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On the set of his new music video, kwaito king Kabelo Mabalane spoke to Helen Herimbi about his new album, translating rap and iguanas in the hood.There are three cages. Two are empty and in the other an iguana is clamouring to get out. It’s a scorching day in Mapetla, Soweto, and like the iguana, the people gathered around the TV monitor are getting restless.
We’re on the set of Kabelo Mabalane’s video for ‘Impilo’ featuring Big Nuz, off his eighth and latest album, ‘Immortal Vol 2’.
A Zulu word meaning life, ‘Impilo’ is about living good in the hood.
A whole community looks on out-side the fringes of the candy-cane coloured tape that encloses the set when one of the iguanas – that are meant to walk between the babes in bikinis and kiddie pool on the lawn – makes a run for it.
Those of us who are around the monitor almost break into a sprint to get away from the lizard.
Mabalane, who stands in the middle of the big Big Nuz boys, wears blue on green Nike Air Max takkies with his muscles covered by a tight green T-shirt. He looks like Bruce Banner before he gets angry.
Tasked with directing Mabalane’s 36th music video, director Thapelo Mokoena is worried that the sun beating down on the talented cast’s faces may be making them tired.
“The guys are warm now,” he says to no one in particular and quickly wraps up the scene before calling for lunch.
I take that as my cue to catch up with the kwaito king fondly known as Bouga Luv.
“Shooting a music video means you have to be emotionally invested,” Mabalane notes as we find the only shade available in the yard, “and it’s tiring.”
“This is my 36th music video. I started counting last night – but I’m definitely not going to move into video directing. My forte is songwriting, performing and just making music.”
So it wasn’t his idea to have the least ghetto of animals, the iguana, doing the slow stroll on grass ekasi? “No,” he chuckles, “it’s just cool aesthetically. There are no rules. For videos, I’ll take creativity over logic.”
Logic has also been thrown out of the window when it comes to what people expect of the K in TKZee. Continuing in the vein of his seventh album, ‘Immortal Vol 1’, Mabalane stays firmly rooted in kwaito but branches out into electronic sounds and a hint of dubstep for the second Immortal album.
“I wanted to work with people I don’t usually get to work with on this album,” he tells me, “people I respect. People who are doing great things in the music business. Some of those people include Big Nuz. We’ve been threatening to do something together and DJ Tira was instrumental in getting us together on Impilo which was produced by a young guy from Durban called DJ Gukwa.”
“Immortal Volume 2 carries on from Volu… hold on,” he says, getting up from the garden chair, “is that guy driving my car?” I look behind me and indeed someone is in his car. “I hate it when people do that,” he mutters not so softly and I am convinced The Incredible Hulk is about to appear.
With the car crisis averted, Mabalane explains that he’s touchy about car torque because “as I get older, I’ve learnt to let go of a lot of things, but I love cars and plan to drive really nice cars for the rest of my life.”
He won’t say exactly what car he’d love for his 40th birthday in four years’ time, but he does mention that he is a Kia brand ambassador.
Having been an ambassador for movements like Guz (a sub-genre borne of kwaito), it’s expected that people would side-eye Mabalane’s pop-fuelled collaborations with Danny K and George Avakian, his step into soft rock with The Parlotones and his foray into faster beats through his Immortal series.
This has especially irked Mabalane because his group, TKZee, was groundbreaking in its sample of The Final Countdown by the band Europe, so he’s never been a stranger to the alternative.
“It’s irritating that people are like, ‘Oh, he’s gone electro,’ but then I look at the age and feel of the people who are commenting and…” he throws his hands in the air, “[As a part of TKZee] we’ve been going against the grain and out of the norm forever.
“There recently was a radio station that refused to playlist some of my songs because they were judged on whether listeners were used to hearing me like this.
“It was an assumption that they wouldn’t like it. People like to label things so they can feel like they understand.”
But in the end, Mabalane insists, he’s just doing the music that moves him.
Having grown up on hip hop – and, as you might remember, quoting LL Cool J and making many Biggie lines catchy in Zulu – Bouga Luv admits this genre moves him too.
Mabalane laughs when I mention his direct translations of the Notorious B.I.G.’s most memorable lyrics and says, “I’ll quote Biggie because the influence was there.
“When I first came into the music business, I was a hip hop fan, but I knew if I did hip hop, I wasn’t going to hit the success that I wanted. I’ve made peace with the fact that I can love hip hop but if I want to speak to the country, I can’t do hip hop.”
As his awards and accolades will attest to, this aspiring motivational speaker, who is already recording songs for his next album, has skilfully spoken to the nation.
But what’s his secret to longevity?
“Just staying hungry,” he says, “and I’ve always had this theory that if Coca-Cola still makes adverts then you too have to keep going out there.”
Immortal Vol 2 is now in stores.