For a lad who lost his parents at a tender age and grew up in the harsh environment of the dusty streets of Daveyton, in Ekurhuleni, Bongani Radebe’s success in the music industry is a fairy tale.

He shot to fame after he released a saxophone rendition album of the popular Buyelekhaya compilation by Nathi Mankayi. He’s now ready to take on the world with his sultry sounds using only his saxophone.

The young lad, who says he never had any intention of establishing a musical career, was discovered by Thami Mtshali and Lance Stehr, who were impressed with his playing that fitted the saxophone rendition project Stehr had in mind. They offered him a recording deal.

“Thami Mtshali heard me play and kept on asking for more, and I guess he then liked me on the spot and wanted to invest in me,” says the 27-year-old muso.

“When I was offered the album deal, that shocked me, and I just couldn’t believe such a blessing could land on my lap just like that. All I could think at that very moment was that ‘this must be God’.” Radebe, who is a self-taught artist, said his passion for playing the sax pushed him to work harder to save himself from a life of poverty.

“I am a kid who was saved by music because my life circumstances were not the best. I lost both my parents at the age of 9 and from then onwards I had to fend for myself to survive. That was not an easy thing to do, at all,” he says.

“I could say I am a child of the community because I was raised by everyone, living from here to there until I started renting at the age of 14.

“I moved on, until a point where I ended up living in a shack,” he recalls. This pushed him to work harder, part of which included studying Nathi’s music, the emotions that he communicates in the album and the messages that came through with every song.

This was in the hope that he could relate the real Nathi story, while also adding a touch of who he is. “It took us three months to put together the album. The first two months were the toughest. I would record music and delete it over and over again.

“I once asked Mr Lance to call Hugh Masekela to come and validate me, that I was worthy to do this album,” he says.

Stehr and his team then had to motivate Radebe to believe in himself. “All I had to do was reflect on each and every scar that I’ve been through, take those lessons and put them into my music,” he says.

With the album now done, Radebe says it sounds way better than what he had in mind. “I had to be able to listen to the entire album and also be keen to listen to it again and again to know that I did a good job.

“I believe I have given my work an imprint that says ‘come back to me’. It is a lifetime, instrumental album” he says.

“If I can listen to it and enjoy it, I just hope that it happens to other people.”

The album was released in December and is doing well in stores. Radebe hopes it will spread across South Africa and on the continent to touch more lives, just as the original album did.

“The responses to the album were there even before the marketing started... There are a lot of testimonies that I have received which makes me really happy,” he says. Radebe is working on his original music that he says he will deliver to the public in due course.

The Sunday Independent