Successfully Outside ‘The System’: The likes of Zonke, Afrotainment, DJ Sbu and Kalawa Jazmee show us how it’s done

By Thato Magano (@ThatoMagano)

When we said this month’s theme was ‘F*** The System’ we meant it and this week we feature South African cultural producers who after struggling it out and remaining true to themselves and have achieved success. From Kalawa Jazmee, to DJ Sbu, Zonke Dikana and the Afrotainment stable, we have here people who have braved the coldness of working outside of the system and enjoy the success of creating cultural products that speak to black audiences without pandering to the ‘universalism’ of ‘cross-over music’ and are successful at it. 

Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa and Kalawa Jazmee 

From working at a BMW Dealership and quitting after six months to pursue his music dream and being forced to sell boerewors rolls on the streets of Jozi to make ends meet before he had a chance opportunity to fill in for an absent DJ at Club Razzmatazz in Hillbrow, starting what would be one of SA’s greatest tale of reinventing youth culture through the birth of Kwaito music, it would be inconceivable to talk about the South African music story and its cultural production without mentioning one Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa..

Through joining forces with Don Laka and Christos Katsaitis to form Kalawa Records (the name being a fusion of the first and last syllables of their surnames) which later became Kalawa Jazmee when Christos left to form his own music label (the Jazmee to reflect Don’s first love, jazz music), they would deal with the challenge of major record companies snubbing them and not believing in the new sound, leading to the stable’s first act, Boom Shaka having to sell their first album from the boot of a car.

Today, you cannot mention Kalawa without conjuring up memories of getting down to Boom Shaka’s ‘It’s About Time’, Mafikizolo’s ‘Ndihambanawe’, Bongo Maffin, Trompies, Thebe, DJ Vetkuk, Spikiri, Alaska and recently artists like Professor, Uhuru, Dr Malinga, Winnie khumalo and many more.

Sibusiso ’DJ Sbu’ Leope and TS Records

Whether you know him as a musician (or Mzekezeke), a record label owner, a television presenter, club and radio jock, a fashion designer or all round entrepreneur with the launch of the first black owned and produced energy drink in the South African market, DJ Sbu has remained consistent by working outside of the system to create himself and his successful at-all-costs-or-nothing brand.

Starting his radio career on community radio then moving to YFM and now on MetroFM, he has continued to change the game and make moves that have rippled through the SA music industry. He  joined forces with TK Ncza to form TS Records and broke through the sound barrier with their ‘balaclava’ clad and overall wearing unique artist, Mzekezeke with hits such as ‘S’guqa Ngamadolo’ for which they won artist and song of the year at the 2003 South African Music Awards.

Working outside of the normal distribution channels, DJ Sbu self published and promoted a book titled ‘Leadership 2020’, which became a bestseller through advance orders and is now included in the MBA curriculum at Henley Business School. With the eminent launch of and self promotion of his Mofaya energy drink (which is a partnership with ten other Black entrepreneurs), by marrying the consumption of the energy drink with his various endeavours, we look set to see him create another major upset in the South African entrepreneurial landscape.

Zonke Dikana (independent artist)

Having spent three years in Germany as a part of a electro fusion band and not enjoying great success to coming back to South Africa and signing to Kalawa Jazmee and releasing her solo debut ‘Life, Love ‘N Music’ to featuring on Thebe’s hit ‘Groover’s Prayer’, to the controversy of ‘Thinking About You’ with Mafikizolo’s Theo and the occasional features on other Kalawa artists albums, it seemed that Zonke’s musical abilities as a soul artist were not best placed for nurturing at all of these places she had been before, which led her to breaking out on her own and working on her highly successful, sophomore album ‘Ina Ethe’.

Released in 2011, the lead single from the album ‘Jiki Zinto’ topped radio charts around the country and she said of the song “On Jik’izinto I am telling myself that there will be no more pointing fingers. I’m looking at what I did and did not do that led me to a point where I felt unappreciated and not good enough. It became about turning things around”

From the title cover ‘Ina Ethe’ to ‘Uzuhambu Buye’, ‘Ngomso’, ‘Nameless’ and the enormously loved ‘Feelings’ and her dedication to her father on ‘Viva The Legend’, Zonke wrote and produced the album single headedly and stayed true to her soulful disposition, proving that by staying true to yourself, your audience will appreciate you for it.

The Afrotainment stable:

Started by Mthokozisi Khathi, popularly known as DJ Tira, the success of the Afrotainment stable has proven one thing: you can work outside of the established Johannesburg creative bubble and still make it big, all it takes is a sound that resonates with South Africans.

 

There was a time in South Africa that if you weren’t in Jo’burg, creatively, nothing would work out for you but the Afrotainment guys have broken this mould by reinventing the Kwaito sound and creating a music hub in Durban.

From the stable master himself DJ Tira, to the ever loved trio Big Nuz, Dj Cndo and the newest artist to the stable NaakMusiQ (Anga Makhubalo of Generations fame), Afrotainment continues to be a force to be reckoned with in the South African music landscape and they own it all themselves.

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