One of South African jazz’s most in-demand and respected drummers, Ayanda Sikade returns with Umakhulu, his long-awaited sophomore release as a bandleader and the follow-up to his 2018 debut Movements. 

Born in 1981 in Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape, Sikade has been a familiar face on SA’s jazz scene for years now and a driving force behind its growing prominence on the world stage. Initially earning his stripes under heavyweights like Bheki Mseleku, Robbie Jansen, Barney Rachabane and Zim Ngqawana (all of whom have since sadly passed on) as well as Darius Brubeck and Feya Faku, in the past decade or so he has brought this experience, as well as his own inimitable style and energy, to the next generation of artists, including Simphiwe Dana, Siya Makuzeni, Afrika Mkhize and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester.


Dedicated to his grandmother, his new album Umakhulu features the talents of frequent collaborator Nduduzo Makhathini on piano, young Simon Manana on alto sax and Nhlanhla Radebe on bass. The album’s nine tracks, produced and composed by Sikade, pay homage to the artist’s heritage — most noticeably on ‘Mdantsane’ and ‘Nxarhuni River’ — while forging onwards to a brave new world on others, like ‘Imithandazo Yeengelosi’ (Prayer of the Angels) and ‘Space Ship’. 

Recorded by Peter Auret at Sumo Sound in Johannesburg, mixed and mastered by Gavan Eckhart at Soul Fire Studios, Umakhulu will be released in late 2021 on CD and digitally via Afrosynth Records, with a 7" EP in early 2022 distributed worldwide by Rush Hour in Amsterdam. 



1. Mdantsane  8:41

2. Izzah 10:29

3. Space Ship  6:17

4. Amawethu  6:09 

5. Imithandazo Yeengelosi  5:32

6. Nxarhuni River  7:24

7. Umakhulu  7:12

8. Enkumbeni  9:13

9. Gaba  6:59

STEVE KEKANA (1958-2021)

“From the beginning, I felt I am a musician and I must appeal to everybody.” – Steve Kekana

Steve Kekana passed away on Tuesday 1 July at Polokwane Provincial Hospital in Limpopo due to Covid-19 complications. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at Downtown studios in Goud Street, Johannesburg on 25 November 2009. It has been edited for clarity.

(Do you think SA’s isolation was a possible reason for the success of the local music industry during the 80s?)

My personal view is that maybe at that time the sort of cultural boycott left South Africa with no chance but to rely on its own music. I’m not saying there was no international music here, but I want to believe that in a way, the cultural boycott made it possible for south African music to be played in their own country. To take an example, it is because of the boycotts or sanctions that Sasol [energy company] was made. If it wasn’t for the boycotts and sanctions that were made against South African, I doubt if anybody would have been pushed to create a thing like Sasol. so it was a Sasol kind of a thing which made South Africa to play its own music. That is my number one view.

Number two: during that time, musicians were just taken for a ride. We had the so-called talent scouts, whom we’re calling producers now, right. Those people would go and look for raw talent and get them into the studio and record them. And those talent scouts were employed by the record companies then. They would get people to the music industry and become everything – manager, producer, talent scout, and everything. So those people were having all the connections to the DJs – made friends with DJs, so that they were able to talk to them, ‘please help me out, play this artist of mine, I’m building this new artist’. You know, go in there, begging as if they are begging for the good of the artist. But they were doing it for their own pocket. 

Artists were exploited … How can I do it diplomatically? You know, diplomacy is taking someone to hell and making them enjoy the journey. When you get your songs played on the radio, you become excited, you’re becoming great, everybody knows about you. But you are not the one who is getting the cream. I would include myself in that, although I quickly realised that and I got out of my producer. I started producing myself. 

I’m talking about Tom Vuma. Because Tom would be my manager and everything. He would arrange shows. We would go there and perform, and he would pay me. I mean this you’re not going to believe, at that time we were being paid R15 per show. No matter how many people were there per show. I don’t even want to venture into guessing (how much the promoter was making), because we were nowhere near to count his money. You see, that is the way it was - that was his money, as if we were now employed by him. He’s capable of giving us R15 per show. And by then, a rural boy of my calibre enjoys having the R15, before you realize that that is not what you are worth. The first contract that I signed, in 1978 with EMI, this you’re not gonna believe, I was getting 2.5%! So I’m trying to back up the exploitation part of it. (it was happening at) all record companies.

One thing that I am very, very angry about is that we would write songs, not the record company, not the publishing company. And we recorded that song, automatically, the publishing company related to that recording company, takes 50% of your copyright. And that is why in the meeting that we had on the 17th (Nov 2009), I raised the point that I think it is important that it is now time that, like they have done with the Land Restitution Act, we need to have a copyright restitution act, in terms of section 25, subsection 7, of the constitution. To go back to 1920 when the music industry started. That is what is needed. 

I’m backing up the exploitation thing here. I’m saying musicians’ songs, half of their rights were taken without their permission, by publishing companies. And I’m saying, the law says, everybody who was dispossessed of property from 1913, needs to be equitably paid. This is intellectual property. As provided for by the constitution, section 25, subsection 7. 

We’re having another meeting early next year (2010). That’s where we will hear what his (the president’s) response will be. 

(Was there exploitation and/or racism in the music industry back in the day?)

I think the intention of the record companies was to follow the status quo of the apartheid state. In the apartheid system there was a saying that no black man can understand science. So that created that situation that I’m sure all or most whites at the time – I must be careful here, I cannot say all – most whites were following the status quo of apartheid, that only white engineers can be (ie. only whites can be engineers). Then you have these talent scouts as a busboy to coordinate between the white engineer and the black musicians. I don’t think it was a mutual kind of thing. But when time went on and on, a better relationship then started to develop, where the white engineers started to realise that actually they can talk directly to the musicians without having a middleman called a talent scout or the producer. and that’s when we started. Soul brothers started quitting their producer Nzimande, then we followed, and that’s when we started to talk directly to the white engineers. It was not – it was for a long time that you could find black engineers…

(Would you say the partnership between black and white is one reasons for the success of SA music?)

Not really. I don’t really buy that story. Music is evolutionary in nature. The way to which it would evolve cannot see colour, cannot see the mixture of two cultures. I’m saying ... I always say to people, you see, music, you need 3 things to be a successful musician. Number 1: you need cash. Number 2: you need talent. Number 3: you need luck. 

Now, the problem is, you may have talent, and not have cash and luck. Then you’ll never make a successful musician. You may have talent, and not have cash, and have luck, you won’t make a successful musician, you see. But you may have cash, and not have talent and luck, you will make a successful musician. Cash is the most important thing. Unfortunately that’s the name of the game. You need to – how are you going to promote yourself cashless? 

So I’m saying the issue of a mixture of black culture and white culture cannot be the reason for the success of the music of the 80s. The only reason was number 1: the producers and the recording companies wanting to benefit out if it, or milking the musicians, for as long as they are still milkable. And then chase them out of the kraal when the milk is finished. That is the number one reason. Number 2, it is that boycott kind of a thing, that I believe helped.

(What was it like dealing with censorship at the SABC?)
At the time, it was a big issue. Because most of us were singing songs out of the hut – with no intention of immorality or moral degeneration in mind. So at that time, we felt it was a big issue. Why should the SABC censor? And indeed it was a big issue because if we wanted to sing about the way we feel, why should we be restricted to or by some white somebody who’s sitting there at the SABC, trying to guard against everything against the government? That was funny.

But having studied law, and knowing about the moral issue in the copyright act, that it is important that everything that you write, or make a song about, must be a moral fibre. If it goes against the right – we call it contra bonos mores – if it goes against the good morals of the society – then it’s not a good copyright thing. 

Now I say maybe they had a reason, against if you have to look at the limitation clause, that you may have the right to freedom of speech, but that speech would be limited if it begins to hurt other people. I mean my right to swing my arm ends when my arm begins to hit you. So I’m saying at that time we felt that SABC was just another fuss. But having to think about it now, I think, somehow it was necessary.

(Were any of your songs banned?)

Yes. I had a song called ‘Sadness’. It was banned, never played. Reasons of the lyrics not being acceptable to them. There is (was) nothing wrong with that (the lyrics). I remember why they banned it, it was ‘let the sound of your guitar be a gun, to shoot and kill the melancholy in me’. That was good enough for them. I thought I was being poetic. They look for the word gun and shoot and kill, that’s how it was banned. I still feel that song was a good song. 

The other one was the ‘Feel So Strong’ thing, which I did with PJ Powers. 'Feel So Strong' was actually going to be banned, I still believe, if I was the sole writer. (But) actually that was PJ’s song, so maybe that’s how it survived. But we had to redo the song because the original words were saying, ‘I feel so strong, your love has made me feel again that I belong’. Now, at that particular time, it was taboo to hear a white girl saying your love has helped me, you know, ‘your love has made me feel again that I belong’, either saying that to a black boy or black young man, or singing that kind of a thing with a black (man). So we had to rephrase and say instead of love, let’s say ‘your help’. They actually said, say ‘your help has made…’ so it sounds like this white girl has helped me. That’s the only way the song could get out. 

And the others, that was rather too Zulu-sensitive. Like they’d have those Zulu guys and say, ‘No, we don’t say this thing in Zulu.’ You were not allowed to – if you were going to sing a Zulu song, it must be entirely Zulu. You must not put other words in. you cannot mix. So some of them we had to redo them and change them into Zulu – strictly Zulu or strictly Sotho. We were not even allowed to mix an album – have a Sotho song, a Zulu song, an English song in one album – that was nonsense.

(What happened to this censorship law?)

It lapsed automatically in 94. 

(What is the significance of ‘crossing over’ to other audiences?)

For audiences it was good. For me, it was good. I mean that was one thing that sometimes made me feel proud, that I’m working against the odds, I’m defying the laws. Blacks would feel very proud if they found themselves in a way defying successfully the laws of apartheid.

Fortunately by the time I worked with PJ (Powers), the political timidness had waned. So people began to understand what’s going on. So we were not criticised. Instead, PJ Powers was encouraged. She was even given the name Thandeka, which means the loved one. Ja, it was fine. We didn’t really problems with performing with PJ, except that they, as whites, will have to get permits to come to Soweto to play … I think it was easy enough because they never had any problems. 

(Who else was crossing over?)
Juluka and all those … Veldsman, who’s this lady? Rene Veldsman … I can’t remember the name of the song, but ja, I remember Rene Veldsman, too. (Via Afrika – ‘Hey Boy’)

(Did you perform in white areas?)

It was not a problem for black artists to perform in white areas. I mean we would perform at Wits University. Grahamstown, and all that. It was only ... like for us, I was never asked to get a permit to come and perform in (white areas). You know, apartheid was a funny insane kind of system. They felt it is safer for blacks to be in white areas than (for) whites to be in black areas. That’s how it was working. Because they felt whites are able to contain themselves. They cannot mix with blacks, they can’t fall in love with blacks, and all that. so they were safe. The main aim was to say blacks must not have this feeling that they are capable of mingling and mixing with whites.

(What was it like performing at Concert in the Park at Ellis Park in 1985?) 
It was a charity concert, Concert in the Park. It was a concert arranged for Operation Hunger. All the proceeds were to go to Operation Hunger. We played there, most of us played for free. That was again another concert, one of the biggest concerts, where black and whites were mixed, even in the crowds. But it was in a white area so we couldn’t have been worried (joke).  I would imagine if it was to be in Orlando Stadium, it would have been different.
(It was big success and) everybody was happy. It was one of its own kind.

(What was the live scene like in general?)

Other concerts which to me were a very, very great success, were the then Radio Zulu concerts – Amagagu Omculo concerts. These were the equivalent of the so-called SAMA Awards, but they were being held by different radio stations every year. So this Radio Zulu, because of the demographics and the populations, had a capacity of drawing large crowds. So before the awards, bands will be invited to go and have a festival, a big festival. People will come from all over – Kwazulu-Natal, Joburg – and everybody could fill the Kingsmead stadium. It’s a big thing.

Now to back up the exploitation part again, bands will only be paid about a thousand rand to go and perform. That’s split between (amongst) the band, including your transport. It was just nothing. (But) we went there happily and we felt we were honoured. Because if you… I mean I’m sure I won the best male vocalist more than 4 times. You went there for the honour (award ceremony and general concert). It was going, I don’t know when did it really stop, but I remember ‘79, ‘80, ’81, ‘82, I participated. And the thing that they would do, I don’t know if they were paying our producers or what, because we were not even allowed to talk to radio announcers, by our producers anyway. We would be told ‘No, don’t worry, you will perform there because you will be promoted.’

(How did you career develop in terms of singing in different languages?)

It happened all at the same time. Because when I came to Johannesburg in 1979 – this would make anybody laugh – I knew nothing about Zulu. But my first album was in Zulu (laughs.). My first album I did not write any song. Tom [Vuma] would write the thing in Zulu. Learning languages is my passion. I could grab what you want me to say in French, even if I do not know (any) French. So my first album was in Zulu, and I didn’t know anything about Zulu. That’s when I started. And I started learning Zulu through radio advertisements. I mean I knew that if they are advertising Omo, in Sotho they are saying this. So “i-Omo”, I would say ‘oh, this is an Omo advert’. Then I would understand and learn. That’s how I learnt my Zulu.

The English thing, I always … ‘Sadness’ was a song which I recorded in 19- yes, my first album was in Zulu in 1978. And I had a single, which included ‘Sadness’ and ‘Disappointment’. ‘Disappointment’ was written by Tom. It wasn’t banned, but it wasn’t a good song. And ‘Sadness’ was a good song, and it was banned. So I want to say, I did not start singing English because I wanted to appeal to a wider audience. From the beginning, I felt I am a musician and I must appeal to everybody. 

So when ‘Sadness’ was banned, and then I said to Tom, I said, ‘Listen, I actually need to do an English album’. And then he-, they got together with Malcolm [Watson], that’s when we started to write things like ‘Raising my Family’, ‘Shine On’ and all that, which was the songs which took me to Scandinavia on tour. I went to Scandinavia on tour in 1981. So it means the first English album for me was ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ in 1980. So I think in the mind of every musician, whether singing in Zulu or Sotho or English, he wants to appeal, cross over. And overseas was part of that crossover.

(What was it like touring Scandinavia?)

Well, It was an achievement. It was a dream come true. It was lovely. I mean, all those beautiful ways to explain excitement!

(Did you gain any political insight into SA and apartheid while touring?)

I want to be honest with you, it was just about performing. But by then I was about 22 or 23. Taking it from the background where I come from, a rural guy, who was only taught to be respectful to the elderly, that was the best teaching that a rural boy can come to town with. It was just about fun. First time overseas.

The second time overseas was when I went overseas with Hotline. That was when, where I started to realise there is something funny, there is something different in Europe as compared to South Africa. ‘84, I went to England, I went to Germany and Italy. In the Scandinavian tour, actually we were not even involved in so many interviews, newspaper or radio. Because number 1, they are not speaking English, we would struggle in getting an interview. But now in London, that’s where you would be interviewed by BBC. I remember one of the questions which was supposed to be the most difficult one, at that time, was: what is my take on apartheid? 

I want to be honest with you, I thought I was honest in my mind. But there was this thing that, I’m sure when I get home, I will meet up with something g… I answered that question very simply and said, ‘You know, to me, apartheid effects those who recognise it. I don’t recognise apartheid, as you can see, I’m here with an all-white band, and I’m the only one (who isn’t white), and I hope I’m not window-dressing, but I don’t recognise apartheid, I don’t respect it, so it doesn’t effect me.’

I think it was true back then, because like I say, I needed no permit to go to white areas. It was whites who were getting permits to come to us (black areas). So to me, it was affecting whites rather than us. 

(How did the ‘bubblegum’ term come about?)

I think it was just a media term. Very derogative, in as far as I am concerned. You know, bubblegum is something that you chew it now, and then it loses taste, you throw it away. That was what the media was (suggesting). I think in every kind of music (there) is bubblegum – serious! Because there are some songs from even the international people that you can listen to, within six months you no longer want to hear it. 

I think it was the media showing disrespect to their very own musicians, giving their music a useless name like bubblegum. I never agreed with that name, and I will still never agree with it. 

We definitely didn’t get any other name for our music, because even what I would have thought was soul music, in Zulu, they still said it was mbaqanga. It is still mbaqanga even now. And mbaqanga is not even… my understanding, I might be wrong, mbaqanga to me is the type of music which was played by Mahotella Queens, Mahlathini, and all the other saxophonist kind of music, of that time. To me that was mbaqanga – not synthesizer stuff, and real organ. Actually mbaqanga would be all guitar and saxophone, strong vocals. When you start to play organ and all that, it was…. the mbaqanga that we are playing, Black Moses (Ngwenya from the Soul Brothers) is playing, and Edward Mathiba (?) was playing on organ – is derived from Jimmy Smith’s way of playing organ. So how do you say something which we took over from jazz, you still call it mbaqanga? Because you cannot play this kind, the rigmaroles that Black Moses/Edward Mathiba were doing, if you couldn’t play Jimmy Smith. That has been proven, you see. But they still call it mbaqanga, That’s why I say I doubt if I really worry about labels.

(What was it like featuring on Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse’s 1984 hit ‘Burn Out’?)

I wasn’t actually invited. It was a surprise kind of an event. Because I came in wanting to talk to (producer/engineer) Richard Mitchell about the pending recording that we were supposed to be doing. It was round about 7 o’clock at night. I wonder, I cannot say it was on a Sunday or whatever, but it was 7 o’clock at night. And as a musician, I had my own fun, you know… I had my own fun, I had some few drinks, you know, because I knew that I wasn’t gonna sing. 

And then Richard said to me, ‘This is a good song, but it lacks something. What that something is, I don’t know. but I have a feeling that you can give it that something that it lacks.’ 

And then I went in, I listened, they played, I said ‘OK, I will do the last part’. I went in there, it was a one-take thing. And that was it. Really. I was not invited. It was a big success. I was not credited (laughs). I was not even paid studio fee (for a) session. It’s only mentioned, ‘featuring Steve Kekana’ but I was not credited as a co-writer. And I was not even given a session fee. But, and I have to be very honest, I’m not angry about it, because we were singing for fun. I’m not telling you because I’m saying I want to claim something out of it. I just want to emphasise the fact that at that time, we were really doing music for fun. And that was the mistake which we did. I want to be very honest. That was the mistake that we did. Because we did not take music as business. 

And that is why, most of our musicians are unable to diversify today. We believe that it’s a god-given talent, I’ll die with it. And there is no such (thing). Every talent will come to an end, and we must be able to see that if I was making vinyls, and the vinyls are no longer playing, why am I not making cassettes or CDs?  You must be able to think in that fashion. But unfortunately to our musicians, we’re not thinking in that fashion. To such an extent that when I said, ‘Listen, guys, I’m going back to varsity, I’m going to study law,’ most of my friends said, ‘Books and music do not go hand in hand, are you really desperate?’ I said no - maybe I am, but I don’t think I’m desperate, and I believe that music and studies do go hand in hand. Because if they were not going hand in hand, then we wouldn’t be having music written. 

(Can you tell me a bit more about your education after music?)

I started in 1992, I registered with Unisa for political science. I thought I wanted to be a politician. It didn’t go well. You cannot be a musician and think you can correspond. It didn’t go well. I failed. I decided in 1994 that listen, I’m going behind the desk. I knew that when I was sitting behind the desk, I always passed. So I still believe I can sit behind the desk and pass. And indeed I got my B.juris degree in record time. It’s a four-year (degree). I went to the University of Turfloop [aka University of the North, now University of Limpopo]. I got it in record time. I did LLB, another two-year degree, I got it in record time. And then here I am now, I’m still in music, I’m employed by government, as a labour relations manager. I only practiced as a lawyer when I served my articles, that’s all. My belief is that criminals need to be jailed, not to be assisted, but ja – I’m sure I’m against the constitution! (joking) That is my view.

(What’s your take on the SA music industry today?)

I want to say the music industry at the moment – this is my view. Its deteriorating into what I want to call a spaza business. Not because of piracy. Because every musician now has his own little studio. Because of technology. It’s becoming too easy to make music. And then we are faced with a reality that in the process, will have more inferior kind of music. Earlier one, the business was run like business, unfortunately not for the musician’s benefit. That is the long and short of what I can tell. 

I still feel that as South Africans, we are a very funny nation. We are not proud of our own. We can rather play Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, who recorded ‘Mona Lisa’ in 1950, and give it airplay and praise it that it’s still the best. But I think maybe its because media is in the hands of the whites. I’m not being racist here. There’s a Eurocentric kind of mentality. Sometimes we will be blamed to be racist, because we seem to forget there is a word like Eurocentic. Instead we can say white, while we do mean Eurocentric. So the media is in the hands of the Eurocentricists – what do you expect?

That thing has been transplanted, or superimposed into the black man’s mind. It has to be international to be good. It has to come from Europe to be good. That is why people will strive to take their last penny to take their kids to white school, because they must come slanging English as if they are like whites. And I’m saying what is the use of slanging English if I can speak English in the manner that I do, but we do (still) understand each other? Language is communication, it’s not for status. That is why it has been implanted in our minds, unfortunately. That you need to know English, then you will be employed…

RIP Dr Tebogo Steve Kekana 1958-2021

© Afrosynth

PAT SHANGE (1956-2021)

“Music is my love, you know. I’ve got passion for music. So I think I know all the aspects of music. You talk about recordings, you talk about performances, you talk about media. You talk about anything that has got to do with music, I’m there, I know.” – Pat Shange

Pat Shange passed away on Tuesday 13 July 2021 at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto due to Covid-19 complications. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at Ezomdabu studios in Jeppe Street, downtown Johannesburg on 4 December 2009. It has been edited for clarity.

Actually to be honest with you, I started professionally - when I started recording it was in 1977. But my first album was released in 1979. I can say that this year, 2009, I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary in the music field. 

I was born in 1956. I think at about the age of 9, 10, that’s when I started playing the guitar. Because my father bought me a guitar. Then I taught myself how to play the guitar. And then I think after 2 to 3 years from then, I started joining the local groups in Pietermaritzburg. I started joining the local groups, I was playing the drums by then, guitar and also singing. I carried on like that up until the end of 1976, and the beginning of 1977. There was a producer by the name of Wilson Ndlovu, he was working for the record company, that was called Jo’Burg Records. That’s were Margaret Singana, Clout, me, Rabbitt and them were recording. They were operating from Yeoville. 

So this Wilson Ndlovu he was a black producer working for them. He came across me when he was talent scouting down in Pietermaritzburg, he said ‘Ei! You are good! I’m not sure about your group, but you are good! I think we must organise something. We must take you up to Johannesburg”. Which he did. Then he brought me to Johannesburg, it was myself and a group called the Juveniles by then. Then we started recording in 1977. But what they realised is that although they thought I was good, my backing group was not good enough. They were good for performances, yes, but not for recording. 

You remember, at that time, when you are recording, you were only using 4 tracks. Meaning you have got to be good to start with, in order to qualify as a recording artist. Secondly, you must know your story, because if a single is about 3 minutes and 50 seconds, then we are recording. Towards the end, lets say towards 3 minutes, then you decided to cough, or something happened, you have got to stop and start from afresh.  You know what I mean. Coughing, whatever, cos its only 4 tracks. So you have got to know your story. 

So with my backing band, some of them, they were not punchy enough, they couldn’t keep with the pace, the timing, and things like that. So they were disqualified as recording artists. 

So the producers said to me ‘OK fine, Pat, don’t worry. This is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna organise a backing band for you. Even if you cannot organise a backing band, we will form a backing band, so that you can be able to record.’ So my guys had to go back to Pietermaritzburg. I had to go back with them, then come back again. Start working with the new band. With the new band I then recording my first album, which we finished towards the end of 1978. Then it was released in 1979. That was ‘Kudala modlivu’ (?). well it didn’t do that much good, but it sold well because it sold about 15,000 units. It was mbaqanga music. So I did about 15,000 units, which was good. They said it was good enough to be signed up to record another follow-up album. Which I did in 1980. That’s when… that was my first gold disc which I managed to touch with my hands. It was a 7 single ('Hlengiwe') and also the new album, it sold gold.

Then everything that we did, either it was turning gold or platinum. I recorded ‘Hlengiwe’, ’Hayi Bo Ntombi’ (etc)… until 1985. Then I was still young, at the age of 18, 19, somewhere there. So the music that I was doing, as I said, it was mbaqanga. My age group, they started complaining. They said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your music, but it seems as if you don’t cater for us, people of your age, you cater for elder people, what’s your problem?’ I said to myself, now that my fans are complaining, I think I must do something for them. 

That’s when I decided. I didn’t actually change, but I decided to do also what was called Disco music. Others refer to it as bubblegum music.  But I’m not quite happy with that term, I’ll tell you why… bubblegum is something that you chew for a while and then you throw it out. But that bubblegum music, that was called bubblegum, from 1985 up till now, is still selling. I’m not sure whether the term is correct or not. I was using 'disco'. I even prefer using 'disco' even now. 

(How did the bubblegum name start?)

I think it was somebody who was trying to criticise the type of music that we were coming up with at that moment. (most fans and musicians were calling in disco). But somebody just came up with the term bubblegum. I don’t know whether … Let me leave it at that. it was called bubblegum. Anyway, its OK. (if) they prefer to call it bubblegum, that’s OK. 

So I recorded a maxi-single, it was entitled ‘Sweet Mama’. It was massive! And after ‘Sweet Mama’, it was ‘I’m not a Casanova’. Then things started happening. Because ‘Sweet Mama’ sold more than 100,000 units then. But even now, it's still selling. And I started opening my eyes. Now I can see why the youngsters were complaining. But that’s why (clicks fingers) I did that type of music. ‘Sweet Mama’, ‘I’m not a Casanova’, ‘Tonite you gonna give’, ‘Shine a time’, ‘Undecided Divorce Case’, ‘I’m accused’, ‘Love is like a Bank Account’… you name it! (All big hits). All the time 

(In the) 80s I was still working very seriously back then – there was no Christmas time for me, no Easter. Believe you me, recording, performing. We could perform about 6-10 shows, only on a weekend. If I say weekend, I mean Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Performing about 10 festivals. You just imagine: one in Durban, the other one in Johannesburg, the other one in Swaziland. The other one in Botswana. (week after week). It was tough! In between, indoor shows. We were only offered, having our offs (off-days) on Mondays. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – day and night, day and night. OK, during the week, it was only nights, indoor shows. But at the weekend, day and night. During the day, festivals. At night, indoor shows. It was a hectic kind of a life. But I cannot regret (it), it was very much interesting... 

(You were living the dream). 

Definitely, there’s nothing wrong about it. I cannot complain even a bit about that kind of life. I was not actually tired…as I said to you, (I eventually slowed down because) I wanted to actually experience the (family life). 

(Did the 1976 youth uprising have an impact on SA music?)

Yes of course. The problem was, you couldn’t put up a show now. Because they would suspect that yes, we might call it a show, but all in all, it has got something to do with the politics. (so it became harder to peform live) Definitely. 

(Did the music change?) What I can say, there was more of the toyi-toyi music. There were those liberation songs. Most of the groups at that time were recording that type of music. Although some of the artists they were still recording love songs and things like that. but there were groups that were only catering for these liberation songs. (ie. musicians became more conscious, aware, outspoken).

(Traveling around SA, what were some of the difficulties you faced?)

Ja it was always like that. because you’ve got to remember. Politicians they were also working hand in hand with the musicians. or they were acting like musicians sometimes. Because it was easier to move from point A to point B as a musician than as a politician. So it was a matter of ‘where are you gonna perform?’ ‘but we didn’t see any banners or posters stating that you’re gonna perform’. ‘are you sure these are musical instruments, or you’ve got something in there like AK47s? just get it open and lets check.’ You know, it was like that. After checking, they would let you go through. 

(So no major problems?) 

Not really, because actually we were not lying to them when we say ‘we are musicians’. We were musicians, so when we say we are going to perform at such and such a place, definitely we are going to perform there. Even if they send their agents, ‘just go and make sure whether there is any show that is taking place’ at a certain hall, a certain artist by the name of Pat Shange, is he performing there? When they come, they will see, the hall is packed. And Pat Shange is sweating over the stage. So nothing is (not as it should be) ...You know what I mean.

(Were things changing during the 80s?)

It was still the same. It took us a very long time to be calm, to get to know a situation, if I may put it that way. Because they (police/authorities) are suspecting you. But after checking, they feel that ‘No, these are really a bunch of musicians.’.Mmind you, don’t forget, of those police, black police where there. And most of the black police, they knew their stars. If you say ‘I’m Pat Shange’, (they'd respond:) ‘Ooh ja, I know, hi!”

(Anything else you remember about the repression of musicians back then?)

It was not easy, let me be honest with you. It was not easy. For example, if you are a musician, you could earn good money, then you could buy yourself a nice car. And then being a black man, driving a nice car on the highway, it was always problematic. Because the police would stop you, ‘who’s car is this?’ The first question: ‘who’s car is this?’ If it’s your car, (you’ll have) hassles all the way. So most of the black people then, they would prefer (to say) ‘no, it's for my boss’. It was gonna be better if you say the car was for your boss.  Because they will leave you. But if its yours, they will look for this…papers of the car. “where did you buy this car from? Where did you get the money to buy this car? Are you sure this car is not a stolen car?” Things like that, we were used to those things. Definitely, we were used to those things.

If you were in a hurry, it was better for you to say, ‘This is my boss’s car.’ If you are not in a hurry, you could claim this is your car, provided you’ve got the papers and things like that. because they will ask you to produce the papers, IDs, licence, you name it. You could be delayed there for about an hour, up to two hours, on the highway, trying to explain. Phoning the dealer where you bought the car, if it’s during the day and they are there, phoning and asking, ‘are you sure a person by the name of pat bought the car from you people? When was that? what colour is the car?” (always suspicious)

(In the 1980s could one write political songs?)

Some of the songs, yes (were political). I mean you couldn’t ignore what was happening. But in most cases, I was writing things that are happening (in everyday life), writing about love, trying to calm people down, you know what I mean. Although some of the songs they had to (deal with politics). They had to, you cannot ignore the environment, that was the point.

(Was censorship a problem?)

Yes, most of the songs, yes. The songs that they (censors at the SABC) thought ‘mm-mm” (no), this one wouldn’t be good for the listeners. Not because it takes the wrong direction, but because then, it was gonna tell the listeners something that they wouldn’t like the listeners to observe or to listen to. 

(For example). ‘I’m Accused’, for something that I didn’t do, is the song that I did. Not only myself, most of the musicans that were recording songs – Chicco ‘Manelo’. Which was supposed to be Mandela. ‘We miss you manelo’. It was supposed to be ‘I miss you Mandela’. Most of the musicians (did similar things)…

(Did censorship stop you from saying what you wanted to say?)

No, it didn’t. It was either changing the lyrics to suit me, but the listeners would understand exactly what I’m trying to say. Although the censors wouldn’t understand what was taking place. Because most of us musicians, that I what we’d do. They (listeners) would understand exactly what we were trying to tell them.

(Was the SA music industry segregated or did some artists cross over?)

Some of the songs were crossovers. But not all of them. For example like Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse had Burnout. Which was a crossover. Margaret Singana also had a crossover song….they used to call it ‘the click song’. But normally you had to know your market. You had to direct your music to a certain kind of people.

(What kind of people were typically in your audiences, eg. at festivals?)

Yes (mainly black). (coloured and whites) sometimes, there was a reason for them, why they should come over there, it’s either maybe there’s a white band that will be playing – because there were also white bands also then who were performing with us, like Hotline, and … Clout… Margino – it was a white lady. And Cindy Alter also, that was a white lady. And who else…. They were not trying (to sell to blacks), they were selling. They were definitely selling. Hotline…most of the groups that I mentioned, were selling very big. And they were very popular within the black market. (and in white market too?), yes.

(Any memories of bad/racist vibes at a festival?)

No, when it comes to music, you could observe something differently. When it comes to music, they didn’t care whether it was a white a performer. If you were good, you were just good. They applaud for you. Then that’s it. In fact, let me put it this way: in the music industry, that’s where we didn’t feel apartheid. That was the only place. Definitely.

(Was there socialising between races, after hours?)

It was a problem. You could go with a white man, because he is performing with you into a white club. But you are not allowed…. Well some of them, they could negotiate until (they say its ok, but most of the time not). 

(Performing to white audiences?)

It was never a problem. Because in most cases, if you’re gonna perform in a white area, its obvious its gonna be a white promoters who’s gonna promote you over there. So you could do all the preparations and everything… you know what I mean.

(It seems often the engineers were white, even for black artists – why was this?)

Actually, I don’t know whether it was because of apartheid or what. But let me be honest with you. This is from my heart now. It has got nothing to do with politics. That was a very good combination, believe you me, that was a very good combination. I’ll tell you why, even now, you check, if a black musician is working with a white producer… a white producer brings that white flavour into the project. And then a black musician brings that black flavour into the project. It becomes a bomb! (hit). I can name plenty musicians who are working like that. it was happening in most cases, it was  a success. I don’t know how it was formed (started). Maybe it was formed because of the apartheid. But the results were not like that.  

Look at Juluka. Juluka it was a black guy and a white guy. Even if it was formed because of the apartheid, but the results were very good. Because the kind of music that they were doing was excellent.

They (white guys in the industry) knew what they were doing. That was the main thing. They earned respect because they knew what they were doing. they were not taking chances. If he was an engineer, he knows his sounds. And he could help you. ‘OK, you know what, I understand what you wanna do, but how about trying this? And putting this type of sounds? Don’t you think…? Ja ja ja, now it sounds better!’ 

They knew what they were doing. It (race) has nothing to do with anything. They were there because they had skills. They were not there because they were white. 

(What about Phil Hollis, for example, who you worked a lot with?)

When it comes to music and the know-hows of music, and promoting music, he is wise. Let alone (nevermind) what they say about him – 1, 2, 3. When it comes to music….I enjoyed working with him. Although people will say, blah blah blah. You’d never survive in this industry if you’re not a tough business(man)

(Was there exploitation in the SA music industry in the 80s?)

Although it was getting more professional, but it was still happening. Even overseas, it was happening. Because I remember then I had a producer by the name of Rick Wolff. He was a musician then. He went overseas. He stayed there for… they had a very big hit. He never got any royalties. And when he was talking about that, you could see he was very sad (upset). It was a sad story for him. so it was happening all over. (it was a business thing, not political or racial). 

(Was there a sense of international isolation in SA during apartheid?)

Actually, let me put it this way. Although they were not coming in for performances, but there music was here, full time. There was never a time when South Africa was not playing foreign music. Never.

(International influence on local sounds?) Yes of course. There were plenty musicians who were imitating Michael Jackson locally (eg). (going for the synth/drum machine sound) yes definitely. (also African local sounds?) Ja it will always be like that because if you are not bringing that into the music industry at the particular moment, then it means you cannot claim that that music is black. So the elements are supposed to be there, so that you are able to claim, this is black music. 

(Did your music sell in other parts of Africa?)

Definitely yes. Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania. 

(What was is like travelling outside SA during the 80s? Did it teach you about SA?)

Of course. The first thing, before they can even talk about your music and your appearance, is what is apartheid like in South Africa? In most cases I think it was paying to be honest. Because if you lie.. OK, you can lie today, but somewhere along the line, the lies of yours will catch up with you. So it's not wise (to lie). It was not a matter of criticising the government, it was a matter of telling the truth. 

(Did you tour outside Africa – eg US, Europe?) 

Not that much, (mainly) in Africa. (People loving the music?) a lot. I was treated like a king, I must be very honest with you. Even when I’m arriving in those places, at the airport, they would have a guard of honour. People waiting for me. There’s singing. It was very much exciting. 

(Weren’t you ever tempted to move overseas during apartheid?)

Let me be honest with you, if you are man enough, you’ve got to face your problems, not run away from your problems. And there’s no place like home, anyway. To go and perform, yes. But not to go and stay there. There’s no place like home.

(What else was selling besides disco?)

Traditional, mbaqanga, maskandi, all these different genres of music were there. (Everything was selling) well, very well. The only thing is that the disco, or the bubblegum was an IN thing at the moment. It was like (cool).

(For how long?). It started, those years, around '85, up until '94, '95, '96, somewhere there. Then kwaito came in. 

(Was this related to the political changes in the country?)

It had to. Let me put it this way, people who were singing toyi-toyi music, I mean liberation songs, they were no longer welcomed in the 90s. because now the audience would say ‘but now what’s your problem? Come on, Apartheid is over!’. 

(Was it was clear apartheid was coming to an end?)

Definitely. People started singing about love, celebrating, you know what I mean.

(After the '80s) I decided to slow it down a bit because as I said to you, I started at the age of 18, professionally. So when I got married, I didn’t enjoy the life of being a married man. So I said to myself mm-mm (no), if I’m gonna carry on like this, there’s a part of my life that I’m gonna miss – how to be a parent, and things like that, taking your kids to the crèche and things like that. My aim was not to stop altogether, but to slow down, keep a very low profile. That was in the 90s. 

But even now, I’ve gone back to music again. Ok, recently I was busy producing again ... But this year, as I said, I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary. I decided to come up with a new album. Which is entitled Umlilo. It means fire. Its finished now. We are started to release it now. By Friday next week it will be released. 

(How were sales in the '80s - better than now?)

Definitely, there’s no doubt about that. It was better. And there’s a reason for that. besides that everything was run in a proper way, piracy was not there. Even if it was there, it was very minimal. How would you pirate (an LP)?

(What is the industry like now, in your opinion - is it healthy?)

Not at all. Let me be honest with you. If you’ve got a big hit that is supposed to sell, lets say 100,000 units. You can expect 16,000, up to 20. With the very same project that was gonna sell 100,000 units ten years ago, you will only sell 16 to 20 (now).

(What does the future hold for the SA music industry?) 

If something is done, it will be better. But something must be done (to combat) this piracy. (But what?) Well, something is gonna happen, believe you me, something is gonna happen. And this thing is gonna be sorted out. Because this piracy thing, it’s like it’s fashionable, its like an in thing at the moment. Because before you can enter the door of a record bar or a music shop, you could come accross the stores (stalls), there are about 6 or 10 in front and behind and on the sides of the shop. So how do you expect the shops to do their business? Because the very same CDs that they are selling at R10 each, inside the shop is anything from R50 upwards. So now, who’s gonna prefer going to the shop and spending R100 for a CD, and yet he can obtain the very same content on a CD which is R10?

(Is it the police’s responsibility to combat piracy?) 

Definitely. I think they’re working on a policy, how to work on it. Because it’s not that easy. Because although there are those people who are pirating, there are also those musicians who cannot get the record deals from the record companies, they are selling their own music. So you cannot also sit down and claim that that person is pirating. But now, a policeman, how is he gonna draw the line? This is musician who is selling his own music. Or this is somebody who is pirating.. it's very difficult.  So they’ve got to work on a policy. 

(How does today’s music compare to back then, in your opinion?)

Music is still good music. Let me be honest with you. There’s nothing wrong with the quality of the music at the moment. But if you can’t make money out of that quality music of yours, somewhere along the line, you’ll end up… you know what I mean. Put it this way – you spend a lot of money with your project. And you spend a lot of money promoting it. And you cannot be able to sell it because of the facilities. When I say facilities, I mean like record bars etc. You cannot be able to sell it. You spend again, for sure on (by) the third album, you’re gonna start reducing now. It’s either you’re gonna go for cheap recording, or whatever. But now it’s gonna be cheaper, cheaper all the time...

RIP Pat Shange 1956-2021

© Afrosynth