Renowned not only for the effect and influence Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse has had on music in South Africa, but for his positivity, Mabuse has chosen to celebrate his half-century in music by sharing the stage with other artists. This is typical of this extraordinary man.
Mabuse will perform with Freshlyground and Siphokazi Jonas next Saturday at Spier Wine Farm. One would have thought he would have gone solo to mark this milestone, but he said: “Performing with others is always a privilege. It is a opportunity to be inventive and gain more experience.”
Mabuse, 66, began his professional career at the age of about 15 while at Orlando West High School in Soweto, where he started a group, The Beaters.
He said “Orlando was referred to as The Mighty West by the headmaster, teachers and students for its achievements in academics, sports and choir competitions, as well as subsequent leadership in the South African political landscape.”
He said the Beaters’ first gig was at Uncle Toms Hall (now known as the Hector Pieterson Memorial), in a bursary fund-raiser for needy students.
The concert included a young opera-trained Mara Louw.
“Mara received R10 as a single-performance stipend. As a five-piece ensemble, we shared R10 among ourselves. Mara always revels in that. This was a generous gift from our headmaster Dr SK Matseke.”
The Beaters subsequently become Harari, one of South Africa’s most successful groups in the 1970s. “Yes, Harari led to a transformed political and musical consciousness,” he said.
After Harari’s split, in 1982, Mabuse went solo. His groundbreaking single Burn Out was released in 1984. The old South Africa was on the boil. PW Botha was out there wagging his finger, and there was Mabuse with his “funky township disco-jive jam” becoming the first major crossover hit in South Africa and selling more than 500000 copies.
His last album, Township Child, was released in 2006 and is a testament to his love for Soweto. Regarding himself “as a township man” to the core, it has always been and will always be his home.
“I was born in an informal settlement, shantytown. When I was five, we moved to Orlando West. Soweto bred me. Soweto gave me all I am. I am born of the township. It inspires and motivates my creativity. I imbibe from its resourceful well of great talent, street cred and intellectually engaging discourse, shebeens, ‘clever blacks’ and tycoons.
“From my marriage, to my beautiful children, to my grandchildren, to loving families and immediate and extended wonderful friends. Soweto is home. A bedrock of resistance struggle against oppression, with two Nobel laureates - Struggle icon Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu. Spawning three great soccer teams - Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs. No place is like it.”
If anyone personifies the concept of giving back, it is Mabuse, who has always been there for others. He and his family run Soulvillage Studios in Soweto, which has become a force in upskilling young musicians.
“I have always believed we are made by others throughout our lives.
"I still subscribe to that. Surround yourself with people you trust and always yield positive dividends. We should always remain indebted to others by bequeathing gained experience and lessons from others learnt through our experimental journey.”
He reflects. “The future is forever while our lives are limited to time on earth. Soulvillage is busy with a new project by young musicians who call themselves United Stars of Soweto, and there are other exciting projects on the go.”
Mabuse ditched formal studies for the most part.
“I practised a lot and received guidance and recognition from some of the most revered pop and jazz musicians like Early Mabuza, Gilbert Mathews, David Ramogase and Caiphus Semenya, whom I met in Botswana for the first time.”
Despite his early success with music as a teenager, Mabuse had his sights on being a doctor or lawyer “to please my mother”. The music called, but who knows what will happen in the future.
“I seem to have little patience with structural learning environments as I did with high school. I also dropped out of my music lessons, something I regret, but as I did with my matric, I hope to study again.”
* Tickets for the concert range from R200 to R250. Book at www.computicket.co.za or call 0861 915 8000.