Cape Town - He’s usually in the background, letting his beats do the talking.
But there was no skirting the spotlight when his hit single Akanamali started making waves – even less when he followed it up with Sonini and Ntabezikude.
Who is Sun-El Musician?
He’s been around for a while, DJ and producer Sanele Sithole tells DRUM. The 30-year-old produced hits for the likes of Bucie, Zakes Bantwini and Shota. He and Samthing Soweto first recorded Akanamali in 2016, a year after Sun-El moved to Joburg.
"I was broke when Akanamali was made," he says. "All the studio equipment was donated to me by friends and my mentor, Demor Sikhosana."
He and Samthing Soweto had met at a mutual friend’s house and liked each other’s music. Samthing Soweto started with a melody before writing the lyrics and Sun-El followed with the beat.
"The studio was makeshift and when we recorded you could hear the birds in the background."
At the end of the session Sun-El put it away because he felt it wasn’t his best work. Four months later, while bored at home, his brother Sandile suggested he revisit the song. In the morning Sun-El played it for Sandile and some friends and they gave him the thumbs up.
Akanamali opened many doors, including a chance to work with Alicia Keys and her husband, Swizz Beatz, after they heard the song while on a visit to SA.
The couple paid for flights and accommodation to the US where Sun-El stayed for a week.
"We worked on three songs for both their albums. We’ll find out this year if the songs made the cut," Sun-El says.
Sun-El has since started his record company, EL World Music, and signed Simmy and Eswatini-born star S-Tone, who’ll be releasing his album Route this year.
"I’m so proud of how far we’ve come," he says.
He had a brief stint at the University of KwaZulu-Natal but dropped out because he was frustrated with the classes. "I don’t even know what the heck I was studying. All I know is it had something to do with science, computers and electronics," he says.
He stayed home for two years then met producer-songwriter Demor, who asked him to move to Joburg.
"I stayed with a family member in Turffontein before moving to Demor’s place," he says.
Sun-El’s first experience at recording an artist was with singer Bucie on her track Induku Enhle.
"I produced Zakes Bantwini’s song featuring Nana Atta and did the remix of Karolina and many other songs," he says.
Even though he’s won three Samas and is booked almost every weekend, Sun-El struggles with fame and wishes he could cover his face “but Sketchy Bongo and Mzekezeke did it first”.
He’s just an ordinary person, he says, raised on the farms in Rosetta near Mooi River in KZN where he and his four siblings were brought up by his domesticworker gogo.
Sun-El’s parents separated when he was a child. "I remember my dad playing The Commodores, Kool & The Gang and Mfaz’ Omnyama. I think I got my music flair from him," he says.
"My dad’s sound later changed to TKZee and a bit of kwaito," he recalls.
In 2007 his parents died. "They both got sick and died maybe a month apart shortly after falling ill."
In 2017 his grandmother also passed away when Akanamali had just dropped.
"I’m glad she got to witness my success."