Smooth moves, from the heart

2013-03-10 10:00

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Lesley Mofokeng speaks to the hottest new sensation in SA dance music.

A flustered Donald Moatshe runs to the woman sitting at the front desk of Marine Parade Hotel and asks for toothpaste.

She smiles and advises the musician to go back to his room and room service will deliver a tube for his convenience.

We’re in scorching hot Durban.

We’ve had breakfast and are now on our way back to our rooms to prepare for the Metro FM Music Awards.

A much bitchier friend quips: “Eish, these rags-to-riches stories. He could have just called from his room and the bloody toothpaste would be delivered.”

Moatshe doesn’t hear the snide remark. Those in earshot burst into laughter.

But that’s part of his charm.

This toast of the town, whose meteoric rise to the top is the music success story of the year, doesn’t yet display any diva tendencies.

I suspect his list of demands when on tour doesn’t extend beyond bottled water and a protein shake. This man, who has the world of dance music at his feet, literally, remains simple and somewhat reserved.

He later tells me: “I’m very shy. Besides being on stage, I’m not really into the extra attention because I don’t know how to react to it.”

I ask him if that’s an alter ego à la Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce. He laughs and says: “I wouldn’t really put it that way, but I do become a different person as soon as I get on stage.”

Moatshe was born in Mantserre, a village in North West, far from the comforts of hotels that deliver toothpaste to your door.

He grew up there before moving to Kraalhoek, another village in North West. He currently calls Northam, where his family is based, home.

I teasingly call him the Muscles from Mantserre (taking a cue from Jean-Claude van Damme’s nickname, the Muscles from Brussels).

His 2008 debut album enjoyed a lukewarm reception. He has since gained confidence, hit the gym and practised his pout to perfection.

The pieces of his musical chess have come together beautifully and now he sits with two trophies from the Metro FM Music awards, out of the six he was nominated for.

His album, Train of Love – which comprises hit singles I Deserve, Denial and Over The Moon – earned him the best-produced album and best-styled artist awards.

The latter is largely thanks to his collaboration with Paledi Segapo of fashion label Palse Homme.

He describes his family as modest. “We were not well-off, but also not that poor. My mother is a teacher and my father a small-scale businessman,” he says.

When he accepted the best-produced album at the Metros, Moatshe warmed hearts when he choked up while thanking his mother.

He says: “While I was on the quest for success, there were times when it was really hard and I couldn’t make ends meet. She had three kids to take care of and was so squeezed financially. But she’d make sure I had something to eat. She would even borrow money from people. She used to say: ‘Don’t worry. Be patient. It’s going to happen. You have the talent and the attitude.’”

And now, Moatshe is nibbling on the upper crust of fame and success, feted wherever he goes. His name is on the tip of the tongue of every music lover

who knows his Harlem Shake from his Gangnam Style.

We sit on the 22nd floor of the Marine Parade Hotel with uninhibited views of the calm waters of the Indian Ocean.

With the windows wide open, the humming sound of the waves as they pound the shore lends a relaxing soundtrack to our conversation.

Moatshe stops to reflect on his new-found success. “In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be nominated for every major award with this album. It started last year with the Channel Os for most gifted newcomer.

And now, six Metros and we haven’t even been through the Samas (SA Music Awards),” he says, shaking his head at the prospects.

“I’m beside myself. I don’t know what to feel. I know I’m appreciative of every individual because I have realised that generally I have the support of many people.”

Making a success of his chosen career path means everything to him. And so, with a few hours to go until the awards, he tells me this could be “make it or break it”.

He says: “I get so nervous because my career is so important to me. I think people can see that through my work and how I interact with my fans, but I’m also aware it’s not just about being a musician, it’s about being a role model, a personality and an entertainer.

“It’s a full package. I have responsibility as someone in the limelight. I’m just so happy. I am a dreamer and I want to win. I love to be at number one.”

He had the potential to begin a career in soccer, and went as far as playing for the Under-19 teams of Wits University and Jomo Cosmos. But music won in the end.

“I gave up everything to do music full time. Music had to happen. It had to work out, because financially I didn’t have a lot of options.

So I gave up soccer when I was playing for Jomo Cosmos Under-19, because something told me that if I pursued soccer I would never get a chance to live my dream as a musician.

I knew for a fact that music was most important to me, I felt it was my purpose.

“I’ve never worked anywhere. I don’t have a CV. I took a decision when I was still in school that I will never work small jobs. It would make me feel like a small dreamer and why should black people always succumb to those things?”

He studied computer science at the University of Johannesburg, but dropped out because he lost all interest in and passion for it.

So what does the man from Mantserre have in common with Adele, the British lass from Tottenham?

They both had their hearts broken and wrote their best music because of it.

Much like the multiple Grammy award winner, it was from his bruised heart that Moatshe wrote I Deserve, an uptempo dance hit with forlorn lyrics that dominated the charts.

He says: “The song was trigger-ed by a personal relation-ship with my partner at the time. It’s funny that it came from a place of anger. I had a car accident and had to deal with the fact that my ex-girlfriend wasn’t there for me going through that pain. An accident is traumatising and I had to deal with the fact that I’m broke, I’ve just lost my car and the love of my life is nowhere to be found at this difficult time.

“The emotion was that real. It was really easy to write that song. She was the first girl I introduced to my mother, actually. That’s why it was hectic for me.

“I wanted to share my emotion, so that people know we all go through these things. I knew that me saying ‘the love I know I deserve’ is going to make people who believe in that message become more positive and confident about themselves and know their worth.

“I’m happy people are now aware that as guys we also have emotions. It takes a man like me to make it clear to everyone we all feel the same way. It’s just that not all men are happy to show their emotions.”

Few musicians can surpass the drive and determination Moatshe has displayed and he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I’m constantly in my zone, because I know that the success can come today and tomorrow it will be gone. It’s up to me to keep going and I work hard. I’m excited that my rise came of my own accord with my own company. I can create my own future.”

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