Johannesburg - Selling boerewors rolls on the pavement at night in Yeoville is probably not most people’s idea of being at the right place at the right time for opportunity to come knocking. But for Oscar “Oskido” Mdlongwa it was the start of a journey that’s made him a household name.
He’s certainly done well for himself since those days – home is an upmarket estate in Midrand patrolled by armed security guards. We drive through a maze of enormous houses, stopping at a glass-walled, double-storey mansion where the DJ’s 10-year-old daughter, Naledi, greets us and invites us in.
The house, with three lounge areas, a well-stocked bar, a studio, and an enormous garden and pool, is so huge our voices echo through the passages. We find the music mogul and cofounder of the Kalawa Jazmee record label slouched on a white sofa in one of his lounges, tapping at a laptop.
Wearing a black Adidas tracksuit, sneakers and a cap, Oskido looks younger than his 50 years. He’s just paying some bills, he tells us, gesturing at his laptop as he offers us water or wine. He doesn’t drink much anymore, he says. “That’s why I’m looking good,” he adds with a chuckle.
“I try to eat healthily and exercise, and I avoid alcohol most of the time.” We compliment him on his home and ask if we can photograph it, but he refuses, shaking his head. “I don’t like to brag and to show off, man–you know me.”
He’s learnt that lesson over his thirtysomething years in the music industry. “Showing off has done nothing for my career. In life, you learn every day and I’ve learnt bragging does not bring me any joy. Instead, one becomes the envy of the town.” His career has certainly been enviable – he’s responsible for bringing the likes of Boom Shaka, Mafikizolo, Busiswa Gqulu, Uhuru and DJ Zinhle into the spotlight. But Oskido is modest to a fault and maintains that whatever he’s accomplished is due to the support of his circle of friends and family.
“The people who surround me made me who I am. They guided me and have been my support system. And even now, Spikiri [Mandla Daniel Mofokeng], Bruce [“Dope” Sebitlo], Eugene [“Donald Duck” Mthethwa] and the other partners of Kalawa call me out when they see me doing something wrong, even at this old age.”
Oskido’s musical journey began outside a club in Yeoville, Joburg, where he sold boerewors rolls at night. By day he’d hone his DJing and producing skills, and at night he’d sell meaty snacks to revellers. Until one night, when he was hastily summoned into the club to play after the DJ who had been booked failed to pitch. And there’s been no looking back. A few years later, in 1992, he formed the record label that would become Kalawa Jazmee, with Don Laka and DJ Christos Katsaitis, who left the label in 1995.
Kalawa is now run by Oskido, Zayne “Mahoota” Sibiya, Bruce Sebitlo, Spikiri and Emmanuel “Mjokes” Matsane. The label is preparing to celebrate its 25-year anniversary at Universal Music in Rosebank, but Oskido wishes he could simply kick back and relax with his kids.
He has two nannies who help him take care of his kids. It’s not easy being a single father, he says, and he hasn’t been the perfect dad either.
“Being a single dad is difficult because of my busy schedule. My children look up to me and I’ve made a lot of mistakes with them watching but as they grow I’ve learnt to speak to them about everything.”
Being a father requires on-the-job learning. And even though his eldest is a man now, Oskido says he still needs to do a lotto perfect his fathering skills. “I see a lot of myself in Bass. He has the same drive and ambition as me and a passion for music,” he says. He tries to nurture the talents of all his kids and enjoys spending time with them when he does school drop-offs and takes them shopping.
“I want my children to be proud of me. I want them to say, ‘That’s my man’ even when they get into relationships with men.”
He’s clearly a family man. Oskido’s father is retired Zimbabwean politician Esaph Mdlongwa, the former secretary general of the MDC, and his mom, Emily Molefi, passed away in 1993. As a child Oskido loved music and his father often tells him stories of how he loved to dance as a baby.
And his mom? “My mother died a long time ago and those are wounds I like to keep closed. That is a pain I don’t like to keep revisiting, but I see my mother in my children sometimes.”
His dad lives in Zimbabwe. “He loves spending time with his grandchildren. He and I are really close, he is like my bro.”
He has few regrets, but booze and beefs are among them. Oskido’s early days in the limelight were not easy for him. “They say that with success comes with responsibility and it took many years to learn this lesson.”
He admits to making his share of mistakes along the way, but they helped him in business and in life. “I was young and I was flashy. I had a beef with other artists, like Cassper [Nyovest] and AKA once had, but I learnt to grow up. I’ve been taught to stay grounded and to respect everyone from car guards to shop owners, police officer and everyone I work with, and I carry this everywhere I go.”
Respecting his fans, especially those who pay to watch him perform, has been one of the most important life lessons he’s learnt. “People know I used to do some pretty embarrassing things in my youth. I once attended an interview on Selimathunzi dirt drunk, and I was an embarrassment,” he recalls. “When you’re young and famous, with money, you tend to think being drunk, high or showing off is cool but it can make or break one’s career. I learnt that the hard way.”
He recalls many incidents where he went on stage drunk. “Going on stage drunk and swearing at people was my biggest lesson in growing up. I had so many incidents I regret. I made a conscious decision not to drink and perform.” But it didn’t break him. As he puts it, “Indoda iyawa iphinde ivuke (a man can fall but he can get up again).”
Now he limits drinks to celebrations only. While other men his age might be thinking about slowing down, Oskido has no such plans. He’s also working on an upcoming Bongo Maffin album and firmly believes more Mzansi musicians will be showcased on the global stage soon.
“I envision music in South Africa will grow. The world has become one village and while it was difficult before to penetrate the worldwide market, today anything is possible and I am happy to be part of that journey”