Pictures: Luba Lesolle
KENSINGTON, east of Joburg, is a quiet suburb far enough away from the bustle of the city for one to appreciate the sounds of birds chirping.
As we approach the pretty gabled house, a rich baritone shatters the calm. We follow it into the living room where we find its owner, Tshepo Tshola, debating with the DRUM stylist.
“I don’t do pink jackets,” he says indignantly about the designer number our stylist has picked out for him.
“It’s actually a type of burgundy and the ?colour suits you well,” our stylist reassures him.
He waves a greeting and we ask him if his trademark baritone is ever commented on. “I hear people say, ‘Yoh, that voice!’ but it usually ends there,” he chuckles.
The maestro lives in a two-storey Victorian house off the N3 highway near the Eastgate mall.
“I’ve been living here for almost a year,” he says. “It’s a lovely neighbourhood. As you’ve probably noticed, it’s a very quiet place.
“The house doubles as the headquarters of Killer Joe Records, which is my record company,” he continues. “Makhosini Xaba (also known as Joe Nina) and Stan Letsela are part of the company.
“You wouldn’t know it but as well as ?being an attorney and businessman Stan is actually a musician. So besides him being a partner in the company he’s a music fanatic, which helps a lot.”
A flight of stairs leads to a generously-sized living room that sports a set of designer leather couches.
Leading off it is a home studio and from the living room we catch the strains of music blaring from the studio monitors. Tshepo duly takes us there. It’s a modest setup consisting of a synthesiser paired with two monitors, a number of microphones and a desktop computer.
Entering the studio, we immediately recognise Makhosini who’s negotiating a chord progression on the synthesiser. We also catch sight of the legendary Steve Kekana, who has popped by the house for a quick studio session.
“It’s a Madiba song we’re working on. Steve has a verse on it and he’s here to lay down his vocals,” Tshepo explains. “There are a number of things we are working on. My new album is in the works and Makhosini has a single out. Our new artist, Bonolo, is also working on something.”
BORN in Lesotho, Tshepo grew up in a musical family with both his parents ?involved in choirs. “Mom and Dad were singers with Lesotho Vertical 8,” he says. “That was their group before they formed the choir. They were both in the ministry – Dad a preacher and Mom a prayer woman.”
Despite being a permanent resident of South Africa, Tshepo’s still very much attached to his home country. “I’m forever commuting between South Africa and Lesotho,” he says. “I have a house there and my two sons, Kamogelo (30) and Katlego (23), who are both singers, still live there.”
What about romance? Is there anyone in his life at the moment? “My wife died 23 years ago,” he says. “I never remarried and I’m not complaining, but I don’t want to talk about that part of my life.”
“Away from work, I’m a homebody who likes nothing more than watching television. I work all the time so I cherish the occasion,” he says.
“I love food, travel and quiz shows – Who Wants to be a Millionaire is one of my favourites.
“I’m passionate about soccer so I follow that too, and my love of cooking also keeps me busy.”
His ninth solo album, Killer Joe, is his main priority at the moment.
“We are working tirelessly to make sure the quality of our industry is restored by the records we release and the artists we build,” he says.
“We are excited about Bonolo. Makhosini and I will be releasing solo projects and all these ?albums will be in stores during the first quarter of 2014. I’m also working on my sons’ album which they will produce – I’ll just tweak things here and there.”
He’s BEEN in the industry for more than 40 years, ever since he joined teen boy band The Lesotho Blue Diamonds as a vocalist in 1970.
“I followed that up by joining The Anti-Antics and later Uhuru,” Tshepo says.
“The late Nana Coyote used to sing with us. Uhuru was then followed by Sankomota. “The musicians in all four of those bands were basically the same set of people going through ?different name changes and with a different set of challenges.
“Between Sankomota and Uhuru I joined Bra Hugh Masekela for a world tour.
“After the tour I met Julian Bahula, a South ?African musician based in London, while I was in Europe and I didn’t want to come back to South Africa.
“So I spoke to Julian and he organised air ?tickets to London for the rest of the Sankomota band members who were in South Africa at the time. I convinced them to come and join me in the UK.
“So, basically what happened is that Sankomota relocated to London from 1985 to 1989.
“We toured the whole of Europe and at one point we toured Germany playing ANC gigs for no pay,” he continues. “Anyway we thought we were never coming back home but back in South Africa they were about to release Mandela and that changed everything, so we started packing.
“Back in SA, we were soon on the road. Together with Bayethe we joined Hugh Masekela’s The Sekunjalo Tour after Hugh himself had returned from exile. That spelt the demise of Sankomota.”
AROUND this time Tshepo struck out as a solo recording artist. Using the moniker, The Village Pope, he went on to write a whole slew of classics including Madambadamba and Ho Lokile.
For all his hard work in the music industry Tshepo, like many serious musicians in Mzansi, has never won a SAMA South African Music Awards (SAMA).
It’s very odd considering his illustrious career. “I don’t want to talk about the ?SAMAs,” he says when we try to get his reaction on the awards.
“That’s because I don’t want to sound bitter. Anyway all the awards are dominated by young people. Has Masekela won a SAMA? No!
“ Jonas Gwangwa?”
We reply, “But Gwangwa did win one a few years ago.”
“It was a lifetime achievement award,” Tshepo replies. “Jonas Gwangwa has never won a SAMA for any of his records. But I’ve had so many highlights and I have indeed been ?recognised by relevant awards – it’s just the ?SAMAs which have evaded me.”
And with his big baritone booming in the ?studio we leave this legend of the music ?industry to do what he loves most – make music ?regardless of whether the SAMAs pass him over for yet another year.