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Radio jock keeps tribal music in the house

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TO Sol Phenduka

A South African radio DJ branching out into releasing house music. That’s not new.

But what’s refreshing about Solomzi Phenduka, better known to legions of YFM listeners as Sol Phenduka (pictured), is that he doesn’t merely license the tribal house that bears his name, he makes it.

I sat down with the man of big build on a warm morning after his shift on Flava in the Morning, in which he fulfils the role of sidekick and funny guy.

Settling for a coffee and eyeballing the gigantic muffin on my plate, Phenduka told me he’s lost quite a few kilos since he started watching his weight. But never mind what’s on my plate, Phenduka wants to talk about what he’s serving up: his self-titled debut album.

Featuring the likes of Camagwini (on a pulsating track that sounds like a chant of his name) and Soul Jack, the album is a labour of love that’s entirely composed by this 25-year-old.

“I didn’t like house music at first,” he confesses, “just because so many things in house sounded the same.”

But after realising he wasn’t happy as a teenager rapping under the name Savage in Vosloorus, his single mother got him a computer and he began making beats.

“I learnt a lot from [producer] Stethoscope,” says Phenduka, “while he was hooking up Proverb’s album, and then taught myself how to make beats.

“Now my beats are like my fingerprint,” he says. “My music is so much a part of me that I can’t make something that sounds like something else, which is a risk because you have to convince programmers on radio stations to play your music.”

It hasn’t been that much of a risk for this YFM jock as the Gauteng station was the first to blast his hugely popular Mount Zion track. But, to his credit, the beats are infectious.

But why go the tribal house route with minimal attention paid to the vocals?

“House, by definition,” he explains, “began in Chicago as an American genre. We were exposed to it from an American or French standpoint. But for tribal house, although there were pioneers like Black Coffee who also gave us his protégé, Culoe De Song, there seemed to be a slump.

“But I was still in love with tribal house because it’s some-thing South Africans can call their own. It’s us doing house our way and we can’t let Europeans copy this sound while we try to copy the European sound.”

Phenduka is yet another radio DJ-turned-house DJ who follows in the footsteps of everyone from DJ Fresh to Glen Lewis. But the difference is, while the legends of house were known for their compilations – on which they licensed and popularised international tracks through playing them at gigs – Phenduka creates all the sounds himself.

“Compilations are the corner-stone of the early days of house in South Africa,” Phenduka emphatically says. “If we didn’t have compilations we wouldn’t know Nick Holder or Frank Roger or Bob Sinclair.

“Software wasn’t that big back then and the internet wasn’t there so you could just buy music, so the only source we had was compilations and I’ll always respect that. I only have a problem with compilations when people say the songs are theirs when they aren’t. But if people buy music and read the sleeve then they’ll know that [DJ] Fresh never said the songs were his. I’d just suggest people compile more local songs.”

No doubt one of those songs would be a Phenduka original. For now, though, you can enjoy cuts from his self-titled offering.

• Phenduka’s CD is in stores.


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