Igniting music

2009-10-17 09:28

Like a storm on a hot Jozi day TKZee burst onto the music scene more than 12 years ago.

A mash of township lingo and style infused with Joni Mitchell’s cult classic Big

Yellow Taxi and Phalafala was born. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

Post-apartheid South Africa was looking for non-issue,

non-political music and TKZee gave birth to it by saying “whatever, wherever”.

It made Indian girls like me identify myself as South African for

the first time and without realizing it TKZee helped to heal a very wounded

nation. The irony: I (and many other South Africans) still don’t know what

Phalafala means. Trust me I’ve asked around.

As Thebe, Mdu, Mashamplan, Arthur, Trompies and later on Boom Shaka

laid the foundation for future musos to come, TKZee were busy building a legacy.

Their album Shibobo sold 100 000 copies in its first month of

release and remains one of the fastest-selling South African albums to date. In

the meantime the hit single Dlala Mapantsula which featured on Halloween went

platinum and saw the trio clean up at the Samas in 1999.

In the midst of the hype and glory the trio went on to release Guz

2001, Trinity and Guz Hits. The blinding lights of success and the ­pressure to

perform saw the TKZee steamtrain derail. In true rock-star style there were

drugs, women and problems with money.

Suddenly the group’s highs weren’t coming from their achievements

but they were looking for alternatives to fuel the creativity and success. The

group’s split saw hearts across the country break. They went solo to seek

success but worst still there were those awful rumours which kicked SA music

lovers in the teeth – kwaito was dead.

The growing success of house and crunk ­were taking over and the

digital era ­descended onto the music scene like a cash-in-transit heist. Just

as the country was about to bury the TKZee-era once and for all, rumours and

mutterings began yet again – TKZee were coming back with an album.

Looking back on the TKZee heyday only a true fan would understand

the monumental impact they had on the music scene. Their ­music remains a vivid,

vivacious memory.

Somehow 12 years after their first hit, they have managed to

create the same tangible hype around their new album, Coming Home.

According to Kabelo, who by far had the most public battle with

drug, and proved to have a more successful solo career than the other two, the

album’s name is no fluke. “The album’s title has many connotations. Music for

TKZee feels like we are coming home. The music business has always been our home

base. Our fans have also always been our home base.”

The title track features the award-winning gospel ensemble Joyous

Celebration. TKZee decided to collaborate with Joyous Celebration to get the

gospel feel on that track right. “Our music has always been about getting the

sound just right,” says Tokollo.

No doubt their absence from the music scene has been felt by music

lovers across the country. There have been talks about a comeback in the

industry for years. Or perhaps these talks were just perpetuated because there

was a longing for a TKZee reunion.

Zwai, who has since married Metro FM newsreader Melanie Son, says

the comeback has been a long time coming but the timing was never right: “We’ve

always wanted to do a comeback but we wanted to do it properly. We were so much

younger when we originally came out with Phalafala, but now we know we are ready

and that we have worked with the right people.”

Tokollo agrees: “To come out with this new album we needed to be at

ease and also you need to realise when you record an album every­­­thing else in

your life has to take a back seat.”

Of course, it can’t be denied that they went completely AWOL when

they split. Kabelo released solo albums such as Pantsula for Life and Bouga Luv

which won him a couple of Samas.

He then released his own shoe line with Reebok. In the meanwhile

Zwai joined his brothers, The Bala Brothers, and let his singing skills flourish

– which technically were never doubted. (Zwai was the first black member of the

Drakensberg Boys’ Choir and received the highest marks in Grade 8 voice exams in

the world.)

As Tokollo (or Magesh) gave his solo career a go with the album

Gusheshe he was then accused of a hit-and-run motor accident in Botswana even

though the charges were later dropped. He then went on to release Ndabezitha

(2000), All In One (2002) ,Waarheid Is’Kathi (2004) and The Longest Time (2006)

which won him a Sama for best-selling single.

But the magic of the trio was simply missing as solo artists in

their own right. The question on everyone’s mind at the moment is: Can they

recreate the TKZee magic they did all those years ago? Zwai says: “Working

together again has been cool; it’s kind of funny because we are doing these

things (interviews, performances, recordings) with sober minds. We’re feeling

everything all over again; we have grown up.”

Kabelo adds that starting young in the industry is not necessarily

a bad thing. “It’s a blessing in disguise because you make mistakes, but you

learn from them. It was an emotional, stressful time and even now being back

together hasn’t been smooth sailing. We are at a different points in our lives

and we need to direct our talents by trying to be relevant.”

Tokollo says, however, that the trio have become more


But it still is hard to imagine how the trio is going to make this

album relevant to the times. Their absence from the spotlight makes one wonder

how they are going to make their Coming Home appeal to the masses.

Zwai is quick to dispel these fears: “Although we haven’t been

making music per se as TKZee, we do hear what is going on (in terms of music).

We know what the people are bumping to and what DJs are playing.”

Tokollo, however, is confident that the album will appeal to

audiences as it still has that distinctive TKZee flavour. (That flavour can only

genuinely be understood if you are a true TKZee fan).

As if catering for an ever-evolving music market isn’t hard enough

the trio has also had to deal with a very-changed music industry where there are

so many more promoters, producers and writers.

Kabelo’s concern, however, is the fact that there are more people

who want a piece of the proverbial pie.

“It’s just a bigger pie split with so many people wanting a piece.

You have your DJ what-what performing here and there, and there are so many more

players who are using different platforms such as websites and downloading to

get more exposure. One thing that has remained the same, however, and that is a

hot song is still a hot song!”

Hot songs aside I had to bring up the debate surrounding kwaito –

is the genre is still relevant? Does it still appeal to music lovers? And more

importantly, is it still alive?

The debate has been discussed on blogs such as Conversations with

Angels and on Music Industry Online, claiming that the genre is dead and gone.

Kabelo, however, disagrees with these philosophies. “If you take an

atom bomb and kill every township in this country then only will kwaito be dead.

There are kids coming up everyday with new kwaito tracks and the genre has

evolved. Take Big Nuz, for example. Things have changed, people have changed and

in order to make sense of it all people feel the need to box things.”

Tokollo adds: “It’s the same tempos and beats it’s just a new label

for the sound.”

Kabelo says their new album is a mixture of West African

influences, rock and gospel: “It’s a cocktail for the rainbow nation.”

Tokollo adds that the trio sat down and scratched their heads about

making the album but the “music came naturally”.

Zwai says: “With our differing backgrounds the album can only have

a crossover appeal.”

Just like their first hit, Phalafala, I wonder? Welcome home,


  • Coming Home will be released on November2 nationally.

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