Thebe is everyone’s favourite kwaito uncle. When we meet, the restaurant is so noisy that I ask him if he minds if we sit outside where people will likely want to speak to him. “I don’t mind,” he says nonchalantly, “I love the people.” Exactly how you’d expect a famous relative to react.
I catch the stares from passers-by and hope I won’t have to stop the recorder on my phone. But then Thebe’s cellphone rings and it’s Bruce Sebitlo. Who am I to not press pause for two legends chatting about hanging out?
Thebe, whose favourite past time now is spending hours on the Vaal River on his boat Chizboy Ambiance is rarely in Joburg.
This weekend, he will be performing in Newtown at TONGHT which is brought to you by DJ Kenzhero, Kid Fonque and Maria McCloy. The party specifically created for the grown and sexy in mind is exactly what Thebe was willing to leave his boat and home for because “my music has always had that acid jazz influence and TONGHT does too”.
Once he’s hung up the phone, I ask Thebe, born Thebe Mogane in Polokwane, about a destiny that started with being roomies with a young Sebitlo. “I was studying and deejaying in Mahikeng,” Thebe starts. “There was that Bop recording studio – the best in the country – and I went there to get a job. They didn’t have one for me so I worked and learned for free.
“Bruce had a keyboard at his place so if I wasn’t at the studio, I’d be at Bruce’s house and he’d create these tracks. I would take them and then go and play them in my DJ sets. While deejaying, I’d have these gimmicks where I shout people out over the songs or say things that were popular in the streets.”
See where he got his penchant for roll calls that become entire songs? Anyway, Thebe would be at Sebitlo’s house so often that it began to seem like he lived there. While deejaying, Thebe mixed in one of Sebitlo’s creations and “people went mad! Oskido was actually on the bill that night and he asked me whose song that was”.
Thebe. Picture: Instagram
“It was Oskido!” Thebe exclaims like he’s starstruck again. “He came back and said: ‘Let’s make music.’ I saw it as a chance to go to Joburg to work as a DJ with Oskido.”
He released his debut album, Tempy Pusher, in 1995. Two decades later, Thebe has 12 albums under his belt. Known for peppering some vulgar but cool slang in his songs – just like the uncle who makes you laugh – Thebe has now toned it down.
“There was an audience that grew up with me. But a younger audience was starting to come out too. So we decided, I can appeal to the kids but can’t lose myself.”
This is why Thebe’s story is so fascinating – his love transcends gender and age barriers.
I ask if it makes him nervous to be a legend. “I used to be blasé until an interview with Noeleen,” he says. After informing him they were dedicating the show to him, “because I am a legend”, he thought: “I should embrace this and do legendary stuff”.
*Catch Thebe at TONGHT, Newtown’s And Club on Saturday . Tickets R100 at door or at Quicket.co.za