Lvovo Derango at rank
Lvovo Derango at rank Picture:SANDILE MAKHOBA

With L’Vovo Derrango still riding high on his biggest hit in years and his big performance at the forthcoming Amstel Golden Hour, the big Durban kwaito artist still prefers lunching with his buddies under the trees outside the delivery entrance of Independent Newspapers. Therese Owen learns why he’s rigidly stuck to his roots and more about his kiss-and-make up collab with Zakes Bantwini.

It WAS a humid Saturday after- noon in February. Photographer Sandile Makhoba and I were about to enter the delivery entrance of the Independent Newspapers building in Durban to write about the Metro FM Awards which were taking place that night at the Durban ICC.

Suddenly Makhoba whistled loudly. From under the trees, where a few men were eating their lunch, emerged none other than L’Vovo Derrango. Greetings all around as if it’s normal for famous kwaito stars to hang out under trees near Durban’s train station and taxi rank.

L’Vovo! Aren’t you supposed to be on the red carpet tonight? And aren’t you performing tonight? The Teddy Bear hit maker nodded.

I turned in amazement to Makhoba, who replied matter of factly that this is where L’Vovo enjoys his lunch. He hangs out with a group of taxi drivers and eats his chisanyama while he has his car washed.

Maybe it’s a KZN thing. I go through a few KZN-born famous people who would join L’Vovo and his taxi brothers for lunch: Sizwe Dlomo? Too metrosexual. Khaya? Too full of himself. Tira? Too busy.

Big Nuz? Professor? Hell, yeah. And it really wouldn’t be awkward for anyone present.

Also those kwaito boys are tight like that. They have all collaborated on each other’s albums.

In fact, when Mapintsha (the big Big Nuz) was still scared of flying during the Umlilo days, L’Vovo was the one who replaced him for live gigs all over the continent. (Luckily for Big Nuz, L’Vovo is as big as Mapintsha in size, so to the untrained eye and ear, the fans would be getting the real Big Nuz.)

“We do this together as brothers,” explained L’Vovo. “Big Nuz came first. I knew them from the first album and we assist each other whenever we need to.”

Mapintsha has since overcome his fear of flying, but that has not stopped L’Vovo from doing guest appearances at their live performances.

Eventually, a couple of days ago, when I again found myself in Durban, my curiosity got the better of me and I decide to join the legendary kwaito muso for lunch under his favourite tree:

Unfortunately, L’Vovo had told the taxi bosses. They decided it would be safer if they were not identified in the newspaper.

When we arrived he was already munching away on a Durban staple – mutton curry and rice. He was dressed in his L’Vovo Derrango The Headmaster T-shirt and shorts. In fact, the scene surrounding him appeared so normal, people didn’t even blink when they drove past. He greeted us with his sweet grin, looking relaxed and happy.

L’Vovo then took us to his favourite take-away just past the taxi rank. We ordered the same food and returned to his lunch-time hangout.

“I lunch here because we’ve got a carwash,” he said, pointing to the petrol station across the road. “We park our cars here and the boys who wash the taxis wash our cars.

“I am free to be with people who don’t give me special treatment. These were people who would bring me money and food when I had nothing as a student. They showed me brotherhood.”

Hmm, he also looks happy. One could almost say he was “glowing”.

“I am happy because of my achievements. The Headmaster is my sixth album. My last album, The Irresistible, was in 2010 and didn’t do so well. Then I released The Headmaster in September last year and to my surprise the album did well, better than I thought. Palesa is a big hit. I was also nominated for the Metros and the MTN Samas.

“From the success of this album I have received sponsorship from CMH Alfa uMhlanga as well as K-Swiss Sneakers and Zooyork.”

Wow, Zooyork! I marvelled at the big man.

“Also for the first time in five years I went into the studio with Zakes Bantwini and recorded.”

L’Vovo’s grin becomes wider.

“Can you believe it’s been five years?”

(Quick history lesson: fellow Durbanite Bantwini discovered and signed L’Vovo to his label, Mayonie Produktions, and released his first three albums. Then L’Vovo decided to go on his own.)

About the split with the great Zakes, L’Vovo becomes circumspect: “We never fought, but I had to grow. Change is difficult to accept. I will always be grateful to him. The L’Vovo today started out with him. Zakes never stopped me from leaving. It hasn’t been an easy journey. After leaving Zakes people said we wouldn’t make it without each other.

“Being in the studio together was amazing. It’s been so long you could feel it. We were working with my new artist, DJ Merlin. Zakes started the track from scratch and then we got the hook. We still have to finish the song.”

L’Vovo is also excited about his performance at the Amstel Golden Hour. He has particularly big boots to fill as the standard last year was set by an all-star performance by TKZee with an 18-piece orchestra.

L’Vovo says he will be performing with a live band.

“Playing with a live band allows more creativity. I am free to do any- thing and say any gimmick I want to. With a backtrack I am compelled to stick to the music.

“With kwaito it is difficult to do only live musical instruments because there are things happening that only can happen in the studio. So I will be using a backtrack and a live band. Besides which, kwaito is not something you can stand and watch. It is music that needs to move all the time.”

There are also rumours that he might be taking part in a TV dance competition in the not-too-distant future, but he is staying mum on that.

“Right now I am concentrating on Derrango Records. I want to build my own empire and recruit artists from rural areas. Remember, I am originally from Newcastle. I came to study in Durban and never went back. Now it is time to give back to the rural areas.”

• Amstel Golden Hour takes place on Saturday June 8, at Mbombela Stadium as part of the Mbombela Music Festival.