“It’s a beautiful thing man, music is a beautiful thing,” Mac Miller jokingly said on his NPR Tiny Desk performance. But nothing could be closer to the truth. Listening to music and singing together has been shown to impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connections.
The music-events industry is built on this fact. But not all events harness the beauty of umculo. Cue the Beast, People Series that takes place tomorrow at 4ROOM Creative Village in Tembisa. It’s a sequence of gigs around Gauteng, which was founded by DJs and producers from various parts of the province.
It includes founder DJ BlaQt from Vosloorus, Soweto’s DJ Medicine, DJ Killa Kane and Backdraft of Mambisa. “The gig started in Vosloorus as Beats, People & Vosloorus. This is the second installment in Tembisa, we’re headed to Soweto with the next gig,” Backdraft tells me. “What connected us and still connects us to this day is our love for the music and I believe it is the reason our name starts with Beats,” Backdraft, who is the musician in the clique says.
“The purpose of the show is to grow audience, have people appreciate what we do because we’ve realised that ja, the vibes that we bring are not necessarily mainstream and is not what people get all the time. They actually want to get it. We are bringing it to them and taking it to different hoods,” says Protea Glen’s DJ Medicine.
Much as this is about music and how it brings people together, the guys understand the potential ecosystem such a movement presents for stakeholders themselves as well as entrepreneurs e lokxion. “…because the whole thing is for us to do our shit you know, benefit from our shit and grow our shit with the people that like what we’re doing, without compromising the vibe. But also including the people that are in that hood we’re going to, and making it grow in that hood,” Medicine says.
There’s already merchandise like T-shirts and hoodies sold at their gigs. The merch is simply laden with the aesthetically pleasing name of the movement which is also their logo. “Well the name was simply to do with what my vision was; the music and all people in and around the hood or townships,” BlaQt explaining the origin of the name. “Tembisa will be our second edition of the Beast, People Series…we had great success in my hood. We’re preparing for the next gig as we’re talking.”
Vosloo was a success that set a high bar for the succeeding hosts, but Backdraft is convinced his Tembisa has a unique proposition. “Our geographic position, we are where Ekurhuleni starts or ends, depending on how one views this. We attract people as far as Pretoria, Centurion, Midrand, Alexandra, Daveyton, Kempton Park and even Joburg. We are a melting pot for different cultures and offerings. We have our very own celebrities, artists and DJs who hardly ship their skill beyond hood boarders, therefore providing an experience that one will only experience in our hood,” he says.
The gig at 4ROOM has eight DJs on the line-up with Backdraft himself and the Musa Mashiane Trio as the night’s only live performers.
Dance music’s purity of purpose is something to be admired. There is no confusion about its reason for being, no ostentation. It exist to get bodies rhythmically moving to its high tempo and hypnotic groove as it mesmerizes the psyche into ecstasy and synchronizes our heart beats to its energetic bop. Which feels like freedom to the soul.
Muzi’s music also feels like freedom. Freedom from the negativity that clouds one’s perspective of the future, living in the Southern tip of Africa in the early 21st century. My first encounter with this urban Zulu’s music was after he electrified the crowd at the South African leg of the culture-vulturing Afro Punk festival in the new year of 2019 in Joburg.
I promptly went through his second album AFROViSiON after that related experience and then the album became a mainstay in my playlist to life.
AFROViSiON was implicitly an album about his struggles, laced with dance grooves which primarily employed catchy percussive progressions on attention grabbing synthetic chords and pads. What made the project unique was Muzi’s vocal texture, content and Zulufied model C cadence, which appealed to both the snotnose-Braamfontien arty coconut and the dusty Carvela-wearing mahlalela in Tembisa.
Crossover appeal is highly valued in the music industry, but usually limited to racial lines. In my not-so humble opinion, music that crosses over economic class is of a higher value, which is what Muzi’s music does so beautifully.
In his third offering, titled Zeno, Muzi maintains his masterful skills as a dance producer but in his lyrics one gets the distinct impression that the struggle is over.
In the Amapiano influenced pseudo love song Sondela, he drops a braggadocios mack on a shorty, making it clear that he is not intimidated by her social status or looks
Bangitshela ukuthi ungumpetha sondela ntombi
They tell me you are the shit girl!
I don’t give a fuck, come closer so we can get together.
A very loose translation…
Big boy now with the big dreams,
I see you in it, that’s a big dream…
Vans all day, I bet you know that.
I’m gonna be big, I bet you know that…
I Love how this dude exudes confidence through his music without coming across as arrogant or fake-humble. On Ngeke with Zithulele of BCUC, he attempts an acapella Zulu folk song, where urban ninjas are warned to rather step into the fighting circle to prove themselves as men. Instead of prancing around like peacocks thinking that they are better than the rest of the homies in a rural homestead, because that kind of behaviour could possibly lead to their families having to dress in black attire for a year mourning the death of their beloved son. That joint fills me up with a nostalgic yearning for my initiation ceremony where bitchass niggerisms were not tolerated, and heavy doses of toxic masculinity were indoctrinated into the impressionable minds of young men.
My favourite cut in the project has to be the more sombre Sunshine in which he relates his feelings about some sort of traumatic event that occurred in his life.
…Hoping all my blessing don’t go away,
I’m hoping the sun shines on me…
Ngisaba noku bheka isibuko, strangers in my room,
They didn’t take my life,
But it feels like I died that night,
Pushing away those I love,
Angazi kwenze njani,
but it feels like I died that night…
I strongly suspect that the ninja was a victim of crime as it is so often the case in South Africa. The feelings that arise from such an event are undoubtedly serious and persistent but what does not kill you should only make you stronger. Life in the concrete jungle follows the same as of nature. Only the strong survive.
In Untitled 45 and NguniLanding any misgivings about Muzi’s ability to produce house music in the purest form without vocals, but just ‘head-banging-while-your-tongue-is sticking-out’ beats on dope melodies. In the easily accessible Mncane he features Samthing Soweto with no vocal input from Muzi. I feel if he can get the video out for this joint it will raise the album’s buzz to new levels.
This is an excellent album, listen to it if you consider yourself a music lover, if not. Then why bother reading this shit anyway?
I’M of the strong belief that the location in which one choses to consume music at, has an effect on how the songs are received. But specifically listening to an artist’s album, in a place where they were born sorta gives you a high-definition experience of the body of work.
This realisation came as I listened to Mandisi Dyantyis’s album Somandla, while in Port Elizabeth,his place of birth. I’ve had the 12-track album on my playlist for well over a month now; it’s a great body of work. But struu no lie, being eBhayi just for a few days, I would say gave me an unfiltered understanding of Somandla. This could also be a strong placebo effect. But ag, the latter fits well with me story.
The opening track Molweni is poignant in how it not only welcomes you with a warm greeting to this 59 minute journey, but it’s the only joint on the album without instruments. Dyantyis choses to sing this ditty in acapella, as if offering his true self first, to the listener. The acapella jogged my memory to The Soil, pre-Samthing Soweto-exit.
Dyantyis’s experience in music is ever present on the album, managing to genuinely cater for the hard jazz cat and also for the lover of soul, who enjoys sweet melodies and harmonies. Dyantyis works a lot in theatre, as a composer and arranger for plays and movies while he’s also been a church choir conductor and also played in a band.
The vivacity of the way the instruments are played and arranged on Kuse Kude, it can trip you into thinking the song is a jovial one, but a closer listen to the lyrics, you pick-up the irony. He talks about how far we are from getting it right as human beings, if we still live in a world where youth rapes their elderly and kids are sexually assaulted by adults.
I first came across Dyantyis through the title track of the album, Somandla with the well-shot video a few months ago. Made sense why the album has the said title. Most of the songs have an air of melancholy and are like a long conversation with the Creator, a dialogue which at times is without words.
The song Olwethu is a case in point. You need not get the backstory to feel the song’s sadness. Olwethu is Dyantyis’s late younger brother, whose passing hit the musician hardest. “I had lost some people before, but losing him, I could not deal with it because, for me he was a young life full of potential,” Dyantyis said in his EPK.
Kode Kube Nini is the kinda track I can play for most people-be it a struggling artist, a mother praying for their child to get off drugs or a damsel waiting for marriage- because it carries a universal question, ‘how much longer should I wait till things go right?’ The song talks to one’s patience and endurance.
I appreciated the slight change of mood in the latter stages of the album, with songs like Molo Sisi and Ndimthanda. Dyantyis has a beautiful voice, but the latter stands out as his best singing performance on the album. It allowed him to show off some dexterity and it’s also a dope joint of a fella simply macking on an attractive female. Ndimthanda also celebrates love and the beauty of attraction’s simplicity, even for a couple that’s been together for a long time.
This album has been nominated in the South African Music Awards in the Best Jazz category alongside Sibusiso Mash Mashiloane’s Closer to Home, Exile by Thandi Ntuli, Bokani Dyer Trio’s Neo Native and Tune Recreation Committee’s Afrika Grooves with the Tune Recreation Committee. He stands next to some renowned names in that category, but if Dyantyis doesn’t walk away with it, I advise the judges drive down to Port Elizabeth and listen to Somandla. They’ll get it.
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.