…He’s [Maphorisa] an amazing producer. He has an amazing team that does amazing work. He has this ear you know…he hears music in a different way and he’s very conscious of what use to work k’dala. He’s the type of producer who’ll say ‘ku mele siyenze ingoma efana na le’ he’s very nostalgic based and that’s where he wins ka khulu,” says Samthing.
Backpackers don’t get it confused, coz niggas is icy, it ain’t got nothing to do with the music.
Typically, if one were to be quizzed on which emcee dropped that line in a song, the most probable answer would be Lloyd Banks, The Game or a Fabolous, because of their fondness of ice-cold diamonds over their fingers and around their necks hanging like chandeliers. But that’s a line spat by J. Dilla in his track Make Em Envy.
Such is the deliberate and genuine contradiction of this genius producer, who will forever be known as a master sampler who gave our generation unimaginable sounds of Hip Hop, Soul and Jazz. The mention of his name will instantly have you thinking of classic albums such as Like Water For Chocolate by Common, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Slum Village’s Fantastic vol.2. Because of the purity and good moral standing of the music he made, people were quick to assume that if he wasn’t behind his MPC chopping beats, he was on the street alongside the Black Panther party preaching Black Nationalism and saluting every black man as his brother. But that wasn’t the case with the man whose real name was James Yancey.
“People put him in a category of what they think he’s like, but they don’t realise he was about his links. Dilla was always telling Madlib ‘man you gotta get your chain, I know a place that’ll do it…” said Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf in documentary.
We often forget that before artists come into their own, they are normal beings that live in an environment that influences how they see and engage with the world. Dilla grew up in the cold streets of Detroit, Michigan around regular niggas you’d find in the hood, who are normally seen as vanity slaves for their appreciation of the finer things in life.
Dilla met T3 and Baatin in high school and they formed what would be known as Slum Village. After releasing their debut album, Fantastic Vol.1 in 1997, the group was hailed as the new Tribe Called Quest – the torch bearers of conscious Hip Hop and all things soulful and Pan African. The comparison bothered Dilla, because Slum’s lyrics weren’t anything adjacent to the stuff Tribe rapped about.
“It was kinda fucked up because people put us in that category. I mean, you gotta listen to the lyrics of the shit. Niggas was talking about getting head from bitches. It was like a nigga from Native Tongues never woulda said that shit. I don’t know how to say it. It’s kinda fucked up because the audience we were trying to give to were actually people we hung around. Me, myself, I hung around regular ass Detroit cats. Not that backpack shit that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack. But like I said, I understand to a certain point. I guess that’s how the beats came off on some smooth type of shit,” Dilla once said in an interview.
The quote highlights Dilla’s realness to himself and who he is. Being compared to Tribe and the likes of De La Soul, he could’ve easily switched up and ditched the Detroit fella he grew up as, but he never did that. Instead, he chose to vent out his ignant nigga shit through his alter ego, Nigga Man. “…definitely an alter ego, he called him Nigga Man. He’ll start talking about the Range, the Dilla ‘A’ with the fifth wheel on the back…” said August Greene’s Karriem Riggins in the Still Shinning documentary. Dilla’s hood element came out when he stepped in the booth and when he wasn’t creating beats.
It is known that he’s by far the best producer of our time, but his persona is often shelved away as something that wasn’t truly J.Dillaesque. So as you bump your head to some of his most charming beats on this Dilla Month, just get to know the man behind the beat.