HALF a century into his music career and Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse shows no sign of stopping. “The energy is at 99%, brother,” Mabuse quipped in an exclusive interview with the Cape Argus days before Music Exchange 2018 (#MEX18) is held in Cape Town this weekend.
As co-founder and chairperson of the valuable music industry conference, Mabuse mainly looks after policy direction.
The main focus of the conference is skills development in the music industry.
“A lot of youngsters enter the industry starry-eyed and they don’t understand the importance of good management, having a proper publisher, all those things. This industry is a business, and too often, young artists come in and they don’t understand these things.
“So this is what we try to impart - we share our knowledge as industry professionals, as those who have walked this path and made mistakes, and bumped our heads, and we try to help these young, up-and-coming artists navigate the industry, because it can be a minefield,” Mabuse said.
Artists are a dime a dozen in South Africa, but talented managers - capable of taking them to the big time - are few and far between.
“Too many musicians, it’s not just South Africans, they come into the industry and they think ‘I am a composer, I can run a record company’.
“There are a whole lot of things that are involved in the industry, every person has a certain set of expertise, which is required for the growth of an artist. You cannot be everything, because somewhere along the way, you’ll fall apart, because instead of concentrating on what you know, you become a publisher, you become your own manager, you become a roadie, you become everything under the sun, and guess what?
“Then you’re late for gigs, and people think, ‘ah, this guy is unreliable’,” Mabuse said.
“There is a skills deficit in terms of good managers who can handle the glut of talent in this country, and this is what Music Exchange seeks to address. The industry needs these individuals. Music management is one of the skills that is strongly lacking, and Music Exchange with all the experience and expertise of those we invite to talk, they can impart that knowledge to people on how to manage an artist, and what artist management is all about, and Martin (Myers), co-founder of Music Exchange, is a classic example (of a great manager),” Mabuse said.
“You need the patience to work with young minds,” he chuckled.
“You’re dealing with very creative minds, and selfish and greedy and starry-eyed and all things put together, but also very passionate about what they do, and without that knowledge and experience of having worked with such artists, you can never hope to manage them.”
Mabuse, a multiple award-winning multi-instrumentalist and the godfather of Afropop, still has a lot to offer.
And his best piece of advice?
“Carry your humility with you wherever you go. When you leave the house, leave everything behind, but carry your humility with you.”
Mabuse feels he can guide artists through any storm, but it’s up to the musicians and performers themselves to remain humble.
A classic example of this is Aretha Franklin, with whom Mabuse had the honour of sharing a stage, and Stevie Wonder.
“Such people as Aretha, and people like her who have achieved great success there’s no airs about them. There’s nothing for them to prove that ‘I’m capable’, when they get onto that stage, they just ” he let’s out a deep sigh, followed by a chuckle, “I mean Stevie Wonder, he does a sound check and we’re all sitting there, and out of the blue, he’s just composed a song right there on stage
“Can you imagine? And just the humility of being Stevie Wonder and just being normal, for me, that’s the legend...
“You don’t have to deal with the garbage that a lot of people carry, it’s fine, you know that there are people who have to go through worse things on a regular basis. Nobody even comes to them and asks ‘hey, what can I do for you?’ We are privileged, when we got through such things, we can find people who can come to us and say, ‘ek sê, what’s wrong?’ And make us feel better.”
And as artists, with that reach and that powerful voice, have a responsibility to use that voice to inspire others and hold power to account.
“I don’t believe we have used our voices as much as we should.
“Given the current state of our nation, I think we’ve been too reticent, we have been too silent, because I think maybe we feel now that it’s a black government, and we cannot deal with a black government and say things we felt strongly about when the nationalists were in power, and I believe that we need to use those voices.
“Where we see our government doing great things, we must give them praise, but where we feel they are out of line, we must use these voices to be openly critical.”
South Africa is still grappling with issues of racism, inequality and injustice, but these are challenges that can be overcome, Mabuse feels.
“Look, we are a new country, and we have our challenges and some of those challenges, like racism, are understandable. When people are fearful, they become offensive and defensive because they want to protect their space, it’s understandable. It’s a weakness in the human psyche.
“You know what a bully is? A bully is someone who is fearful of their strength, so they use violence to make a statement.
“Similarly, racists who advance racism, it’s just a fear, so by trying to protect themselves, they use racism so that it makes them feel better about themselves.
“But people who have no problems, and people who are OK, don’t need this nonsense,” Mabuse said.
“But as a country, we are new. When you look at history and some of these major countries, we are not doing badly.
“You know America went through all these things, civil wars even and they see themselves as this bastion of democracy, and the champions of democracy, which they themselves are not practising fully. We must really pat ourselves on the back, but we must be vigilant.
“We must be vigilant that we don’t allow people to run away with our minds, and make us believe we are incapable of dealing with these challenges when they are not correctly handled.”