IN a country where stars come and go as rapidly as the latest music fad, Mandoza is the real thing, a bona fide talent with loads of real star quality.
It first became apparent when Mandoza surfaced as part of kwaito group, Chiskop, and was confirmed in 1999 with the release of one of last year’s top-selling (100 000 units and counting) albums, 9 II 5 Zola South which also earned Mandoza a 2000 FNB South African Music Award nomination as Best Newcomer.
Then, in 2000, Mandoza’s talent was once again on blazing style on the multi-platinum album, Nkalakatha. The album produced a smash-hit in the form of the title track which surprised many in the South African music industry by becoming a genuine crossover song, hitting the top of the charts on both traditionally black and white radio stations. The Boss Remixes of Nkalakatha have also proved as popular with a wide range of music fans.
Nkalakatha once again saw Mandoza working with Gabi “Ibomvu" Le Roux, a Cape based producer whose touch is clearly golden. “Nkalakatha" the title track (which is also offered up as a Dub Mix version) is a larger-than-life, booming slice of kwaito sound that will have you grabbing for your dancing shoes. It’s there as a celebration of Mandoza’s achievements and a thank-you note to all the people have contributed towards the artists' success.
But perhaps most surprising for hard-core Mandoza fans might be songs like “Verstaan" and “Vukani" which benefit from a thorough and fitting traditional music approach. The former is catchy as all hell and includes a great hook that harks back to the heady days of mbqanga while “Vukani" rests on a slower groove, blending kwaito with hip hop. “Sikathi Sewashi" features Tokollo from TKZee in a track, which is among the album’s stand-outs and showcases Mandoza’s vocals in excellent form.
Of the musical vibe underpinning Nkalakatha, Mandoza says: “I’m proud to say that we have pulled it off. The album has a real good mix of slow jam and strong, strong grooves with a message. This album is a true reflection of my feelings," Mandoza adds. “I don’t write lyrics cause they sound good. Any song from Mandoza is going to be the truth. Honest!"
And including a message in his music is very important to Mandoza or M’du Tshabalala as is his given name.
Life was not easy in the Tshabalala household in Zola South (Soweto) where Mandoza lived with his two sisters, mother and grandparents. “There was lots of love, really. But my father drank too much. I mean we could be starving to death in the house but he would find cash for himself somewhere. We gave him plenty of chances but he kept messing up."
Growing up in the hard-edged area of Zola was also pretty fraught, with the gangster life looming large over the lives of all youngsters in the township something made all the more enticing by Zola’s unemployment rate. And then there was the small matter of a jail sentence metered out to Mandoza for stealing a car.
“I was just a teenager when it happened, just 16. And you know, it was hard to resist the older guys in Zola, who were gang members and who were always pressuring the younger kids into taking part in crime. So I landed up in Sun City (Diepkloof jail) with the old timers for one-and-a-half years. It was hard. Even basic things like in jail you eat twice a day only and I wasn’t used to that. Also staying in one place for the whole day and seeing the same people everyday drove me mad. But in Sun City I dreamed about becoming a real musician and singer so this really is a dream come true."
But Mandoza came out of jail, and instead of finding his way back onto the streets, set his sights on becoming an artist of note, inspired greatly in this dream by his mother. “My mother always believed in me. She knew that there was something different about me because I liked music big time. My family is churchgoers so gospel music was always around. And then I used to listen to the Toyota Top 20 on the radio and loved the R&B sounds coming out of it."
Together with equally music-mad childhood friends, S’bu, Siphiwe and Siszwe, Mandoza formed Chiskop. The group was not an overnight success. “We had been together for eight years and we were almost ready to give up when we got our deal," recalls Siphiwe. But after the release of their debut album, Klaimer, and the success of Ghetto 2000, Chiskop who has this year just released another full-length album - are at kwaito’s forefront.
Although the Chiskop family remains supportive, Mandoza’s deep-seated desire to do a solo project gnawed away at him. “But I had to wait until the time was right. Everyone who knows me was encouraging me to do my solo stuff. I think people first saw my potential during my stage performances. I am very different on stage. Sometimes when I’m singing I feel like crying. When I’m singing “Angikhohlwa Langiphuma Khona" for example, a song on my album, I talk about my roots. The lyrics talk about the fact that when I was a baby I used to fantasise about what I am now. It seems like this was meant to happen.?br>
In fact, Mandoza is known for his ability to tell sometimes heart-breaking, moving tales about streetlife, turning him into something of an urban poet.
His unique vocal style and delivery add real impact to Mandoza’s lyrics. “Most of my songs are about the ghetto life. It’s about what’s happening in the ghetto the way people dress, the way we drink, the music we listen to, just the way we do things. Even though I’m now successful, I always must remain connected to my roots. If I move out of the ghetto, I still need to go back and see my mother and make sure she’s all right and after that I’m going to chill with my friends. The ghetto is where I get my lyrics. People must hear what I’m saying and understand it. The best kwaito describes the life black people are leading. The only problem is that many kwaito artists are doing it for a quick buck and not the love of it like us, talking about important things."
And few albums in the pretty over-subscribed kwaito market do this as well as 9115 Zola South and Nkalakatha. Indeed the latter has earned Mandoza a 2001 South African Music Award for Best Kwaito Music Album. The album’s title song was also named Song Of The Year at the same awards event, in a category that’s entirely based on popular opinion. This, along with Mandoza’s scooping of five of the 10 categories at the 2001 Metro Music Awards - Best Kwaito Artist, Best Male Vocal, Best Album Nkalakatha, Best Styled Artist and Song Of The Year for his smash hit “Nkalakatha" confirm once and for all his superstar status.
Biography as released by CCP Records