What's Lebo without Boom Shaka?

CREW Boom Shaka members – Theo Nhlengethwa, Lebo Mathosa, Thembi Seete and Junior Sokhela. Picture: Media24
CREW Boom Shaka members – Theo Nhlengethwa, Lebo Mathosa, Thembi Seete and Junior Sokhela. Picture: Media24

The retelling of the story of beloved late musical icon Lebo Mathosa in the recently announced BET biopic has pulled on the nostalgic heartstrings of scores of locals – but what is a Lebo Mathosa story without Boom Shaka?

So asked Mathosa’s former group member, Junior Sokhela – who, with Thembi Seete and Theo Nhlengethwa, formed the ground-breaking 1990s kwaito outfit, Boom Shaka, whose legendry music left an indelible mark on local culture.

Insiders close to the biopic – which was announced late last month when auditions opened calling for new talent to play Mathosa – told City Press this week that, as important as the story was, it could be missing the vital voices of the remaining group members who apparently haven’t been a part of the story development process.

Not only that, but City Press was reliably informed that while there had been initial consultations with musician and actress, Seete, there was a “fallout” between herself and members of the production team about certain aspects of the remake.

Speaking to City Press this week, Sokhela said that while they respected Mathosa’s estate’s wishes to move forward with the biopic, the group also made up a big part of her legacy.

“It’s like, how do you tell the Mandela story without the ANC? What’s Lebo’s story without Boom Shaka? For eight years we’ve been working on telling the Boom Shaka story; but there are people who don’t respect that legacy and are jumping on the bandwagon … it’s like running with other peoples’ ideas and wanting to make a quick profit,” he said.

“For me, the whole Boom Shaka experience has been a schooling for all of us. We not only grew up in the industry, but we were schooled in the industry, too. As much as the industry can be about the ‘bling bling’, we experienced all sorts of things together – the back-stabbing, the fun, and we want to share that.

“In terms of Lebo’s story, I have a different view of Lebo at that time – she was my sister so I knew her in a different way to people who met her when she was already famous.”

Born in Daveyton on the East Rand, Mathosa began singing at the age of seven in the local church choir.

At 14 Mathosa was discovered by music producer Don Laka, who put her in the group Boom Shaka with the three other members.

Boom Shaka became one of the most successful kwaito groups of the 1990s. Their first single, It’s about time,became a hit overnight.

The single became an anthem for teenagers and young adults all over the country. The group gained a cult-like following and their subsequent albums all did well.

Regarding the fallout between Seete and the biopic’s production team, City Press tried to reach Seete but did not get a response by the time of going to print.

Sokhela said that from what he knew, she had been in talks with the team, but, “she was unhappy with certain things and would have loved to be involved in a proper thing, not a rush-rush project that caught her off-guard”.

While pointed questions were asked of BET Africa on whether the remaining group members were a part of the biopic’s development – there was much skirting around the issue.

Monde Twala, vice-president of youth, music and BET at Viacom International Media Networks Africa, said they were still “in talks” with a number of Mathosa’s associates, including the members of the group.

“We can’t give too much detail at this stage as this is part of our diligent writing and research process,” Twala said.

“The BET project is about the life and legacy of Lebo Mathosa and the impact she personally created in culture. This story profiles a young girl from the East Rand who went above and beyond to rise above her challenges to become a Pan-African rock star.

The biopic is based on the singer’s incredible life story and will take viewers on a journey to the 1990s at the beginning of the South African kwaito revolution.”

When asked about the alleged “walkout” from production by Seete after a fallout regarding aspects of the production, the biopic’s head writer Portia Gumede said: “Our research team has been diligent in the process, ensuring that we cover many facets of her life from family to industry friends, her management, producers and journalists.

"The consultation approach has been very broad. It’s important and a huge responsibility that we tell, showcase and preserve her legacy with the dignity and respect it deserves.”

Twala said the Lebo Mathosa story came on the back of the successful and internationally acclaimed, The Bobby Brown Story and The New Edition.

In 1999, despite Boom Shaka’s success, Mathosa went solo. Her first solo album titled Dream went gold within weeks of its launch. The album earned her the best dance album and the best female vocalist awards at the 2001 South African Music Awards (Samas).

Her next album, Drama Queen, enjoyed as much success, also earning a Sama for best dance album. In 2006 Mathosa died in a car crash in Johannesburg. She was 29.

This week hundreds of hopeful young women and girls – including celebrity kids – turned up at the auditions hoping for a chance to play the icon for the biopic, which is casting for a “young Lebo” aged between 10- to 14-years-old and an “older Lebo” between the ages of 20 and 30.

Sokhela said the remaining members of Boom Shaka are still determined to tell their story through their own production, which he confirmed was in the works.

In parting, he said: “At that time [the height of the group’s success and fame], the media weren’t asking us the questions we wanted to relay to the public and our reality was really different to what was portrayed.

“We are ready now … we are ready to tell the story now, the drama, the tragedy. We are real people who went through real experiences … we are ready to tell the story of how we survived.”

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