E & S BROTHERS - Taduma


E & S Brothers’ 1985 album Taduma holds a unique yet overlooked place in the history of South African dance music. When Shadrack Ndlovu and Ernest Segeel teamed up with Dane Stevenson, owner of Blue Tree Studio in downtown Johannesburg, and journeyman producer Taso Stephanou, South Africa’s bubblegum era had just begun, spurred on by the success of Shangaan disco. 

The relative success of their debut 12” ‘Don’t Bang The Taxi Door’, marketed aggressively at taxi ranks throughout the country, helped put the Blue Tree label on the map and E & S were invited back to record a full album: Taduma, featuring on keyboards Dr Buke, an in-demand session player from Soweto.

Rooted in Africa, yet purely electronic, Taduma was a moderate hit, spurred by tracks like ‘Taxi Door’ and ‘Mhane’, its hypnotic refrain ‘Mhane, famba na wena’ meaning ‘Mother, I am going to you’. Other tracks like ‘Mapantsula’ and ‘Be Careful’ place Taduma within the street-savvy ‘pantsula’ style and dance synonymous with consecutive waves of music from disco to kwaito, house and beyond, while ‘Sikele Masike’ repurposes a traditional Shangaan work song. 

Vocally E & S are closer to rapping than singing, in a combination of English and vernacular – predating other credited pioneers of kwaito in SA like Senyaka and Spokes H. Driving the music instead of vocals are waves of searing synths over rudimentary but explosive drum machine sounds – the word ‘Taduma’ meaning the sound of the drum.

Remastered from the original tapes and reissued for the first time, Taduma will be available on vinyl and digital platforms from early 2022 via Afrosynth Records. Pre-order it here.


Photo: Facebook

"What's kept me going is the technology. I love the technology. And the changes. I really embrace that." - Richard Mitchell

One of the key South African engineers and producers of the 1980s, Richard Mitchell passed away on 8 December 2021. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at his home in Johannesburg on 16 November 2009. It has been edited for clarity.

(How did you get started in music production?)

I started in Cape Town. I was actually born in Zimbabwe, left when I was 6 months old. We traveled all over the world, South America… then came back and finished school in Cape Town. 

I started as an assistant engineer in Cape Town, and one of the first sessions I worked on was ‘Mannenberg’ with – it was DOLLAR BRAND in those days. And I think that was probably something that just sealed my fate. We did four or five day and nights of us recording, and that as just one of the tracks. It was a studio called UCA. It moved it’s now Milestone… Murray Anderson. But I think it was in a different building that time. 

I came up (to Joburg), late 70s. I actually came up with a band called BALLYHOO. The whole idea was that we were going to set up a studio in Joburg. I’d been doing some work with them down in Cape Town. And that didn’t work out. So I ended up at a place which is now the AudioLab, in Blairgowrie. It was part of the Teal Record Company in those days, which became part of Gallo.

(Did you ever play in any bands?) 

No I was a shocking guitar player, in university. I was really terrible. I was studying marine biology. So I think I realised that very early there was no way I was going to (make it as a musician).


(How did you become an engineer, were there courses to study?) 

No there weren’t any. You could join the SABC. (but) I had a British passport so they refused to even accept me. Some of the guys went to courses overseas. I was lucky, I was taught by JOHN LINDEMANN, he was kind of in a way my mentor, a highly respected engineer. But it was a hard road. It was the typical kind of …(being the) the teaboy, and running around, and then you get thrown into the deep end - and sink or swim. I was working doing radio commercials at the studio. And John was the chief engineer, and left. And recommended me. He was more into studio management at that stage. He oversaw a lot of what was happening.

(What was producing an album like during the 80s?) 

We sort of hit a formula almost, I did a huge amount of work with ATTIE VAN WYK, we did all the YVONNE CHAKA CHAKA stuff. And we co-wrote a couple of things together. The irony of it was that we did a lot of it in a little mobile studio, parked in downtown Doornfontein. It had a sort of studio room attached to it… It was all programmed, drums and stuff. But we would sort of knock out a tune in a day, go away and have an idea of lyrics. His wife used to write quite a lot as well, and we’d sort of pool all our ideas together.

(Synths became a central part of the sound – why do you think this was?)

It was just something that was really working. The early CHICCO days, and Yvonne – that sort of poppy groove, it almost followed on from the HARARI, the band era. And I think it became…It was obviously a more affordable way of achieving certain things.

(Was the American influence on bubblegum overt or more subtle?) 

Obviously some of the influences were from America, but I think that was actually more in the late 70s, with the Kool & the Gang – and the groove kind of stuff. This almost – the groove content of it was actually almost new. It was really based around the pantsula guys, and their dance kinda style. Very much an offbeat rhythm, snare drums and all that kinda stuff. So it really wasn’t following anything from the international side. The melody side was very – almost European pop, in a way. And I think that was what interesting me about it, was that it was kind of rhythmically very African – well kind of African, in a way – but very new. But then the pop melodies - especially ‘cos Attie is a very prolific writer, as such. With just straight-ahead pop melodies put across it.

(Was there any live instrumentation?)

We used some live instrumentation. But predominantly – the drums were all done on LinnDrums, and things like that. It was a learning curve. Everything was still tape-based, so everything had to be sync’d up … (And there were) various codes. I used to have nightmares with codes.

(How much input did the artists have in songwriting?)

To a degree, a fair amount. Yvonne liked to contribute, more and more actually as she got more confident. Chicco also used to contribute an enormous amount. 

At that point I had worked a lot – sort of mid-80s, had worked a lot at RPM studios, which was part of the Teal – was merged in with RPM studios, which is now Downtown studios. And did a lot of stuff there till the mid-80s, then (I) had gone, said ‘OK, now I’m a freelancer,’ and set up my own company. 

And it was interesting, because I was actually working with EMI and with an offshoot of Gallo, Dephon. So I was doing Yvonne, plus we were doing BRENDA FASSIE’s stuff as well, and CHEEK TO CHEEK, and all that stuff ... It caused an interesting [tension between] Brenda and Yvonne – ‘You gotta work with me, you can’t work with her!’ But it was an excited period. Things were going out there and selling copious amounts.

I think it [competition/rivalry between Brenda & Yvonne] was quite healthy. And it was interesting that in the end, CHICCO ended up producing some of Brenda’s biggest hits, from ‘Too Late for Mama’. But I mean he’d also done quite a lot of work with Yvonne. I’m not sure of his exact details, but I think his mom ran a shebeen and was a really street-smart kid. And he was a percussionist in one of the offshoots of HARARI, UMOJA. But rhythmically he just had something - he was unbelievable. He had the ability to hear something and adapt it. He’d probably shoot me for saying this, but he heard Simply Red, and adapted that into a massive hit, it was called ‘I Need Some Money’. He knew how to lock down a groove. He’d take grooves that we’d programmed, and he’d go away and come back and say, ‘No, this is wrong, that’s wrong, change this.’ 

He knew what he wanted, and he was also part of the Dephon stable at that stage. He started as a percussionist, then as a solo artist. He had a smash hit singled called “We can dance”. He eventually evolved into production. Its like any artist, they want their ideas…

(What was is like working in the context of international isolation & the cultural boycott?) 

It was an interesting period because fundamentally there was such a boycott going on with the international artists that there wasn’t a huge amount of content available. And that’s why the local industry boomed. It was probably the most prolific period. Because people were looking for music. and they couldn’t buy the new U2s. There was (only) some (foreign stuff)…

(Was the music industry segregated, or how did artists cross over?)

I think it was quite targeted. I don’t think it was a kind of conscious sort of thing. It just happened. There was some kind of crossover. Like I remember some of the CHICCO songs would be played on 5FM, or Radio 5 in those days. There was a fair amount. Guys like Alex Jay were phenomenal with picking up on some of the local, almost more obscure – huge hits that were happening in the townships, and kind of bringing them out (to whites). 

But I think also in the studios, it was almost like a breakdown of apartheid. It had been happening over a period of time, where there was a lot more interaction between white and black musicians and things like that. So there was a lot more respect from both sides, of what was available. 

I did a band called eVOID – ‘Taximan’ was actually played by BAKITHI KHUMALO, the black bass player, which nobody knows about … It was Erik and Lucien [Windrich] … Erik – he used to play bass and the keyboard, but he didn’t really have the chops to play it accurately enough. So I said, ‘I’ve got a bass player for you’ and I got Bakithi. And that goes way back, we used to do that in the 70s.

(Outside of the studio, were mixed band playing live too?)

I think in that era there were more mixed race bands. I think JOHNNY CLEGG was starting to happen. 

I mean that was ’84, ‘85 – there was the big Operation Hunger CONCERT IN THE PARK – there were over 120,000 people there, at Ellis Park. They reckon it was probably more. As a concert it was phenomenal, because it was such a crossover of everybody, from HOTLINE and JOHNNY CLEGG and STIMELA to white pop bands

What was interesting at the time was that a lot of the music was sequenced and programmed, but they would go out with bands and play (live). It was just too difficult at that stage to get the technology to go out (instruments belonged in the studio).

For anybody in the music industry, it [Concert in the Park] was one of those milestones – ‘OK, we are finally breaking down the barriers.’ I think in fact [US Senator] Edward Kennedy was in the country at the time. and I remember it because somebody stood up and said ‘Edward Kennedy should come and see – this is the future of South Africa’. And it was one of those really (powerful moments), I think it was RAY PHIRI, or CLEGG or somebody. And I just thought it was one of the most profound statements. It was so true.

(People could begin to see of the end of apartheid?)

Ja, it was around that time there was that whole Rubicon speech. We all expected [president PW] Botha to back down and say ‘OK, that’s the end of it’, and he didn’t - that sort of prolonged and dragged it on. 

I think it had actually got to a stage when people had really had enough, and were a lot more vocal about it.

(Were people of different races socialising after-hours?)

It started … I mean the 80s was an exciting period because we started actually hanging out a lot together. There was a club in Sebokeng called Easy By Night, that almost became our- the music industry hang out. STIMELA were known there, STEVE KEKANA, all these kinds of people. We used to all go and hang out, and we’d take more and more people. So it was kind of a fun place to go. I remember the first couple of times being really kind of embarrassed – 'cos I mean we’d arrive, and jump this whole long queue that went halfway round the block. And everyone looks at you, you go ‘oh my goodness’ (embarrassed), but it was cool … It was just a really fun period.

(Any bad experiences?)

I don’t remember being in a (bad situation)… there were odd festivals that got aggressive. A lot of the time that was because there were bands didn’t arrive and all that kind of stuff, things would go wrong. But in the early periods, it was almost like this release, of tension and stress. It was an explosion actually, a cultural explosion. People wanted to go and hear this music they’d been hearing on the radio. 

(How did you deal with censorship at the SABC?)

I think we started to get more of a ‘fuck you’ attitude, you know. I mean there were songs being banned left right and centre. Some of the STIMELA stuff was banned. What they used to do is take a styluses and across that track, gouge it so you couldn’t play it on the vinyl. They kept trying to keep thef lid on it ...

YVONNE not so much, because she was more mainstream pop, but I mean BRENDA certainly started pushing the envelope. I mean you look at ‘Too Late for Mama’ and ‘Black president’. ‘Too Late for Mama’ is actually an indictment of the society – the sadness of this lonely woman. It was the late 80s, about ‘87,’88, (so by then) I think it (apartheid) had probably had it. I think everybody was kind of anticipating that the end was close. I mean we did a release when Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prizethat was in the 80s (1985). It was a collaboration with SIPHO GUMEDE and RAY (PHIRI) and a whole bunch of people… It was never released here, it was smuggled out of the country and released in the states. 

(Was other SA music getting outside the country at the time?)

A fair amount. Look, you know, there were two sides. There was the political undertone, but there was also the straight ‘let’s do pop music and avoid that [politics]’. And obviously some of the more serious musicians were a little bit disparaging about the pop music. 

The jazz guys – the Stimelas and all sorts of people like that – there was an enormous amount of, I wouldn’t call it piracy but copyright infringement – people would listen to each other’s music and rip it off, adapt it and stuff like that. Whoever came up with a new kind of hit groove or whatever, there would be ten permutations in a couple of weeks.

(What role did Stimela play?)

The interesting side to the whole thing was that STIMELA were signed to Gallo, but Gallo didn’t want to record them. They didn’t think that their music would sell … Stimela was actually formed from two bands that were like under the Gallo label, it was THE MOVERS and THE CANNIBALS. And they had been doing a lot of kind of American-style groove stuff, and things like that. They fused and they started recording with different record companies, under different names. What they’d do is find frontline guys, and that’s how bands like the STREET KIDS were formed. That was really all RAY and the Stimela guys. They started programming stuff - ‘Game No.1’ and all that. Some of it was live, some of it was programmed. That’s when the serious guys started to see what the technology could do, as well.

(Didn’t this cause contractual headaches etc?) 

Oh ja no (yes), there was. They [Gallo] tried stop them. Eventually they just relented and said, ‘OK, we’ll record you’, because hits were popping up all over the place. And they suddenly woke up to the fact that ‘these are our guys’. But they hadn’t tied some of them to production contracts, so they missed out on that one. But the reason I brought them in was it was interesting how they started using the new technology as well, and embracing it. 

(Was there competition among engineers/producers?)

I think everybody was out to kind of achieve what they could. It was an interesting period because we were trying to push the envelope all the time - and everybody was convinced that what they were doing was the best thing since sliced bread. But so much of it, if you look back at it, all had a similar sound. It became passé in the end because everybody kept going to those clichéd sounds. But in the initial stages, with the Yamaha DX7 and things like that, they were phenomenal sounds. This was like, wow! And then we became adept at actually being able to programme and I think engineers - the successful ones - became really good programmers at the same time. You had to.

(How did you cope with the rapid changes and innovation in technology?) 

You had to learn on the job. There was no period to sit back and (research/practise)… and it became a standing joke: who has the time to read the manual? You just get in and do it!

(How regularly could one churn out albums - weekly?) 

It would be, ja, just about (weekly). Maybe a bit longer, 10 days, two weeks max. 

(So you were always in the studio?). 

Ja, I was a workaholic for about 4 years, just 24 hours a day. 

(But if you love music…) Ja, it was a fantastic period. 

(Did you consider it work?) No. You know, for me, the greatest satisfaction was actually – when I used to work at Downtown Studios, we’d walk up to the Carlton Centre, and go past all the taxi guys and hear songs that you were working on, blaring out while they were washing their taxis. It was a heck of a kick, that whole mass communication thing. 

And then going to festivals and seeing that songs a lot of the time badly translated by bands. The bands of the artists, they were desperately trying to play [the programmed stuff], which was kind of impossible, you know.

(No backtracks?) No, it wasn’t even considered. The biggest problem – you know the keyboard stuff and that – was one thing, but it was the drum loops and all that kinda stuff that they battled with. And I mean eventually you ended up with sometimes – I’m trying to remember the name of the group, I think Cheek To Cheek or one of the Gallo artists – I mean they had six keyboard players on that stage! (Each) just doing one thing or the other, because you’d just layer loads and loads of the stuff.

(What was it like working with Mally Watson and Attie van Wyk?)

With Malcolm I was just an engineer … Malcolm was phenomenal. He was probably one of the most disciplined musicians I’ve ever come across. And I mean that in a big complimentary way. He always had his stuff pre-programmed well. He knew what he wanted. It was always a pleasure working with him. It was the easiest. For me it was a huge compliment. It was an interesting period, because that was when I had left the Gallo group, and I was a director at RPM studios, and just said ‘enough’. I was working as an engineer, I was the chief engineer, but I was made the director, I think to keep me quiet. But I left, I said ‘no’, I went to freelance. And Malcolm immediately picked up the phone and said ‘do you want to come and work here’? I said ‘great’. 

So I was working with Attie, and with Malcolm. They were at the stage probably two of the (best) producers (in SA). So I’d do a day with one of them, then I’d go and do a night session with the other.

It’s a collaboration. The producer is somebody who normally will take the project from A to Z. An engineer will come in and in those days the engineer’s role was kind of more – obviously there was a whole lot of technical areas, with tape machines and mixing consoles (so you need more than one person). 

With Malcolm, he’d pretty much mapped out the songs in preproduction. That’s why I say he was really organised. He’d do a lot of that. With Attie, he and I would sit and actually write all the programming. They both came from enormous musical backgrounds. I mean Malcolm was one of the top session players. 


Attie and Malcolm ... there were other guys involved. And I think that the interesting side – they were two white guys who were doing it … I think eventually that wore a bit thin. 

(Why was it often white engineers & producers in studio with black artists?) 

I think of lot of it was just that they were coming up with the popular melody lines. The black guys were coming up with the grooves, and the rhythmic side of it, but the lyrics and melodic structures (were done by whites). And I think that’s where the thing took off. Because before that, it was kind of all OK but it was just really amateurish. And all of a sudden we’re hearing, like, the ‘Weekend Special’s – you know, timeless melody lines. 

An interesting anecdote with YVONNE was that ‘Umqombothi’ which has become her signature tune, was done on a Monday morning. We started missing around with a cassette of some groove that Phil (Hollis) had found. Or no it hadn’t… the track he wanted us to kind of copy and adapt or whatever hadn’t arrived, so we started messing around. And Yvonne was there, and wrote this, kind of composed this tune. And (it was) Attie, AL ETTO, myself and Yvonne. And Phil came in later in the afternoon and listened to it, and said, ‘No, that’s rubbish - absolute rubbish. It’ll never sell!”

I mean the grooves were quite extensively researched. It was a lot of time … especially with Chicco, he used to spend an enormous amount of time working on a groove. I mean he’d take a groove and go and play it in a club at night, and see if people reacted to it. it was all about the groove and the bassline. And once that was locked down. You see, that’s where the guys like Malcolm and Attie were good. They’d take that and then put some nice chord changes, verse and chorus structures and so on… Before that, it was just this endless, repetitive groove. 

(How did lyrics come about?) 

You’d try and come up with some kind of concept for the song. And then write a rhyme around it. But it certainly wasn’t a case of lyric first, and then melody… (groove was main thing). And I think even today, a lot of it is like that. It hasn’t changed that much.

(What was it like working with Steve Kekana?)

Ken Haycock was the MD was CCP Records, which was the black division at EMI. Ken was phenomenal. My fondest memory with Ken was I’d done an English album with STEVE KEKANA. We wrote all the tracks, and he said, ‘you guys go have some fun”. I don’t know where they come up with the song - ’The Bushman’. And it became this (hit). Technically it was a huge amount of fun, because it integrated drum machines and live drummers… it was a melting pot, cos I’d worked at VideoSound, and they were doing Gods Must be Crazy. I phoned the director and said ‘can we have access to some of the Bushman stuff?’ So the guy in the (song), the bushman, is the genuine guy from the Gods Must be Crazy. It become this big, massive crossover hit.

He (Kekana) was the most phenomenal singer. He was just a singing machine. I mean it was frightening what he used to do. He’d just go in and sing and sing and sing. And do all the harmonies and just track them, and it became this huge sort of synthesized voice sound. Everything was … vibrato .. everything was just perfectly matched. It was frightening. And he was such a great human being. I did stuff with Malcolm with him, I did stuff with Tom Vuma, who did a lot more indigenous African stuff, earlier on. And then we did an album… Steve went to Gallo and we did an album. The Stimela guys actually played on it. I just remember because the sleeve was phenomenal, the guys were all in dustbin outfits…

The problem is that most of the black music in those days was not given a huge amount of credit. A lot of the deals that were done were extremely dodgy. People were handed recording contracts, with a publishing contract kinda tucked in, and they’d just sign away (their rights). It got better (in 80s), but…

(Some black artists must’ve been making money though, right?) 

They were, but by the same token, the record companies were creaming it. so … if we looked at the deals today, there’d be different structures in place. There were…especially young, up-and-coming people were kind of cajoled into signing deals that were not that kosher.

(Any memories of working on Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s hit BURNOUT?)

We’d done another version of the song. And this conversation came up. Sipho was playing around with the piano one day. And I recorded it, put in on (tape) and said, ‘That’s a great lick, we should do something with that.’ And he went away. I’d just got a LinnDrum - that day, or the day before. And I was playing around - how did this thing work? (I found) it’s got a rolling tom pattern in it, and thought ‘oh, that’s really cool, but it should be doing this…’ And that’s how the song (started). 

And then he went in and played the piano lick. Steve Kekana actually came in, he’d been out partying with some friends and wanted to show them the studio. I said to him ‘come and sing on this’. He said ‘No, I can’t’. He went away, dropped his friends off, he came back and said, ‘This song has been going in my head, I want to sing on it’. and that’s how it happened. It was a bizarre situation (coincidence). And that was the time….

What happened was that Gallo heard the song, and heard the potential in it and said, ‘Forget the rest of the album, we’ve got enough, don’t worry. You’re taking too long.’ It was the first 4-track album that came out.

(When did the bubblegum era start to slow down?) 

I found eventually I started to get very bored with it. I think probably for me, one of the turning points was when one of the heads at one of the independent record companies came in with a cassette of an artist I had just finished co-producing, it was a pre-release copy that he’d managed to get hold of. He said, ‘This is what we need to copy. This is gonna be huge!’ He didn’t know [that RM was the one who did it]. I just thought, ‘No, this is starting to feed back on itself.’ 

(When was this?) 

Probably late 80s, I think. And that’s kind of when it started changing … CHICCO became more aggressive in a way, almost militant, in his lyrics and things like that. I think we started to incorporate more and more live instruments into it. There always had been the live (element)… the drums tracks were programmed, but the bass player would play live, or the guitar players, or stuff like that. 

I think people were buying less but they were also buying slightly different ... it was more international, and a lot more of the kind of higher-level musicianship - the STIMELAs really started to blossom. 

I think the labels started to make less money. From my point of view, I started, as I said, to get bored... I think I probably made that apparent to Attie and Malcolm. For me, I think once we’d done ‘Too Late for Mama’ with Chicco (producing), then I did the follow-up album, which had ‘Black President’ on, but the rest (of the album) didn’t really have anything (special) on it. 

I started doing an enormous amount of film work then at that stage. There was a period when there were big tax concessions for movies being shot in this country, so (there were some) huge soundtracks being done, or fairly big soundtracks. A lot of that, in the late 80s. I did some stuff with Katinka Heyns. And then.. I did a very interesting movie with a guy called Jeremy Lubbock, who was an ex-south African guy who’d done the “Nuts” soundtrack with Barbara Streisand (and) who worked with Michael Jackson. He was a guy who had been living in LA and was known as an orchestrator. 

So I think I’d sort of moved on and said ‘OK, time for change’. I was doing quite a lot of stuff with Ray at that point. He had done the GRACELAND thing and people had picked up on him. He was doing a lot of demos that were picked up by a French record company. But then he went out on tour with Graceland, I think for 18 months, and they kind of lost interest.

(Any more thoughts on Graceland?) 

I think there were some issues, certainly, when it came to who had contributed. I know Ray had some quite heavy legal sort of fights about getting just rewards and stuff. But I think in the end, if you look at what’s happened with LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO, I mean its put them on the map. I think initially everybody though ‘OK, that’s it, that’s the floodgates opening, we’re gonna have this deluge of local talent flooding the world markets’ and stuff like that - and it didn’t happen.. Ja, there was some exploitation, I mean let’s face it, but (a few of) the guys (involved) have certainly benefited from it, as well. So I don’t know, I wouldn’t like to get a whole moral attitude (about it now).

(Why was music of the 80s was so successful and why has it been largely forgotten?)

The biggest tragedy was that the archiving system was chaotic. And a lot of the multitrack masters got wiped. And burnt – EMI had a huge fire, I think it was in the early 90s. I know also that a lot of the Gallo multitracks were recycled, they’d say, ‘OK, its released, so we can wipe those multitracks.’

You know, it’s part of the heritage that we have from South Africa, of the culture. But it was never recognised by the government of the day. A lot of it was kind of looked at as subversive, or to keep the masses happy. I don’t think that people really realised the potential of the songwriting in those days, and the performances. I mean that was…. the early days of those synthesizers and the drum machines and things like that, but there was still very much a performance-orientated mentality to it. I think also the songwriting was approached in a different way, there was a lot of buzzing going on in the studios, but there was a lot to write about. There was a huge amount of playing with concept ideas, the lyric ideas, to be subversive but not to be apparently subversive.

(What are you doing these days [2009]?)

I’m still working in studios. I do predominantly a lot of DVD productions. We shoot live shows, various acts. We did HHP this year. We did JOYOUS CELEBRATION. I do sometimes get involved with the visual guys, but I’m not a visual person. I’ll actually project-manage it, and put guys in whatever (roles). and we do a consulting thing with a big studio in Durban, a government-funded thing, they wanted a top-flight studio director. It’ll actually be up and running this week. It’s been the last sort of month and a bit. But it’s fun. 

And then we’ve got some … I can’t even give you any details, because I don’t know too much about it. but there’s some big international producer who’s coming out to do a collaboration with some local producer.

You know, what’s kept me going is the technology. I love the technology. And the changes. I really embrace that. 

For me, the late 80s and early 90s period was when I got involved up at Bop Studios, when they first started up. And that’s where I kind of probably lost track of what was happening in the local industry. I was doing a lot of stuff with…CAIPHUS had come back at that point, so I did a long project with him … and I mean the early 90s I was pretty all up in Bop, that was just…. you know, from studios here which had started to become really dated, it was this 10-year quantum leap into technology. I mean they were the top studio, it was all suddenly digital multitracks ... But I didn’t go through a period of that growth. It was just from here, cranky old 24 tracks and all that, and into what’s happening in LA right now (at Bop).

A couple of us, DAVE SEGAL is one of the other guys, embraced it. He went up there (Bop) all the time trying to do projects. He’s now with EDDY GRANT. He was LUCKY DUBE’s engineer – he did all the albums, he did all the live shows. So the band’s been picked up by Eddy Grant, and they’re touring now. 

© Afrosynth 



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