DURBAN - MUSICIAN David Jenkins may be a qadasi (the Zulu word for white person) but his heart is all Zulu. Jenkins's fans call him the “new age Johnny Clegg”, and his passion for Zulu culture and maskandi (Zulu folk music played on Western instruments) is where he draws his inspiration for his phenomenal music.
Jenkins, 25, was born and raised in Empangeni, in the heart of Zululand, and now lives in Kloof. He said he developed an interest in Zulu culture when he was nine years old.
“Growing up in Empangeni, I used to accompany my late father, Chris Jenkins, a former journalist, when he covered traditional Zulu events in the rural areas,” said Jenkins. “This was something that sparked my interest. The Zulu culture and language later became a passion of mine, and through this I discovered traditional maskandi music. Music is a huge part of Zulu culture and I was fascinated by their different styles of traditional music, which are all incredibly powerful.”
Jenkins said he became entranced by musical legends like Phuzekhemisi, Mfaz’ Omnyama, Mgqashiyo Ndlovu and the legendary “white Zulu”, Johnny Clegg. Jenkins taught himself how to play the Zulu guitar and concertina.
Clegg has influenced Jenkins, who said his parents introduced him to Clegg’s fusion of traditional Zulu and Western styles of music. He said he admires Clegg’s contribution to South African crossover music.
“I am called the new-age Johnny Clegg due to the kind of music I play,” he said. “It’s an honour to be regarded as another ‘white Zulu’. However, I am not trying to be someone else. I always focus on keeping my sound unique.”
Jenkins' stage name is “Qadasi”. He got this name after he wrote a praise poem where he refers to himself as being “iqadasi elidl’ uphuthu neklabishi” meaning “the white guy who eats phuthu and cabbage”. He said his friend and musician Maqhinga Radebe picked on this after they first met in 2009. Radebe preferred to call him Qadasi and the name stuck.
Jenkins writes his own songs, and when he’s recording he always adds a couple of traditional songs to the repertoire. His songwriting is inspired by his life experiences and current South African and world issues.
His new album, Lashis’ Ilanga, meaning "the sun is hot", was done in collaboration with Radebe. They have been working together since 2010.
“This is an organic acoustic album which takes traditional maskandi music back to its roots with an added Western folk element,” said Jenkins. “I am inspired by the power of the traditional maskandi styles and the fact that it is, sadly, a dying genre in the industry. This is what drives me to work incredibly hard at my craft and to contribute towards bringing it to the forefront.”
Jenkins has received many awards for his work, including a Satma (South African Traditional Music Achievement) award in 2011 for best upcoming artist and another Satma in 2014 for best maskandi album (Uhambo Olusha).The following year the album received a Sama (South African Music Award) for best traditional album.
Last year he got a Sama for best traditional album for Lashis’ Ilanga and a Satma for best male group on the same album.
Jenkins's music is reaching many shores. So far he has performed in the US, Ireland, the UK, Thailand, India, Vietnam and Italy.
“We have found that people are generally very open to the sounds of traditional maskandi music, especially because we play a fusion of traditional Zulu and Western styles,” said Jenkins. “This year we look forward to branching out more towards the Western Cape and Gauteng. We also have plans to return to Europe for a full tour. As far as future plans go, I hope to be performing with Radebe and my band internationally on a regular basis. We are passionate about promoting the country and traditional South African roots music.”