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.
“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.