The music industry is known for being fickle, the latest hot sound and/or artist might be trending and popular now but everything has a lifespan. Kwaito artists are no exception. The average artist can release one or two hits/albums only to disappear from the industry.
However in any industry you will always find those rear breeds who manage to stand the test of time and beat the odds. How these guys do it is anyone’s guess.
I have put together a list of 10 kwaito artists (including groups/bands) who have managed to evolve and stay relevant in the game. This is my opinion by the way and you’re welcome to add your thoughts at the end of this article. In no particular order:
- Kabelo Mabalane
- Thebe Lenyora
- DJ Cleo
- Big Nuz
- Arthur Mafokate
1. Kabelo Mabalane
Kabelo Mabalane aka Bouga Luv started out as a member of the 90’s super group TKZEE. Along with fellow band members, Zwai Bala and Tokollo Tshabalala (Magesh) they broke through in 1997 with the single, Phalafala.
After that single things only got better for the group with successful follow-up albums, Halloween and Guz 2001 (Tkzee Family LP’s).
In 2001 Kabelo released his debut solo album, Everybody Watching though Electromode Music. That album was well received thanks to the single, Pantsula for Life and Bouga Luv the Kwaito superstar was born.
His follow up albums namely Rebel with a Cause (2002), and the Beat goes on (2003), The Bouga Luv Album (2004) were successful commercially and by 2005 he was considered a kwaito legend.
During that period of fame and fortune his demons caught up with him. He later announced that he had struggled with alcohol and substance abuse when he was at the peak of his career.
But he managed to overcome all of that and become a born again Christian, label owner and an avid road runner by taking part in the annual comrades marathon race.
And as the saying goes you can’t put a good man down!
2. Thebe Lenyora
Thebe was discovered by renowned Talent Scout/DJ and Co-founder of Kalawa Jazmee Records, Oskido Mdlongwa better known as DJ Oskido in 1996.
He was signed immediately to the newly founded Kalawa Records alongside his long time music collaborator, Brue “Dope” Sebitlo after the pair performed the soon- to- be hit song “Philly”.
Thebe and Bruce were inseparable in the studio and this evident when Thebe released hit after hit for period of close to ten years. Most of the Thebe production was handled by Bruce with the assistance of the DCC (Dangerous Combination Crew) which comprised of a team of producers at Kalawa.
Thebe disappeared from the scene for a while but he made a comeback after making successful collaborations with emerging artists such as DJ Sumbody of Ayepep fame.
3. DJ Cleo
He may not be classified or regarded as a kwaito artist in a traditional sense but DJ Cleo became an important figure from 2003 and onwards.
DJ Cleo got his biggest break when he produced the hit single Guqa Ngamadolo by Mzekekeke. In fact he produced the bulk of the album but the single was the most successful and memorable.
He later went on to release to his own self-produced albums at a time when DJ’s were putting out compilations comprising of licensed music from overseas.
In 2007, he took the unconventional route by making the transition from DJ to recording artist. But the gamble paid off when he released the smash single, Ngihamba Nawe. Around that time Kwaito as a genre wasn’t doing so well and his music was considered kwaito since his sound consisted of drum and bass.
At the time DJ Cleo was also fully hands on in running his label, Will of Steel Productions (Which still exists till this day) and gave opportunities to then up and coming talent such as Brickz, Pitch Black Afro, DJ What What, Bleksem and DJ Mzee just to name a few.
His successful Eskhaleni Series gave us more than ten albums to date.
4. Big Nuz
When the Durban-based trio Big Nuz broke into the spotlight with the DJ Clock produced hit single uBala in 2008, well I thought to myself “this is just another group which wouldn’t last”. But they proved me wrong.
When they released the hot single, Umlilo in 2010, Big Nuz only got better and better with time. They managed to stay consistent for almost ten years, thanks to the assistance and support of their workaholic mentor and label boss, DJ Tira of Afrotainment.
When one of the group members, R-Mashesha passed away things changed. Mamphintsha the most prominent and visible of the trio “temporarily” left Afrotianment in 2015 to start his own stable, West Ink.
Just recently DJ Tira announced that Big Nuz would be making a comeback under Afrotainment Records.
5. Trompies (Kwaito artists)
This list wouldn’t be complete without Trompies. Trompies was probably one of the first successful groups in Kwaito alongside B.O.P (Brothers of Peace).
Their debut mainstream hit single, Sigiya Ngegoma was well received by the general public.
However, there were also mixed reactions amongst the fans and media because a rival group at the time (BOP) had a similar song which contained the same hook and this caused tension between the two groups.
But Trompies and BOP later decided to smoke the peace pipe and merged their companies, Jazmee Records and Kalawa Records to form what is now known as Kalawa Jazmee Records.
Trompies was different from the average kwaito band because all members (Spikiri, Mahoota, Mjokes, Jakarumba and Donald Duck) are musically trained and directors in the company.
6. Arthur Mafokate
The self-proclaimed King of Kwaito, Arthur Mafokate aka Vuvuzela is a legend of the game.
Some say he invented kwaito and put it on the map, but that’s a debate for another day. However there is no doubt that Arthur Mafokate is one of the pioneers of Kwaito and his achievements speak volumes.
He made his mainstream debut with the controversial single, Kaffir in 1993 and as they say the rest is history.
But Arthur also was also business savvy and he developed and released unknown kids at the time who went on to became superstars in their own right.
Names such as Abashante, Nestum, Makendlas, just to mention a few were moulded by the King of Kwaito under his own imprint 999 Records.
Arthur and 999 records stayed on top for more than a decade or so. But as the years went by he took a back seat and focused more on running his label than released less music as an artist.
Over the last couple of years Chommie became the face of 999 Music which further brought more attention to Arthur for being the brains and marketing genius behind the artist’s success.
Zane Sibika better known as Mahoota or DJ Mahoota rather, was probably the lesser known member of Trompies until he decided to drop his solo album.
In 2002 Mahoota launched his debut album titled DJ Mahoota vs. Vetkuk. The lead single, Malombo was just of start of great things to come.
He capitalized on the moment and started learning how to DJ and even went as far as recruiting “Vetkuk” the real person (The Mahoota vs. Vetkuk franchise was just a concept in the beginning).
Mahoota’s brand also became synonymous with event planning thanks to his successful annual Spring Festival which was hosted in the first week of September.
The Vetkuk vs Mahoota compilation series didn’t disappoint either which escalated his brand to greater heights.
Mandla Mofokeng also known as Spikiri has been active in the music industry since 1985. He started out as a dancer for Chicco Twala, a prominent musician in South Africa at the time.
In 1989 he teamed up with his friend Mdu Masilela (MDU) to form MM Deluxe. The duo released two albums under Cool Spot Productions in 1989 and 1990.
By 1991 he was studying piano and sound engineering at FUBA music school in Johannesburg.
Shortly after graduation he joined the newly formed Trompies and started building a reputation as a talented music producer.
He has released several successful solo efforts with plenty of features (King Don Father, Simply the best, 2.5 and more) but his strong point has always been production.
Mandla Spikiri is responsible for producing hits such as Pantsula for Life; it’s My House, Dubula Dubula (Kabelo Mabalane), Fotsa (Mzekezeke) just to name.
9. Mzekezeke /DJ Sbu
DJ Sbu has not publicly confirmed that he is indeed Mzekezeke. But I can certainly put my head on block that he is the man behind the mask.
DJ Sbu played around with the Mzekezeke alter ego while he was still employed at YFM in 2001. He used to phone and prank local celebrities by impersonating as a regular township guy with broken English. The segment of the show became popular with his listeners and he decided to capitalize on the moment.
Mzekezeke the artist dropped successful albums between 2002 and 2005 under TS Records/EMI until DJ Sbu turned his attention back towards his DJ career.
DJ Sbu is a radio man through and through and somewhat of a jack of all trades. He made a transition from radio, Club DJ, TV presenter, kwaito artist/label owner, philanthropist and now businessman in an 18 year period.
The late Mandoza was a bona fide superstar. Thanks to the success of his cross over smash single, Nkalakatha, he became a household a name and went on to collaborate with Danny K.
He also landed endorsements and tried his hand at acting when he appeared alongside Colin Moss and Ian Roberts in the movie Number 10.
But he didn’t start there.
Mandoza honed his craft as a member of Chiskop, a kwaito group that was signed under 999 Music.
His debut album, 9 II 5 Zola South released in 1999 was highly praised because it resonated with the black South African township youth, especially the single Uzoyithola Kanjani?
Mandoza was a highly marketed artist and will always be remembered as one of the most successful kwaito artists.
Which Kwaito artists did I forget? If I did please let me know. I would also like to hear your thoughts. Who is your favourite kwaito artist of all time?