After four years and two albums, Therese Owen finally tracked down the elusive kwaito artist Professor. It was the ultimate prize – an exclusive listen to his soon-to- be-released new album.
‘WHY ARE you so quiet?” questions Tonight photographer, Sandile Makhoba.
I silently growl in my head and survey the passing houses and activity that is uMlazi.
Why is it that I don’t get Professor? I party with the anarchy that is Magesh. I tiptoe into the silence of the beautiful noise that is Spikiri. I giggle and dance with Jakarumba and hold him dearly to my heart. With Oskido, I celebrate his gleeful adventure into the unknown, one step beyond. Basically, I get kwaito artists – except for Professor.
Since that KwaZulu-Natal-born Mofo first arrived in the big time as the guest artist on Spikiri’s mammoth hit Current (2005), it was apparent he is a major talent. In fact, it was Spikiri who first discovered and signed Professor to the Kalawa Jazmee label.
The Durban kwaito sound was started by the T’Zozo and Professor hit, Woza Durban. Then there are his two solo albums – The Orientation, featuring the resentful Jezebel and the happy Lento.
His second album, The University of Kalawa Jazmee, is one of my all-time favourites. It features the infamous Mafingerprints, but also has tracks with Ringo, Magesh, Ishmael and Stoan. It is the most unkwaito kwaito album ever.
His understanding of melody is unexpected. After the first 30 seconds, kwaito can become predictable, as is the nature of most dance genres, and that’s okay. But Professor prefers to investigate music. He’s kinda like the Muddy Waters of kwaito with a twist of Arno Carstens.
Shortly after the release of his second album, I tried my damnedest to get an interview with him, to no avail. I remember waiting at a hotel with his boss, Oskido.
“Don’t worry, my man,” smiled Oskido. “He’ll come. He told me so.”
Half-an-hour later, Professor’s phone was still off and Oskido’s smile had turned to a shrug.
“I think he’s in uMlazi.”
Yeah, well, having grown up in Durban, I know uMlazi men. Once they go there, it can be days before they reappear.
Fast forward to this year’s Vodacom July. A Durban hotel is swarming with Kalawa Jazmee artists and I am chilling with the cool insanity that is one of their directors, Bruce Dope. His artist, Professor, happens to arrive.
Aha, now is my chance. Professor smiles and agrees to an interview later in the week as he is working on his new album. He invites me to his studio to take a listen and we swap numbers.
But the thing is, I don’t trust him anymore. If Oskido couldn’t even get it right, how will I get it right? I turn to the one person to whom I think he will listen – his fellow Zulu – Sandile Makhoba. Makhoba gets it right and we are driving in an Isolezwe-branded car to Professor’s home and studio in uMlazi. But I am nervous about the interview. Why don’t I get Professor?
“What is up with Professor?” I ask Makhoba. “Why is he so difficult?”
Makhoba grins sweetly: “My friend is shy. Professor is shy.”
We find his home at the end of a long a driveway that characterises most houses in hilly KZN.
After all around hugs he smiles nervously: “I don’t know what white people drink so I got you some white wine.”
We laugh and as Makhoba sets up his equipment I notice how quiet it is. The sun is setting on shacks and RDP homes across the hill. I can hear the gurgle of a stream below. Professor and I turn to each other and say together: “It’s so quiet here.”
We laugh. A breakthrough?
For the shoot, I instruct him not to use fingers and hands. It’s so NWA circa 1980-voetsek.
“But you can smile if you want.”
He looks at me and scowls: “I don’t smile in photos.”
He folds his arms and glares at the camera. Alrighty then.
After the shoot it is time for the long-awaited interview.
Professor’s studio was clearly built after his house. It is spotless and has a bar/lounge just before we get into the actual studio. It is littered with various awards. I tell him that I am excited to hear his new tracks because he is so good and I don’t know what to expect.
The new album is called The University of Kalawa Jazmee – 1918 – 2013 – Campus.
“I didn’t want to write a song for Madiba because there are so many already,” explains Professor. “ So now there is my cover which will be here forever, just like his memory.”
The first song, Side Effect is unexpected and unpredictable. It has this break-beat chorus that is literally a whole lotta breaks inbetween the beats. It is a complete head rush and is immediately in the running for Song of the Year. Yet again, Kalawa Jazmee has another big hit on their hands. It is produced by Heavy K who also produced the Song of the Year Sama winner, Lento.
“I asked Heavy K to produce a song that is different and this is what he gave me. I am very proud of my first album because I used new producers like Uhuru and Heavy K. At the time Kalawa Jazmee only had their established producers like Mahoota, Oskido and Spikiri. I asked Bobstar to help produce my album and he brought in all these new producers. We worked every night for two weeks and came up with this album. I helped launch all these new producers and artists through my album.”
Was he nervous to release after the success and subsequent drama of T’Zozo and Professor?
“I knew that album would be successful. It is written in the stars. This is my destiny. I wasn’t nervous recording the album, but I was nervous once it was released. With my second album, I planned the whole thing. I worked with everyone I’d always wanted to work with – Ringo, Ishmael, Magesh. It was easy because they listened to me due to the success of my first album.
“I am actually a songwriter and enjoy featuring on other artist’s songs. So recording my first two albums was different for me. With this new album, I realised that I have been too commercial lately. I featured on my brother Character’s hits and also on Uhuru’s Y Tju Kuja. So I have decided that this album must be more dance.”
That last statement messes with my punk ethos, but that’s okay. Go with it. After listening to the album’s first single, I totally get it because only Professor and Kalawa would release a track like that as a single.
“My record company trusts me in a way that I don’t want to f*** up. I normally record and then go to them and they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They also use me as the mediator between themselves and the younger artists if the younger artists are out of order. This makes me proud.”
He then plays a track produced by Spikiri which features Danger from Big Nuz, Black Motion and the man himself. It has that driving Spikiri beat with that comforting old-school kwaito and irreverence. But it is Professor’s deep, dry voice that holds the song together.
“When I work with Spikiri he makes me feel like a king. He is so happy in the studio and I don’t want to disappoint him.”
Another track features Zola. He says they both sing on the album and I giggle inside. Really, kwaito artists who sing?
“I’ll tell you when Zola comes in.”
We nod our heads to the beat then at the same time turn to each other and point and start laughing. There, at the back of the beat that all too famous Zola voice had started. Aha, a definite breakthrough.
Makhoba is right. His friend, Professor, is shy. He is a songwriter and watching him in his studio, this is where he is happiest, when he is alone with his music.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s about how good you are. It’s the media, the fans, the average soccer player. I want them to fall in love with my personality. Look at Brenda Fassie, DJ Fresh, Vinny da Vinci. I don’t want to lose that love. Another youngster may make a hit, but that does not mean that I must be less loved.”
As friends arrive and a dinner of grilled snoek and salad is served, Professor quietly disappears into his studio and closes the door. The strains of M’du’s Tsiki Tsiki Yo are heard. About an hour later he emerges and plays us the new version of the remix of the song as done by Afrotainment’s Duncan, but with his vocals added. It is superb.
Listening to the remix of this classic song I realise that kwaito is an odd genre. It is such a niche, specific sound, but at the same time it isn’t. As you think the genre cannot go further, another one from Zola to Big Nuz to Professor emerges to carry the flag. And it attracts artists who could only be kwaito artists, but again there are no specifics of kwaito characteristics.
I leave the start of what looks like a kwaito party at Professor’s house not sure if I have found the real Professor.