Spikiri celebrates 30 years in the music industry

2015-04-19 12:30

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On a cold Thursday morning, I am chatting to The King Don Father, Mandla “Spikiri” Mofokeng, outside Tashas in Melrose Arch. It’s quiet outside and we can chat without any noise.

“I’m performing this weekend and if I lose my voice from the cold, I’m going to tell amafans that it’s Gugu’s fault,” he teases.

We move inside and he admits that he didn’t expect to be honoured at the SA Music Awards (Samas) for lifetime achievement.

“I didn’t even expect the first lifetime achievement [at the 2011 Metro FM Music Awards]. Ngoba uyawazi ama-awards anjani [You know how awards go],” he says. “People can go entire lifetimes doing good work and contributing to the industry without ever being given an award, so to get two lifetime achievement awards in one lifetime is big.

“My first one was actually my first award.”

His second award was on the same night – the Metro for best album for The King Don Father 2.5, which celebrated his 25th year in music.

“I didn’t know I was going to get it. We were there because we always go and have our Kalawa Jazmee [record label] preparties, so we can meet our fans and mingle with them, which is very important to us and our business.”

This year, Mofokeng is well prepared to accept his Sama, which comes as he celebrates 30 years in the industry.

He’s had a great run as a producer, member of kwaito sensation Trompies and record executive. He helped forge the solo careers of the likes of Lebo Mathosa, Thebe, Tokollo and Kabelo, among others.


Mofokeng’s career began when a fellow pupil tapped on the classroom window during an Afrikaans lesson and whispered to him that Sello Chicco Twala was outside waiting in his car because he needed Mofokeng to feature as a dancer in one of his videos. While the teacher wasn’t looking, the 15-year-old snuck out of the window. The rest is history. That was in 1985.

He says: “Ngaphuma eskoleni [I left school] with my schoolbag and I didn’t go home until today.”

He says the industry is still tough for new talent, and cites corruption and lack of support from radio stations and government as key challenges.

“When we started, you were competing with big record companies that could pay thousands to compilers to get their songs on the playlist. That still happens, and if you don’t have money, you don’t get played. That’s hard for new or independent artists to compete with.”

He also says the local content quotas on our radio stations are too low to make much money for local talent.

“They play aboBeyoncè, and the royalties leave the country, and we must struggle to get our music on playlists.”


The tough industry is one of the reasons he thinks mentorship is important. “I know this industry. I’ve been here a long time, and so I’m right there with my guys when they go out there – to make sure they don’t get messed around.”

He says he learnt his lessons the hard way. “When you start singing, they give you a contract with all these confusing words and terms, and you’re just so glad to be making music, so you sign. We signed a lot of stuff we didn’t quite understand. And that’s why when we started Kalawa, we made sure there were no contracts our talent didn’t understand,” he says of the record company he helped found with Christos Katsaitis, Oscar Mdlongwa, Don Laka and Bruce Sebitlo in 1994.


Mofokeng has a lot to celebrate in 2015.

Later this year, he will release an album called Kwaito Revolution, which will be a body of work featuring veteran kwaito talent, and the new blood he’s discovered and nurtured.

He says: “I’m happy about this award, and we will be going on tour for Kwaito Revolution, so we can celebrate it with my fans. Kwaito Revolution is all new music, no remixes or redos.”

I ask him what he thinks about the constant refrain that kwaito is dead. He goes quiet, adjusts his beanie and, after a moment, says: “It’s surprising because most of the awards are won by kwaito. Where is kwaito dead? And who is saying kwaito is dead? Hip-hop? The same people whose biggest hits are sampling the kwaito sound? Most of them are taking kwaito classics that we did a long time ago, and it’s working for them. Kwaito is the only genre that’s a threat.

“Kwaito will never die. It’s ours. It will never die.”


Despite being regarded as one of the pioneers of kwaito, he’s still surprised by the award he will receive this evening.

“It’s a very bumpy road, and that’s why we tell these youngsters that you have to go to school first because education is so important.”

He says education would have saved him a lot of trouble in his career because he would have known better.

“That’s how we ended up with people playing with our talent because they knew about the business and we didn’t.”

After three decades of hits and making music South Africans get down to, Mofokeng has no plans to slow down.

“We don’t release every year. Sometimes you need to wait and make sure what you’re releasing is your best.”

He’s been working on his album for five years. “I’m stressed because I am looking for something special. I won’t release it until I have that something special. I know hits. I have made lots of them, so I will know when I have one.”

The King Don Father continues: “You’re only as good as your last hit?... But I still have some more. I still have hits.”

And for that, we are grateful.

The Samas will take place at the Sun City Superbowl tonight and will be broadcast live on SABC1 from 8pm

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