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T’Zozo and Professor made it big with Woza Durban in 2004 and changed the sound of kwaito. After their split, Professor went on to release two massive award-winning albums. Now it is the turn of T’Zozo, who has just released his debut solo album, Amabills. He talks to Therese Owen about the album and exactly what he has been doing in the interim.
Every time I attend a big kwaito event in Durban, whether it be a Kalawa Jazmee download party or an Afrotainment launch, I bump into T’Zozo.
The little man is always so pleasant and enthusiastic. He has a sweet, gentle aura and his unassuming nature is endearing. This is reflected in the work he has done since he and Professor split a few years back. While Professor has gone on to become a huge star, T’Zozo chose to remain in his home province and use his fame to help the youth. This includes raising funds for 200 orphans around KZN as well as working with government departments to improve the lives of young people.
In fact I connect with him on July 18 near the twilight zone of Durban’s CBD. There he is performing as part of an initiative by the Department of Community and Safety to reach out to the hundreds of whoonga addicts who gather on the train tracks nearby to smoke their highly addictive street drug. These street kids also live deep within the storm drains of Umbilo and the harbour, coming out at night to find dangerous and dubious ways to make money for their next hit.
The kids were there in droves and after the speeches crept forward to the stage to be closer to T’Zozo.
By the second track they were jumping on stage.
Instead of shrinking back, T’Zozo danced with them and gave them branded T-Shirts.
It was remarkable to see an artist who means what he says, that he works with grassroots people. Not many would have had the courage and/or the conviction to do that.
When we meet a few days later to discuss his debut solo album, Amabills, T’Zozo explains his philosophy towards the young.
“I am an orphan and I want to send a message out there. Even if you don’t have anyone, you can still pay your bills with your talent. Hence the name Amabills.”
“My grandfather was burnt to death in 1990 in my hometown of Umgababa and my father was shot to death during the ANC vs IFP war. My grandfather was an ANC chairperson in that area. My mother was sick at the time and passed on. I was raised by my grandmother.
“Back then I was angry. I wanted to fight and join MK. Luckily my uncle took me to Stanger, where I finished my matric.
“Now I have my own house, my own car and I don’t owe anyone. If this happened to me it can happen to others. I work with the orphans because I don’t want them to suffer like I did. I don’t want people to suffer.”
He is also an ambassador for KZN Community and Safety where he tours schools motivating about drug abuse, among other issues.
Aside from doing government campaigns which include events and performing, he more recently worked on his album.
“After Professor and I split we were called to a meeting with our label, Kalawa Jazmee.
“The five directors said Professor must release first to save confusion. Kalawa has strategic patience. What an artist must learn is not to fight with their people.”
His relationship with the independent record label began years back when he joined them as a songwriter and artist. He wrote tracks for BOP and Trompies.
“When I joined them they were struggling a bit and I helped them as a songwriter. They give me respect. I used to work with Bruce Dope and he is amazing.”
T’Zozo’s album was recorded partly at the Kalawa Jazmee studios and partly in KZN. In accordance with his humanitarian approach his first single from the album is Power to the Woman which dropped in 2012. He worked with new and more established artists, most of whom are from KZN.
“I like the fact that Kalawa allowed me to showcase the new young talent from KZN like they did with Professor and I in 2004. Kalawa grow people and I want to do the same here in Durban.”
His main producer was a young talent he discovered going by the name of GTI. “He mixed all the songs. He is the next Bruce Dope.”
He has also used the services of Magrooveez who were T’Zozo and Professor’s dancers back then.
“I saw talent in them and I wanted to look after them. Some people don’t look after their dancers.”
Other artists featured on the album are his fellow KZNers Big Nuz, as well as DJ Clock, Ihashi Elimhlophe and Phuzekhemisi.
“I grew up listening to Ihashi and Phuzekhemisi plus they have an audience.”
He also has a track with his former partner Professor.
“It was nice working with Professor. I respect him because he is one of the best and taught me a lot. I’m a hook master; he is a storyteller. Magrooveez were also on the song. It was hectic in the studio.
“People think we started Durban kwaito but neither Professor nor myself call it that. We call it kwaito. It’s South African music.”
When it comes to marketing and selling the album, T’Zozo has a clever approach. He is selling CDs from the boot of his car at taxi ranks around the country. And, it’s a fact. Taxis are mobile adver- tising platforms without the hassle of the egos of radio programmers.
“Taxi drivers don’t have time to go to the shops. I have banners in my car that I erect at the rank. If you buy a CD you get a free T-shirt. When people see me they buy, take pictures and ask for autographs. Once a fan sees you out there they feel you’re showing them love.”