Dancing with the Diaspora
Bholoja Interview 28/06
Swazi Soul is still on promotion. It is in stores especially in Mpumalanga. I have worked with SA and French musicians. The whole project was mixed and mastered in France. Kwa Magoga Number 43 was a special project still not finished. It talks about the ANC during the apartheid era when our comrades moved from South Africa to Swaziland. House number 43 was Grace Masilele who is called Magogo. It talks about everything that happened there like when the president Jacob Zuma was staying together with ex president Thabo Mbeki. Although they were based at George Hotel. There are only 4 tracks … I hope it will be released at the end of the year. Don Laka is producing the whole project under House of Masekela.
What about the big braai?
It is the second time it is happening but my first time to participate because it is charity work. The profits will go to the Philani Mswati Charity organisation under the Queen Mother in Swaziland. The charity is mainly for the elders in Swaziland, they give them food blankets and clothing, sometimes shelter. It is growing every year and as musicians we are partaking to support that charity. It is also for people who are handicapped. Sometimes they give to them wheelchairs.
How is it with the elder musicians?
I started my career and got my experience from the few guys who managed to break the boundaries – Isaac Gamedze and Buddy Masango. They are mostly playing country and western music. I was looking up to those guys and eventually they taught me. I continued on my own and started to listen to music Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Jonathon Butler, South African music. And of late I listened to world music. I had to find my own style of singing and my own brand which is called Swazi Soul. I have to sing in SiSwati language and promote my culture.
The world musicians you have performed with have influenced you ?
Vusi Mahlasela has been my mentor and role model. I am happy in August he is inviting me to the festival that he is doing. I have also had the opportunity of being supported by the Alliance Francaise in Swaziland. Since 2007 they have been supporting me to have workshops. In 2009 trough Culture France I was part of the Visa pour la Creation competition that they host for the best up and coming African musicians which also discovered from Cameroon and Assa from Nigeria. 2010 I was on top 10 Radio France and won the best SiSwati album. That was my first album. It has been gradualy growing and finally last year I recorded my second Swazi Soul album which was pushing and marketing. Most of my work has been supported by Alliance Francaise. Culture France created a tour to 17 countries including Camores, Reunion, Madagascar, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia … It has been good experience and I have learnt a lot. In France in Toulous I had the opportunity of opening for Salif Keita …
Is Swazi music on the rise?
Yes. There is much support that we are getting as musicians. But when I started in 2005, being supported as musicians was at its lowest. Everything happens and accelerates because government is being part of it. As we are alone as musicians it is hard to make it on our own. It is the survival of the fittest. If government is supporting then things are better. We are getting somewhere slowly. Government is offering even music scholarships which is something they have never done before.
In the year 2000 I wanted to go to music school in university. And they said they are not sponsoring that unless you are doing engineering, doctor or teacher. I had to do Mechanical Engineering my second choice which I did until I finished in 2005. And then when I finished I went back to my career and worked for 2 days and then I realised I can't continue because my passion is in music. I started performing in restaurants and bars until I was performing at House on Fire where Jiggs Thorne did great work giving me opportunity to open for musicians coming there. That is when I was spotted by Claude Gonin. He was the director of AF by then. He believed in me but my craft was not solid. He said I have got something unique but I have to be exposed to the kind of music that I fall into. I started organising some trips for me to go to France and have workshops. Everything happened so fast and so quick. The mind-set back then is that you cannot live with your talent especially if you are doing music, but today everything has changed. Now parents in Swaziland are really supporting their kids to do arts because they have seen that we can make a living out of it. If others can, why not Swaziland?
Chatting to Mike Temple?
Mike Temple played a very big role for instance he opened an opportunity for me to be an ambassador for MTN. It was the first time. I had never heard of that in Swaziland before seeing big comp[anise doing it. But today companies in Swaziland are also believing that you can work with musicians, they can also be ambassadors, they believe in what we are doing as musicians and see the impact in the community. We are messengers. We are able to change people's lives. We need to be supported. He taught me even paperwork and clearly taught me that when the demand is too much you need to get someone to assist you now because you have grown and are able to do things on your own because also my work is demanding.
He talked of song lyrics?
Inzawayo - In the rural areas we all go to town to look for jobs but we don't bother to come home when things are going well. People abandon their home and go to the towns to search for work. They find work and don't go back home. One of the children will stay home with the parents and make sure they look after the parents until when they pass on they take their responsibility of the funeral. And all the other guys are not around they are in the mines in JHB and so forth and they never bother to go back. But when life is tough in the cities, they remember they have a home and you find that when the parents died they offered everything to the son that was always at home. And now they come back to fight for their place as well that this our home. Inzawayp means this is my place because my father left it for me. The others were irresponsible.
There is another one called Hiyi – like when you greet someone. This girl has got a boyfriend in the rural area, the farms. They have never been in town looking after cattle and the life style in the farms. They were a couple and decided to improve their lives. The boyfriend came with an idea that his girlfriend goes to town and becomes a tea-maker in one of the big companies. So they agree that the lady will go to Mbabane. Two weeks down the line the boyfriend decided to go to visit his girlfriend in town. He went there only to find that when he is greeting his girlfriend in his mother language. He is saying Sawubona Kunjani and the girlfriend is saying Hi! She is no more wearing flat shoes, she is wearing high heels. She has taken the life style of the city. The boyfriend was having difficulties because whenever he was talking in his SiSwati language the girlfriend was saying get a life boy, this is Mbabane. It is song that talks about losing ourselves. Being colonised by Western influence. It is a song saying be careful about this. Most of the time we are influenced by foreign things and we lose our self being.
Gospel music … ?
Don't be surprised when one day I am a pastor or a pareacher. I grew up in a Christian family and of course all my life I have been listening to gospel music at home and at church. The biggest thing about my music I am in the field because I know that I have been sent by God to play role in people's lives. It cannot be something that is like preaching like most gospel musicians are singing about but for me it is about bringing peace and happiness and motivating people who have low self esteem and addressing the issues that we are facing as a nation ad Africans in a nice manner and also bringing solutions to that. I believe if you are a musician you are a messenger for hope. And an ambassador for your country. My music is all about that bringing peace and inspiring people. It is all about unity.
Is there any influence of Izimbongi?
Your work in development?
Every year during my spare time I tour at least 20 schools in Swaziland motivating students and encouraging them to believe in themselves and work hard no matter what challenges they face and to perservere in life and also talking about the issues that are affecting us like HIV / Aids. That is sponsored by the US embassy in Swaziland. People must be responsible and look after themselves. Focus on studying and look after their future. They have to do things the right way. And also making examples that myself I was not a good student in mathematics but in order to do engineering I had to work hard to qualify. It happened and then I realised that I had never studied music but it had been through my hard work and believing in myself and working through the right people. You help yourself and believe in yourself before other people help you. That is the message. They can achieve anything they want, but education is important as well. They have to work hard, work smart and never mind about the challenges. The challenges should not be a stepping stone. It is there to make them stronger so they are able to be successful in the future whenever they reach problems, they know these are waters they can cross. Also educating them about the SiSwati language the culture and tradition we don't have to loose. It is good to know other people's cultures but don't loose your culture on the way but keep your culture your tradition know where you come from know where yo are gong and be the best story-teller about your livelihood and your culture in Swaziland. This year I will be doing it again and this time I incorporate traditional music and traditional instruments which will also be part of a festival that I am looking to have end of October called Yebo Mzala Yebo Gogo. This tour I will have a platform to lecture about traditional music and instruments and run a competition for students and scholars who are able to make the traditional music instrument to play it and compose a song on it that will talk about the history of Swaziland. To fuse that instrument with modern sounds for instance if you play Makhoyane with isitolotolo and fuse it with hip hop. That is to make them aware that you must have your signature in everything you do. You must put your culture first and you must be proud of who you are. You can appreciate yourself and your culture working hand in hand with other musicians as well.
In studio with?
Velemseni is 24 years old, young and up coming, embracing the Swazi Soul vibe. She is keeping the roots but embracing the modern vibes. We have just started something. It is long that we have been working together and we have decided to try and come up with a collaboration of songs which we are looking at having our own album for the duet. It is taking shape.
Jiggs Thorne said,
Bholoja is a wonderful success story. He started out as a young musician here in Swaziland. He usd to pitch up at House on Fire when he first started and would offer to get up on stage at any opportunity. He didn't have any transport, money and in the early years he would stay the night at House on Fire after the performance because he couldn't get back. Didn't have the money or the transport. He then had the wonderful opportunity of partnering with the Alliance Franciase and Claude Gonin the then director of the AF recognised the talent and Claude was able to get Bholoja to France to record his first album with a group of amazing musicians over there. That was a fantastic formal start to his growth as an artist. Swaziland is a very small industry there are a limited number of venues you can play in Bholoja has done a lot of corporate events, but if you are going to make it as a musician you have got to perform outside of Swazilands borders – despite the gospel industry. But for other artists it has been very difficult to make that transition. But Bholoja has lead that within his genre. More and more we are hearing about local artists getting out and getting airplay in SA. It is something he has lead. He has managed to travel extensively with the AF. There were a few sponsored tours that got him around the continent and offered him the ability to perform in Europe. The SAFMC got him to Reunion, Moz. He is in Madagascar at the moment. He is out there and he needs to be in order to develop and grow his profile. It is great to see him achieving this. The life-blood is about being able to harness an international tour network within the sub-region and then te continent and then the world. He has what it takes to travel. His most recent album have dabbled with more popular style and a gospel sound. You need to be pragmatic as an artist and I am hoping he will keep true to his roots. His traveling team needs to be small and manageable and cater to the limited budgets people have available to get artists around the world. He is kind of a one man band, I actually enjoy him most when he is alone. He has a voice which soars. Bushfire has been a major platform for him to share his work with Swaziland and the world. Bushfire offers this wonderful vehicle – an annual international platform. It is an exciting opportunity for us all.
The SAMFC is a network of festivals that allows us to not only solicit acts but supports and promotes arts ability between member festivals and this ultimately means we are getting cultural ambassadors out into the region and for the first time you have Swazi acts traveling around the sub-region and is certainly offering local artists the opportunity to get out there and exposure is the big teacher and a major catalyst for growing the arts in the region.
Mike Temple managed Bholoja and there was tremendous growth for Bholoja during that period and making sure things were happening. When artists can attract management. When the products strong enough, management can really help grow and develop product.
Chatting to Michael Temple
Bholoja was probably one of the initial reasons that Swazi music started to rise. He became recognised locally, regionally and internationally. That then got Swaziland on the map. Although there have always been good musicians in Swaziland, the exposure has not been there and he managed to get the Swazi music name out there under his banner and he was one of the pioneers in making it available to the outside world.
I helped him a lot. The role I played was not one of artist management, I acted like a fatherly figure helping him to understand the business world of music and we were one of the first Swazi artists to have a meeting with SAMRO. I was more involved on that side. His music side I did assist him a lot. I cannot remove the assistance the ex-director of AF played in getting him on that African tour and the development of his first CD Swazi Soul which was done with their guidance, monetary and production assistance. David F was the sound engineer on the first CD that was produced and that made it an internationally recognised CD from a sound quality. I used to try and guide him in the right direction which he has gone as he has stuck to his music and his roots. To me it was a hobby and something I really enjoyed doing.
I heard him at House of Fire he was very raw but I did hear something. After that he went to Jiggs looking for assistance and Jiggs asked me to assist him. It is not something I normally do. Most of my life I have had businesses and I have been in politics for about 30 years. I did it and enjoyed it and I don't know if I would do it again. I looked after Joe Dlamini for many years. He was the first professional golfer for many years. I used to guide him help him, caddy for him every now and then. It was quite an interesting time because it was during the apartheid era so to see a white man caddying for a black man was a strange thing and we did have quite a few issues particularly playing in South Africa but it worked out fine. And it was the same thing I did for Bholoja. Here is a young guy, he needs assistance, guidance help and that is what I did. I managed to negotiate for him to be the MTN brand ambassador for two years. It was a pleasure. Hopefully he feels the same day. He is almost like a son to me.
I am chairman of Bushfire so have fortunately been involved in the industry for a long time working with creative guys like Jiggs and others. There is a hip hop guy called Courtesy, very good. He was MC-ing the event and it was on a Thursday and he called three school-boys up and I was blown up. He said the guys came to him on Tuesday and they know how to perform I gave them an open-mic session I was blown away and what you have seen is raw talent. I do believe there is a lot of musical talent. I don't know what it needs to make it take that next step. Is it money, I don't know. Is it exposure – yes. How do we get that exposure. Bushfire is an ideal opportunity for that exposure. It creates a lot of exposure for local artists.
Arts and Culture is a very strong department within the ministry and they do a lot of work in arts culture and the music industry but in such a small country with a limited fiscus, sometimes to spread the pie becomes very difficult. Often we need outside assistance like AF and others. US embassy was helping. Bholoja did a special song for Obama and he received a CD and wrote a letter back to Bholoja thanking him. That is the exposure. We have had Bushfire, what next?
There is a youngster called Lungani Makwang. He is a bassist, based in Johannesburg. He is in the band that performs for Nathi, Soul Brothers. There is Tlade Makhene. He is a Swazi but decided to base himself in Johannesburg. One thing we are proud of is our musicians, our music and culture. I do believe there is a huge opportunity, it is to get it out there for the world to appreciate.
Bholoja is an example of somebody using his culture. Most of the songs that he sings. Isayamo means this my plot of land that was given to me by the chief and nobody can take it. He sings about all the cultural things, how you are able to get a plot of land. In one of the songs he talks about ladies migrating from the rural areas to the urban areas and putting on high heals and forgetting where they come from and when they get back home their mothers scold them so it is bringing out a lot of culture.
And we have other musicians that sing like that, Nomzamo, she is with Joyous, she sings a lot of Swazi cultural songs.
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