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Thobejane, Mabi (South Africa)  
Mabi Thobejane
© Steve Gordon

MABI was born in Mamelodi, and was influenced by the women of the Balobedu tribe drumming in the next street. He watched them very carefully, noticing not only how they hit the drum, but where. Mabi's parents did not share his enthusiasm for drumming, and beat him constantly as they believed he was destined to be a priest.

Instead of stopping, Mabi started making his own drums, fetching the skins from the local tannery, and playing them in front of Charlie Kguludi's shebeen.

Not all of Mabi's family frowned on music. His uncle, Phillip Tabane - a phenomenal guitarist, recruited him as the drummer for one of the hottest bands in South Africa in the 70's, The Malombo Jazzmen, an apprenticeship which laid a very solid foundation for Mabi's later work.

Mabi toured with Malombo internationally, and during this time was exposed to music of the African diaspora, in both the United States, and also in England. He was deeply inspired by the music of Miles Davis, whom he encountered in San Francisco.

percussion, vocals
Genre: African Jazz, traditional / indigenous
In 1976 Mabi returned to South Africa, and to the repression and havoc following the Soweto killings. The period was a disruptive one for artists, and consequently the various projects which Mabi conceived during this time came to nought. It was only to be three years later in 1979, that Mabi teamed up with Sipho Gumede and Khaya Mahlangu, to form the innovative jazz fusion band, Sakhile.

Although Sakhile achieved great profile on "struggle" platforms, the music was not playlisted, and the two albums, whilst acclaimed, were not commercially successful. Sakhile dissolved, and Mabi recorded for the solo albums of co-Sakhile members. Thus Sakhile served as the platform which introduced Mabi to the mass audience, and opened new doors for him as a session artist, well into the 1980's. Once again, he hit the road, travelling to the United States with a musical. Sakhile re-formed in 1987, and during 1988/9, the group was invited to perform on anti-apartheid platforms in Switzerland, Italy, and the (then) USSR. Working under the musical direction of exiled composer Caiphus Semenya, Mabi and other Sakhile members served as the backing band for the South African artists who performed at the Nelson Mandela Tribute in London's Wembley Stadium.

With the return of the exiles in 1991, Sakhile again disbanded, as members took separate paths. Mabi did numerous session jobs during this time, including theatrical work with playwright/artist Matsemela Manyaka, and also taught percussion at FUNDA. It was at the Grahamstown festival in 1995 that Sipho Gumede introduced Mabi to Robert Trunz of M.E.L.T.2000 (then B&W Music), a meeting which resulted in Mabi working in B&W's "Outernational Meltdown" series.

This project brought together artists including Airto Moreira, Pops Mohamed, Madala Kunene and Sipho Gumede, and served to offer Mabi a creative renaissance, which eventually led to him recording his debut album - "Madiba" (BW086). This album has been described as "an intensely personal record chronicling his personal odyssey and struggle for self expression, ...and the realisation of an ambition he has nurtured for more than twenty years and is testament to his perseverance and fighting spirit."

Mabi Thobejane
© Steve Gordon

These days, Mabi is in demand as never before, making new friends and creating music with a range of collaborators from all over the world, including Barungwa, on whose album, The Messengers, he appears. Mabi now also works regularly with the Cape Town percussion group Amampondo, on projects such as the Juno Reactor collaboration. Mabi is still doing what comes naturally, still beating the hell out of those drums and still running to the beat.
  Recordings : Thobejane, Mabi


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