Of beautiful love songs, graffiti caves, slaughtering cows, yellow Volksies, soaring vultures, mountains, electric blankets – it is just another day in the life of comeback king, Joe Nina.
THERE are certain people in the world who can make me do just about anything. Guffy Pilane is one of those people. Magesh is definitely one of those people and Joe Nina is certainly one of those people.
Nina’s sense of adventure and spontaneous love for life is so infectious I would even go to Qwa- Qwa for a weekend with the man, which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago.
His business partner, Stanley Letsela, summoned him for a meeting about Julius Malema, or something arbitrary like that.
The previous day, Joe had sold me on the idea of the Stanville Lounge in Phuthadichaba, a live music venue that aims to bring the sophistication of Jozi’s top night- clubs to the 1.2 million inhabitants of the former homeland. So when he received the call on the Saturday morning, it was a no-brainer that I hop into the ML with him and drive for three hours to a forgotten part of the world.
The adventure actually started the day before when I met Nina at Durban’s Elangeni Hotel to discuss his latest album, Back Together for Life.
Before he played me the album, we played catch-up.
“About three years ago I met with an old friend, Stanley Letsela, who wanted to invest and revive my record label, Killa Joe Records.”
Thus began the process of recording not only a new album, but signing new artists to Nina’s Killa Joe Records as well as more established artists like Tshepho Tshola who, together with Steve Kekana, feature on Back Together for Life.
The artists in the Killa Joe Records stable include a woman by the name of Bonolo as well as the Divas DJs, a female DJ collective.
After the impressive listening session, Nina invited me to Vibe FM in KwaMashu where he was to be interviewed on their drive-time show. Unfortunately, we got a tad lost and, men being men, he refused to ask for directions to the community radio station. We just managed to get there on time and he ran into the studio and launched straight into the interview. Aah, the immediacy of radio is just so perfect.
After 15 minutes in the studio we departed for the Royal Hotel for the evening. When the call from Letsela came the next day, I was completely caught up in the infectious energy that is Joe Nina.
Let the games begin.
Stanville Lounge was as impressive as Nina had promised. It is a former apartheid home that belonged to one of the so-called ministers of Qwa-Qwa back in the day.
The homeland or Bantustan that is/was Qwa-Qwa was one of those weird states that only apartheid could have invented. When the ministers abandoned their homes post-1994, the enterprising Letsela saw an opportunity for a nightclub.
The man himself looks a like a cross between Trompies’ Jakarumba and Snoop Dogg and he seems to live in a bizarre world of law and deals.
He is also the son of a chief so he has shares in Witsieshoek Mountain Resort which is at the top of a mountain on the border of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. We spent the night there, but it was only the next day when I opened the curtain that I grasped the splendour of that part of the world.
On one side there is a magnificent view of the mountain range which includes Devil’s Tooth, and on the other side Phuthadichaba basks down below in the manner of Mordor.
I spent the morning lying in bed, warmed by electric blankets, watching vultures soar over the mountains. Outside it was so quiet that I could hear my thoughts loud and clear.
On the way down to Phuthaditjhaba, Nina insisted we stop and explore a graffitied cave. There is a leak in the roof and water drips into a little pond below. We laugh as we try to catch the water droplets with our fingers. It is amazing how mountains invoke simplicity in human beings.
When we arrive at Letsela’s warehouse in Phuthadichaba he has just returned from Harrismith where he’d gone to buy a cow for slaughter. One minute the cow was a bundle of moos and a few hours later it was sliced and diced and hanging out to dry.
The warehouse has about 22 cars inside, all of which belong to Letsela. This includes a yellow Volksie which he used to drive Winnie Madikizela-Mandela around in. His struggle credentials include smuggling cars out of the country for the ANC comrades in Lusaka. He eventually qualified as a lawyer when he was 29.
After the cow is slaughtered, Nina disappears to eat a piece of the beast raw.
“It’s called ukufukusa,” he explains. “It is part of our culture and I am a proud African man.”
People come and go throughout the day and night, with Letsela and Nina the focal point of everything.
We pay a daytime visit to Stanville Lounge and I am given a guided tour. They are building a large stage where they hope to host some of the biggest names in the industry. They also plan to bring out two Japanese house DJs. Of course, Japanese house DJs in Qwa-Qwa makes perfect sense.
I am introduced to their primary artist outside of Nina, the aforementioned Bonolo who sings in Sotho. The video for her debut single, Thaba B Nthhebilie, was shot on the mountains and co-produced by Nina.
Nina is confident that the artist is set for bigger things. Money is of no concern for Letsela and he is very proud to be Sotho, which is why he is investing in music.
With Letsela at the helm and Nina the creative mind, it may just be that Killa Joe Records has the legs to enjoy a revival.
More mature Nina on new CD
JOE Nina admits he loves singing love songs. “I love love songs and mostly I sing about love. I love love,” he grins. On his latest album, Back Together for Life, Nina offers a varied slice of adult contemporary ballads.
“The title track is about a man in love who ends a relationship and then mends it when he realises the error of his ways. This time he is back together for life.
“I get sentimental in the studio. I am an artist who has matured. I don’t want to write about the girls last night. I want to write songs my kids will be proud of.”
Lyrically he is also influenced by his divorce. “As a divorcée I feel I dented my children’s heads so much. I want to be close to them. When people get married they should do it because they love that person. They must live those vows and not marry because you want to be rich. People get married for the fun of it and then they get bored. Divorce is very painful and insensitive for the kids.”
The album also sees him collaborate with long-time friend, Steve Kekana, as well as Tshepo Tshola. In fact, on one of the
tracks he has The Village Pope doing ragga: “I wrote the track in 1999, but I felt at the time that the market would be confused. When Bra Tshepo heard it in the studio he loved it. He offered to record on it and did some poetry in Sotho. He recorded in two takes.”
The are a few tracks that have a subtle kwaito influence. “I never categorise my music and on some of the tracks I prove that kwaito can be sung and not rapped.”
Another track features The Green Berets who are a group of disabled Isicathamiya artists. The song Celebrate Our Hero is
the obligatory tribute to Nelson Mandela.
“For my birthday I went to My Saviour Orphanage in Kwa Thema, my place of birth. I celebrated my birthday with those kids. For the first time on my birthday I did not have people drinking with me.
“We gave them blankets and cooked and ate together. They were praying for me, which was so sweet. I felt blessed and we decided to sponsor the orphanage.”
He was so inspired by the experience that proceeds from Celebrate Our Hero will go to the Nelson Mandela Hospital.
Nina believes that this album brings real music back to his fans. “I refuse to believe that real music will die. I am back with my fans.”