It took me six years to understand the business; I am a slow bloomer I do things my way – Samthing Soweto

Images: SIMZ | PHOTOGRAPHER, Supplied
Images: SIMZ | PHOTOGRAPHER, Supplied

He made Mzansi fall in love with him with his hot collaboration with Sun EL on Akanamali, but the talented vocalist has been in the business for years – find out more…

What’s the story behind the name?

Samthing Soweto is simple really, ‘Sam’ is part of my name Samkelo and the ‘thing’ is the thing that I do which is music then Soweto is the place I come from. Soweto is where I stay even today; I grew up in Protea North.

When did you realise your talent and that you can sing?

As a kid I liked mimicking other people and I realised I’m actually good at it, but it was starting annoying people so I stopped and began listening to music instead. But I discovered I was a good singer when I was six. We were in primary school waiting outside school for the transport to pick us up. My friends and I memorised a few pages of our reading book and we started singing the words. I realised as we were singing everyone was quiet and I lifted my head and there was actually a crowd of other kids from other grades standing around listening to me.

I later realised that when I sing people listen and my ability to shine the most is when I sing acapella.

When did you realise music could become a career for you?

I had a very dark childhood. I got into trouble and landed in a place of safety called Kusasa in Krugersdorp, a juvenile detention centre. I was arrested and awaiting trail but I was released with a suspended sentence of 5 years because I was underage and a first time offender. I had been addicted to alcohol and drugs; I had started prematurely – at like 11 or 12 years old. At I was 17 and half I couldn’t sing anymore because I had spent so much time smoking and drinking. But I listened to a lot of music and tried to get myself back and I taught myself how to sing again. Music saved my life.  

How did The Soil came about?

When I was in grade 9 I heard about Buhle leading a choral choir and then I heard about a church choir that Phindo and Ntsika were leading and I wanted to do what they were doing. I met up with them later in the year. So that is how The Soil came about, just all of us in high school, we did The Soil for like 6 years.

What happened with The Soil?

We got signed to Native Rhythms but at the time I was doing The Soil I was part of another group called The Fridge based in Melville a neo-soul jazz band, and was also starting Samthing Soweto. So I was busy, but Baba Sipho Sithole the owner of Native Rhythms heard about the other stuff I was doing and tried to sign The Fridge as well. We sat down and tried to negotiate, but the deal for The Fridge fell through. He told me to do one thing and focus on that first but I didn’t understand the business at the time. I thought he was going to take away everything, I took it very personally. Music was the only thing that I had in my life and everything I have is because of music, so I left. So after being on eight tracks and writing most tracks for the album, I walked away. Now I know better, I realise what he meant now that I have been in the business for years. But I’m proud of what they [The Soil] have done and seeing them take on the sound we started together and take it to great heights.

Why did you choose to be independent?

It wasn’t a choice, it was all from necessity. Everything that I have has come through music, for me singing was a way of escaping my past life. I became an independent artist not because I wanted to but because I had to. If I didn’t do this then I wouldn’t have been in the music industry, it was tough and it took me six years on my own.

What lessons have you learnt through your journey?

The one thing is always do your research. I learnt that nothing is all the way bad or all the way good. You need to read about what happens around you, who is making the money and who does what. It took me six years to understand the business, but that’s nothing new in my life I am a slow bloomer I do things my way.

Did you expect Akanamali to be this big?

The song gave me so many opportunities, now people know of me. I can’t even explain how I feel actually, the platforms I’m getting into, the TV to radio interviews. I owe the song a lot.

What inspires your music?

What inspires me is myself. I heard this from Baba Oliver Mtukudzi, I had the honour of being in the wings while he was being interviewed and waiting my turn and he said this. He just explained saying the moment you’re inspired by something else it means you’re mimicking what you’ve seen or heard. But if you are inspired by yourself, then it’s uniquely you and you’re doing something that only you can do. When I heard him say it, I got it.

What would you say your sound is?

It really depends what I’m doing, I’m just a vocalist. You as my audience should tell me, I’ll let you decide.

Are you working on an album?

Yes I have material and making new music. You should hear something from me very soon, there’s a line there on Akanamali that talks about time or something, expect it then. [He laughs]

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