While waiting for DJ Tira to arrive at a quaint restaurant on a scorching hot day at the end of what had been a long week, I ordered a Red Bull. The DJ and producer, who was born Mthokozi Khati, arrived just as the waiter set the energy drink down and I rushed to the restroom.
Once back at the table, Tira is trying but failing to mask a grin. I look at the can and it has his face on it.
There was no way the waiter could’ve known that I was meeting the winner of the recent Red Bull Culture Clash, but the stars were aligned just as they have been for Tira’s illustrious career.
“I think the team I put together helped me win Culture Clash,” he tells me.
“I’ve seen over the years that my heart and my strategy to be able to work with everyone who is willing to work with me has kept me relevant. I do a lot of collaborations and because, in this world, you never know where you’re going to get your big record from, you can never stop working.”
Barely a year since he reunited with DJ Sox for a double-disc album, Tira has released an album called Afrotainment Summer 2017. It features all the artists who are signed to his independent record label, Afrotainment.
“Afrotainment has been known for supplying South Africa with some anthems for the summer,” he grins. “It’s not like we’ve never been here before. Even last year, we had Umsindo, which was a summer anthem. I was just like: ‘people need something they will be familiar with.’ This is an Afro summer - why not?”
As the man who has an ear for a hit and an eye for spotting raw talent, Tira works tirelessly to find and work with young producers like Prince Bulo. He says the pressure is relentless.
“There’s always pressure,” he nods. “But my work ethic has put me in the places I am in.”
“I know the strategies needed to work and push a song, how much to invest. I know the timelines, which are very important. And with this project, so far so good. We released it at the right time and all that’s left is for us to keep 100% focused and push it to the best of our ability.”
“I think if Afrotainment didn’t have a guy who works the way I do then it would no longer exist. I hustle, bra. I hustle because I love what I do and I just love helping other people. With this project, there is a lot of new talent, so the success of the album will be the success of the producers, singers and everyone else on this album. I’m looking to get at least two people from this project who will be superstars next year.”
He tells me about some of the covert training he puts his team under. He monitors their behaviour at events and then has one-on-one meetings with them to discuss their strengths and weaknesses when thrust into the spotlight.
“They can drink and drink,” he shakes his head. “It’s up to you how you behave yourself when we’re out, but on Monday I talk to them and tell them if they can’t handle their drink and want to get on stage and dance when it’s not their strong point (it) is not good.
"You can only see how good a song you believe in is when the person performs the song, you know?”
One of the smash singles from Afrotainment Summer 2017 is Malume, a gqom number steeped in innuendo about an uncle who bites. That song features new signee, Tipcee. The rising star is also featured on the infectious iScathulo, which also features Busiswa, the Distruction Boyz and Tira himself.
“Tipcee has been around the industry for a long time,” Tira explains. “She just didn’t get the break she was looking for. She jumped on Malume and she killed it!”
He’s sporting a white Afrotainment T-shirt - if he doesn’t rep his squad, who will? And so I ask him about whether he feels he is a natural-born leader? “In high school, I was a part of the entertainment committee,” he shares.
“I was also the vice-captain of the soccer team - scoring goals for my school. I played a little in varsity but music took over. But I was always a leader.”
Another interesting song on this album is Change 4 Nobody by Duncan, featuring Kwesta and Masandi, who interpolates classic Brenda Fassie.
“That song is about being yourself,” Tira tells me.
“Money shouldn’t be what changes you. But with the style of music - that’s where you need to evolve. When kwaito is no longer working, and gqom is working, baba, jump to gqom and do your thing... If you don’t change, you die.”
It’s this determination to evolve and operate at his highest level that keeps Tira and his music on people’s lips. A trait he needs if his album is going to be the hottest this December. Before ending the the interview, Tira had posted an image of the Red Bull can with the caption: “Young Meeting Boast #2017CultureClashChamp.” The post has since garnered well over 2990 likes. Not a bad start for a guy who aims to have all eyes on him this summer.
Afrotainment Summer 2017 is in stores and online