The singer-songwriter, whose real name is Samkelo Mdolomba, has the glorious golden sun setting behind him as he delivers a tearjerking (for real, the girl next to me cried) performance for the finale of JR’s brilliant Feel Good Live Sessions.
And when I chat with him after the cameras have been shut off, we revisit what he calls babbling. “Oh ja, eish. I don’t know the words,” he laughs. “I don’t know the words to any song, really.
“I was not one of those kids who wrote lyrics in a book. I didn’t write any poetry until I had to write my own songs. So I never just really paid attention to words. It’s all about the music, the melodies and the ... those things.”
Samthing Soweto’s penchant for prioritising the melody over the message became a signature of the group he co-founded, The Soil. He left the group before they found stardom but had developed such a cult following that the penchant, coupled with his distinct evasion, of enunciation made Samthing Soweto fans insatiable.
I’ve met several people who have thoroughly butchered his lyrics, thanks to how he almost swallows the words, so I ask him how he reacts to that.
Samthing Soweto. Picture: Supplied
“In the spirit of music or songwriting being a (part of) literature or being a way for you to express yourself using words, being accurate is important and I know that.
“But for the sake of connecting with the song in your own way - in ways that I don’t even understand, because when I make the song, I’m making it for whatever I’m making the song for, but as soon as I release it to the world, I know that people will relate to the song in ways that are unique to them. I’m aware of that, constantly. So, when I hear someone who sings something the wrong way, I don’t feel like I have to correct them.”
I ask him about this specific singing style and he says: “(Journalists) continually ask me: ‘Why do you sing the way that you do?’ And I say: ‘Well, I never think about words, I think about music.’ So the words are only secondary to me. The music speaks better.”
Just then, he tells me to shout out a popular song and after mumbling the words quickly, he starts to sing AKA’s The World Is Yours with just the right amount of nonchalance and flexing that it takes me back to what a good performer he is.
On Saturday, he headlines the grown and sexy party, TONGHT, which takes place at the And Club in Johannesburg. The party is brought to fans of refined artistry by DJ Kenzhero, Kid Fonque and Maria McCloy.
“I have two sets,” Samthing Soweto explains his appearance at TONGHT. “Two versions of what I do. The only song that is featured on both sets is Akanamali because it’s such a big song and people want that song.
“I have other songs that I will do on that day ... It’s more house-ish, electronic, dance stuff. I live in both worlds.”
The dance “stuff” is what has led him to become a chart-topping artist on several radio stations at the moment. Akanamali is one of the biggest singles to come out of the country this year. So big, in fact, that it’s led Samthing Soweto to explore that sound more.
Yes, it’s danceable but it has a cheeky, albeit ambiguous message about being loved beyond being broke. I ask him to break down select lyrics for me and Samthing Soweto is adamant in his refusal. “There’s this thing going around where people are trying to figure out what Akanamali is about. I like this,” he grins. “So I’m not going to give you a specific answer, so you can have your own version of it.”
A few months ago, Samthing Soweto put out a solo album called Val’amehlo - which means close your eyes. This is something he does often on stage. “This sound is new,” he shares. “It’s less than a year old.”
“We started this sound in January and what I kept on noticing was every time we’d do these songs this new way - because some of these songs are old but I’m redoing them a new way ... I’d close my eyes and sing and I’d open my eyes and (see) everyone was closing their eyes. So I thought ‘Okay, it’s a common thing, it’s a common feeling, a reaction - we’re all reacting to the song - so I called (the album) that.”
With the album pulled off the market and the interest in his work not waning, I ask Samthing Soweto what’s next. “There’s a trajectory Akanamali is showing me,” he tells me, “and I want to explore that as much as I can.”
* Catch Samthing Soweto at TONGHT, presented by DJ Kenzhero, Maria McCloy and Kid Fonque, on Saturday at the And Club.