Following the release of a new album and an autobiography, Kabelo Mabalane spoke to Helen Herimbi about tracks and the field.
As an integral part of South Africa’s kwaito history, Kabelo Mabalane has often run laps around his competitors. This month, the kwaito star and eight-time Comrades Marathon runner, tells fans and avid readers just how he did it.
Co-written with journalist and author, Nechama Brodie, Mabalane’s book is called I Ran For My Life and his ninth solo album, Immortal Volume 3.
“I think the word ‘immortal’ is loaded. It says, ‘I refuse to die’. I stretched over a trilogy because it means so much,” he tells me in a secluded part of a restaurant. “And as a born-again Christian, I believe when you receive Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you don’t die. You experience eternal life. So I’m tempted to carry on with Immortal 5, 6, 7 and be like a Thomas Chauke or one of those guys,” he laughs.
The album has a decidedly Pan-African feel with Pidgin English bits infused with Ndebele hooks and catch phrases borrowed from Shona and Tsonga. Mabalane recruited hot house producers, Black Motion, on three songs and Rhythmic Elements on one. Frequent collaborator, Danny K, appears as do Candy Tsamandebele and Kani Williams. Some aspects of the album hint at the brass-driven sound popularised by MiCasa.
On the politically-charged opening track, Free This Land – one of two songs that sees the artist, aka Bouga Luv, interpolate Chicco’s tunes – Mabalane croons: We miss you Mbeki, where are you? to the tune of Twala’s We Miss You Manelo.
“I don’t want to be ignorant when it comes to political matters because I think politicians thrive on that ignorance,” he admits, “so I’ll speak out more and I have the platform to do so.”
A new platform he’s tapped into is writing books. His biography cleverly uses a guide on how to run the Comrades Marathon and juxtaposes that with the good, the bad and the ugly of his life so far as a literary device.
“I’ve always felt, especially on my spiritual walk, that spiritual laws reflect natural laws,” he explains. “I was passionate about running and always felt like God was saying: ‘As much effort as you put into running, you should apply the same focus to your business, to your marriage, etc’. I thought, ‘I never back down when it comes to running and it should be the same in life’.”
This mirror showed how the K in TKZee struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. The lows he reached that included in-fighting in the music group that made him, car accidents, run-ins with the law and the beatdown of a YFm DJ, are reflected in mini-chapters of valleys that are scrutinised in the marathon and the insecurity one goes through.
Having met with Brodie for two hours, twice a week for six months, the muso who’s been clean for 13 years, says the book helped him get “to a place where I’m sharing my weaknesses and vulnerabilities in order to help other people. I felt duty-bound to do it.”
A major thread of the book is family. At the launch, I caught up with his mother, who commented: “I’m happy that we’re laughing about it now. When it happened it wasn’t a laughing matter.”
Although his father has died – which is a heart-wrenching section of the book – Mabalane’s mother remarried South African lauded literature giant, Keorapetse Kgositsile, whom Kabelo referred to as “Papa” at the launch.
I asked Kgositsile what he thought of Mabalane’s book and he said: “Ja, I’ve read the book. I thought it was very courageous on Kabelo’s part to share even the non-flattering aspects of what he’s been through. But at least one could see that it was also guided by a desire for that kind of life to not be repeated.”
Oh yes, that means Mabalane is big brother to US rapper, Earl Sweatshirt of Odd Future. Mabalane laughs out loud when I mention this.
“I know him as Thebe,” he smiles, thinking about the young ’un with a cult following all over the world. “Can I tell you what the funniest thing is? On my I Am a King album, he must’ve been 10 years old. He was back from the States for holidays and begged: ‘Aw, dude, please take me to the studio’. And he does two intros on two tracks on that album. He’s like huge now!”
Mabalane is many things. A son, a brother, a father, a husband, an artist and an author. But it’s his new role as an actor – on The Road alongside his wife, Gail – and entrepreneur that gets him excited about his future: “My best days are ahead of me. I’m working on two projects that will see me become a proper player in the health and wellness space.
“I was saying to Danny the other day: ‘This might be my last album. Now I’m at peace with doing one more or maybe never doing another one. It’s a big decision and at least I know I’m not afraid to make it.”
We’ll be waiting for Mabalane to write his next chapter.
I Ran For My Life is in book stores and Immortal Volume 3 is in music stores.