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Mi Casa are the biggest act in the country right now. No music line-up or festival is credible without the presence of this house trio. Therese Owen spoke to J Something and Mo-T to find out just what makes them tick...
Divine intervention leads down streets to success
It is hard to believe J Something is only 23 years old. This unassuming man is wise beyond his years, what many would call an “old soul”. This is certainly a defining factor in his humility. He is also still a little stumped by how easily and quickly success came to the group.
“We thought it would take about two years for us to get known,” he admits. “But within four weeks of the release of the (debut eponymous) album we were big. Perhaps it has to do with a white guy on the streets of Alex singing in Xhosa.”
The song was the hit These Streets, which won Record of the Year at the MTN SA Music Awards last month.
“When we first formed we had this mentality that all we wanted to do is perform. We did a lot of free gigs and our first show was in East London and we never had a band show. That’s where the album began. We took the songs that worked well live to the studio.
“Our goal was 5 000 (units in sales) and now we are on 45 000. We will be releasing a double disc with a new track and an acoustic version of (the track) Heavenly Sent as well as remixes by producers such as Charles Webster, Black Coffee and Abicah Soul. The CD will come out at the end of next month.”
That J Something was set for success was written in the stars.
“I stared playing the guitar at age 11, but then gave it up. The first time I went to church this prophetess whispered to me that she had something to tell me. She stopped the service and asked me to go to the front. She told me God says He wants to use me through music. At that stage I had forgotten I had played guitar. I have this all on tape. I went out and bought a nylon string guitar and started writing and playing with the church band.”
Hailing from Portugal, J Something, real name, Joao da Fonseca arrived in SA when he was a tweenie.
“I arrived here in 1995 and my parents were both in hospitality. My dad had a job at the Fish River Sun in the Eastern Cape. I remember seeing a black person for the first time and he was playing with a rugby ball. I ran to my mother and said: ‘Please, let’s go home because they make horrible balls here’.
“I am close to my mother. My dad used to hit my mother and she always had a plastic bag of linen. If it got bad she would take me to the park and make a tent and tell me that tonight we are camping. Some nights we would stay out the entire night.
“I didn’t have a particularly traumatic childhood. My mother eventually left my dad and opened her own fine dining restaurant in Port Alfred by the river.
“I used to do concerts for my mother and her friends. I called myself the Junior Bee Gees and used to charge R5 entry and my mother would cook dinner. I also had these two Afrikaans boys who were my props. They would just stand there with their guitars, nothing more.”
His love for soul and house music began when he was 13, influenced by artists such as Marvin Gaye: “Soul music just triggered with me. I actually do acoustic soul.”
This acoustic soul manifested itself in the J Something Band. The memory causes him to grin: “Yeah, we were famous in Port Alfred.”
Soul Candi owner Sergio Potelho picked up a demo and on a visit to the Eastern Cape demanded J Something leave with him the next day for Jozi. And the rest is history.
“He believed in me so much. I met Dr Doda through my work at (record label) Soul Candi. Sergio thought I was going to be the biggest artist there. Now Mi Casa is the biggest artist they have ever had.”
J Something is quiet for a while, then says thoughtfully: “Now that Mi Casa is here, it is the greatest joy I have ever had.”
Trumpeter’s talent has him follow dad’s musical roots
Mo-T is an absolute honey with the sweetest ready smile. The trumpet player of Mi Casa is very dedicated to his work
and comes from a family of respected musicians.
His father Banza Kgasoane was the trumpeter in Mango Groove, while his grandfather, Henry, was the leader in a group called Big Hennie’s Band.
“I was a problem child who always wanted to be with his dad,” admits Mo-T (real name Moshe Kgasoane). Everything he owned I thought was mine. I would wear his shoes because I missed him when he was travelling all the time. I guess that’s what made me want to walk in his footsteps.
“I fell in love with his sound, which is why I am a musician. My dad never hit me as a child. He was crying during the Samas because he was so proud of us winning.
“My dad’s trumpet case always looked new. And, of course, I wanted his trumpet, but my parents gave me a cornet which is smaller than a trumpet. My mother would make me stay away from his trumpet in case I broke it. When they left the house they’d return to hear me playing his trumpet, but my dad always told my mother it was the radio.”
Mo-T is so passionate about his art that even at school, he lived for the trumpet.
“I tried to get into the National School of the Arts, but I was bad at maths so I was forced to go to King Edward School. They used to call me the Ten Past Two Boy because as the bell rang I would run to the bus so I could get home and rehearse. Every single day I’d just think, ‘trumpet, trumpet, trumpet’. I was expected
to do sport, but I never went to practice.
“I am so fortunate to wake up in the morning and do what I love, what I am passionate about.”
Outside of Mi Casa, Mo-T has played with DJs such as Fresh, Euphonik and Clock. He also got to play with his father and his hero in the Alexander Brass Band.
“My dad once said the only time I will have proper rest is in my coffin. Right now I must push forward and work hard. That is why I don’t like negative and lazy people. They are all talk and no action. I also don’t like people who are not original and live off others’ success. You must be real and yourself.”
Mo-T also had an opportunity to study his craft in Sweden for four years. However, he chose to remain in SA.
“My dad was so sad that I would possibly leave. He said if I left a part of him would leave, too. I thanked him for that decision because my success came from my country and that is proudly South African. It means a lot to me and to him because if I can survive here then I can survive anywhere.
“It puts a smile on my face.”