‘What a life!” sighs Selaelo Selota, as he shakes his head and cracks a smile.
This year marks 10 years since the Limpopo-born guitar maestro released his first album, Painted Faces, which instantly turned him into a national treasure.
Singing mostly in Sepedi, Selota’s interpretation of jazz with the polyrhythms of Sepedi music and his lively stage presence earned him critical acclaim.
The platinum-selling Painted Faces yielded two SA Music Awards for best contemporary jazz album and best newcomer. His songs such as Thrr .?.?. Phaa! and Mamodiegi are South African jazz classics.
A few years after his debut, Selota introduced the honey-voiced Judith Sephuma to the world.
The mother to their three children – two daughters and a son – Sephuma also morphed into an overnight sensation with the release of A Cry, A Smile And A Dance back in 2004.
They were music’s power couple. And when their romance disintegrated and Sephuma married photographer Siphiwe Mhlambi, the tabloids had a field day.
Selota (45) worked as a miner before ushering in the crowds at Joburg’s Market Theatre and mopping the floors as a cleaner at Kippies Jazz international. It wasn’t until he was 22 that he learned how to write and play music.
Now five albums later, sitting in the lounge area of City Press and looking back at his life, Selota says it was fleeting. “It feels like two years.”
But then he remembers “.?.?. the journey that was has been amazing. The things that happened were life-changing. Starting to learn music at 22 meant I had to triple my efforts, and getting into the industry I panicked and thought it was too late, so I was always rushing and working in overdrive.
“The albums came, awards came, classics came and I shared the stage with international acts I never thought I would meet in my lifetime, such as George Benson and Kirk Whalum.”
He mentions his six-week residency last year at the University of Southern California as a career highlight.
“I worked with Bob Mincer, the frontman of the Yellow Jackets, who is a lecturer at the university; Russel Ferrante, who plays piano in the Yellow Jackets is also a senior lecturer of piano and they invited me.
We’ve performed together at Moretele Park and at the Durban International Convention Centre.
“Norman Brown, who is involved with the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, also hosted workshops at the university. Richard Smith played my composition Seshego.
So you can imagine the luminaries I worked with. In addition, the doctoral students had to pick four songs from Lapeng Laka and perform with an orchestra and myself.
At the end of my performance I was approached by other universities, such as Colorado and Oregon State, so there’s something else that can develop on that front.”
Selota says the experience taught him that the world was still intrigued and curious about African culture and music. “They want to know about Sepedi, they know about Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.”
To celebrate his decade of music making, Selota will host a one-night-only concert at the Sun City Superbowl with Sephuma on October 30.
“It feels right and appropriate that we finally perform for our fans together.
The concert is a celebration of a slaving, committed, non-compromising South African artist who believes that the heart and pulse of this country’s music is still to be discovered within the ranks of its musicians.”
Selota says he and Sephuma share a deep relationship.
“We have a friend/family relationship. We are raising three children together. We meet and talk about the kids and discipline them together when they do wrong.”
Selota has been married to his manager Tandiswa since 2007 and they have a daughter together. He has another daughter, Micaela, who lives with her mother in the US.
“So if you come to the Superbowl expecting to see fireworks when I take the guitar and chop Judith’s head, it’s not gonna happen,” he laughs.
Selota wrote nine songs on Sephuma’s debut A Cry, A Smile and a Dance and seven on Change is Here, her third and latest.
Talking about his future, Selota says he will work towards producing diverse music in the form of multilingual projects.
“I wish to have full albums in isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana and Sesotho, because language was a dividing factor during apartheid. I don’t want to visit the Eastern Cape and feel like I am entering a foreign territory; we’re one nation.”
He also reveals that he’s been making strides in film production.
“If I will not be cast in a movie, I will buy the cameras, cast myself and score the music.”
He has already composed a full score for a film called Mining for Change.
“Chicco has done it! And my daughter Tebelelo will be studying film production and directing next year and will find me handy,” he says of his movie ventures.
» Tickets for the Music & Life Experience with Judith Sephuma and Selaelo Selota in Concert at the Sun City Superbowl on October 30 cost between R160 and R300 at Computicket.