Encore – Mandoza
The birth of any era or individual is accompanied by the sound of the voices that celebrate its advent, and the poetry in the music expresses the feelings prevalent, the concerns of the youth, the mirth in the masses at the newly born freedom, and the rhythm that leads the people into the dances of celebration of the new age. If the music of the era advances to the level where it gives birth to other music forms and styles, then one knows that such music has indeed performed its penultimate purpose and task; music is the opiate of the masses, it is reminiscent to a smile because it is easily understood by all even if the meanings of the lyrics thereof cannot be fully interpreted by those that listen to it.
I have personally loved songs whose words I did not understand, but the rhythms of the drums and the cymbals and the keyboards and the guitars and the horns, coupled with the fervent high pitched voiced of the backing vocalists singing in support of the lead voice, have often left me basking in the glory of the word and the poem expressed in the lyrics of such songs. I do not know (except from the translations of the lyrics) what Salif Keita, Oliver Mtukudzi, Ismael Lo, or Youssou N’Dour are saying in their aboriginal tongues, but the music in the songs leaves me captivated, leaves me entranced in the melody of the song, leaves me stuck to the notes in the often complex compositions that inundate my aural senses in a brew of koras, mbiras, strange sounding talking drums and strange guitars.
It is a music of celebration, of solitude, of sheer joy, of social and racial concern; it is a music of truth we need for the reconciliation of humankind, it is a music we should listen to when there is a need for us to return to ourselves as human beings and as individuals. And this week, the music that united a previously disunited people just took a stroll to the other side, and we are here waiting for an encore.
When a boy from the various boomtowns and shantytowns of Africa makes it onto the global scene as a writer or singer, I think of Dambudzo Marechera, I think of the dirty township streets where little boys and girls grow into adulthood; reliant on the measly resources and meagre blessings the world bequeaths upon them. I think not of the privileged children whose only struggles in life are with their obesity begot of the illicit cash and lucre of their corrupt parents.
I think of the boys (the George Weahs, Samuel Etoos) whose first soccer ball was made of rags, and they had to be innovative in the creation of the tools that finally made their careers. Please do forgive my plebeian stance, but I do find the stance of the privileged few in our African societies a deplorable one in the least on a regular occasion. Condescending, self-righteous, selfish, and of course privileged due to the fact that they are moneyed, it is not surprising when the child of the rich makes it in life; it is not a miracle worth celebrating: because the connections their parents have furnish the path for such a kid.
But when a Tupac Shakur makes it, it is worth a million rounds of applause, for then we know such an individual finally broke the Sisyphus Cycle and ultimately managed to settle the rock of daily problems and travails on top of the mount for good. When a prisoner leaves jail and goes on to inspire an entire human generation in song despite a background of endless hardship, we should celebrate such a life, and today, I speak of a Soweto boy who had me, my elders and my peers dancing in the 1990’s. This is the man who, with his peers, became the leading pioneers of the successful kwaito movement that began with the newly-found freedom in post-1994 South Africa and Nelson Mandela’s iconic rise to fame globally.
Mduduzi Edmund Tshabalala was born on January the 19th, 1978 and passed away on September the 18th, 2016. This giant of Kwaito music popularly known as Mandoza was an exceptional South African musician of note, and was born and raised in the Zola South section of Soweto, where he shared a house with his mother, his grandparents and two sisters. He never knew his father, his mother claiming that he was murdered the same year Mandoza was born (this seems to be a quality these poor children that end up as stars share). At the age of sixteen years he was charged with stealing a car and received a one-and-a-half year sentence, which he served in Diepkloof Prison and upon his release from incarceration, Mandoza formed the group Chiskop along with three childhood friends, S’bu, Siphiwe aka General and Sizwe. His talents were discovered by Arthur Mafokate, also known as the King of Kwaito. He with his group received their first airplay by DJ Sipho Mbatha, known as Sgqemeza, of Durban Youth Radio (he is now with Ukhozi FM). The band produced such popular anthemic hits as Uzoyithola Kanjani (full translation “How will you get it if you don’t stand up and go for it?), Klaimer (whose message speaks against empty boasting), and others. The group (Chiskop) signed its first record contract eight years after its formation and released their debut album, Akusheshi, later followed by Relax, and although Chiskop achieved great success and was widely seen to be at kwaito music’s forefront, Mandoza went on to start a successful solo career. In the year 1999 he released the top-selling (more than 100,000 units sold) album 9II5 Zola South, for which he gained a 2000 FNB South African Music Awards Best Newcomer nomination.
Mandoza always strove to give an inspirational message to Kwaito because he felt that the lyrics were just often empty and repetitive, and he used his music as a way to encourage young South Africans to set out firmly in the achievement of their goals. Never boastful but always grateful, he rightly credited much of his success to his mentor, Glenn Morris, who helped him during his drug addled early years. He released the album Nkalakatha in 2000, produced by Gabi Le Roux, which won multi-platinum status.
The title track became a crossover hit and reached the top of the charts on both traditionally black and white radio stations. This album won the Best Kwaito Music Album category and the album’s title track won the Song of the Year category at the South African Music Awards in 2001. Mandoza also won in five of the ten categories at the 2001 Metro Music Awards: Best Kwaito Artist, Best Male Vocalist, Best Album, Best Styled Artist and Song of the Year. Finally, also in 2001, Mandoza won the Best Artist – Southern Africa category at the Kora All Africa Music Awards. In 2003 Mandoza participated in the documentary film SHARP! SHARP! – The Kwaito Story, directed by Aryan Kaganof.
There are not enough accolades, and the mentions are still lacking when it comes to the true message this former prisoner delivered to the world. Starting Chiskop (Bald head) soon after his release from prison, producing a hit song (Nkalakatha) that bound together the torn racial fabric of South Africa, Mduduzi Tshabalala’s music tried to put a more socially constructive message into Kwaito. And though he did not originally like the kwaito music style, because of its lack of a message and tendency to focus on dancing and pleasure rather than on the plethora of social problems that exist in South Africa in the post-apartheid era that began in 1994, he still went on to tame it to serve the needs of the society within which he lived. This might be one of the reasons he was voted 77th in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004.
Mandoza sang in several of South Africa’s many languages, including English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and Xhosa, giving him wide appeal with South African music listeners. It is as if he knew, intrinsically, that language barriers could be broken only if people adopted the positive attitude of learning how to speak in the different tongues, and adopting other people’s languages. Language is the main tool of human communication, and the artist and the musician come in as emissaries that help people understand the full wealth it offers in the harmonious living of all.
I cannot find a better tool for use in the uniting of people in this world, and I repeat; musicians and artists are the best people to follow if one really wants to understand any language. The real wealth in the poetry of the world lies in the power of its words to unite what was previously separated, to mend what was broken. The process of reconciliation found its vehicles in such songs as Nkalakatha which could be enjoyed by all race groups, ignorant of the racial schisms inculcated into the minds of the Southern African people by the Apartheid regime. In the episodes the song was played in arenas and halls, anyone who was fortunate enough to be present could sense the spirit of unity amongst the members of the crowd present at the show where Nkalakatha (the boss or ‘top dog’) was performing.
It is said that on the day Mandoza died (September the 18th, 2016) he waited in vain for at least three hours for an ambulance to pick him at his home, and as a last resort his manager used a private vehicle to ferry Mandoza to hospital, but he sadly died in the car just before arriving at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. This recipient of the 2001 South African Music Awards (SAMA) Song of the Year for Nkalakatha, the 2006 Channel O Musical Video Awards – Best Collaboration Video Music (with Danny K), and various other awards had to wait to die.
According to his family, he was being treated for pharyngeal cancer prior to his death. This is a sad fact in the lives of the celebrated heroes of our land, if they do not die poor, they die forgotten, and I believe it right to put the blame on the governments who often use these poor ones for their campaigns but forget them when it comes to the lending of hand when it really matters. Only when one is gone do the usurpers to the throne find it convenient to use the memorial service and the funeral as platforms to deliver the empty promises they are good at spewing out their buccal cavities.
This is not an angry message, it is not a plea either, but rather it is a call for African governments to take good care of those individuals that contributed significantly towards the development of society in its various capacities. Being buried in an expensive casket and a polished granite tombstone does not erase the fact that those present at the funeral probably feigned amnesia when it came to the simple matter of the late individual’s healthcare. It is no use chanting mournful threnodic dirges and delivering odes and reading eulogies at the funeral if the dead one was not well taken care of in their lifetimes.
When the boss leaves the building, those that relied on his presence to see the next day come suffer, and when a giant falls, the band of poor souls that depended on his immense strength to carry their burdens are left feeling hopeless. I cannot exactly understand what it is that changes a man into being an individual who strives to change the world for the better. What I know in testament is that a simple boy from the dusty streets of the biggest township south west of Johannesburg had a world dancing in unity to his tune. And I am proud, because now I know that it is not the size of the dog in the fight that really counts, but it is the size of the fight in the dog that really matters when it comes to achieving one’s goals in life. Hamba kahle Nkalakatha, lala ng’oxolo Godoba and, inja yam’, you were always the best cowboy among us Senor Mandoza. Rest in glory bro… whilst we wait here for an encore.
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