As he prepares his fourth album, Heavy K talks to Helen Herimbi about how straddling the line between tragedy and triumph became his comfort zone
AS A single polarising figure in dance music, Mkhululi “Heavy K” Siqula lives in two worlds at once. When he walks into the restaurant, he swaggers in with a confidence that belies his softspoken nature.
He wears Riky Rick’s Cotton Club Records trucker cap and many beaded necklaces around the collar of his golf shirt. On his right wrist, four beaded bands nestle closely together. On his left, he wears a gaudy gold watch and two gigantic gilded rings on his forefinger and ring finger. It’s like he’s trying to merge the flashy with the grounded, like he’s just trying to be himself in public.
And with a banging brand new single, Siphum’ elokshin, under his belt, this father of two boys is finally ready to show the world how he became that way. Siphum’ elokshin, which features the powerful voice of Mondli Ngcobo, with a tinge of auto tune here, is about rising above trying circumstances by virtue of one being from the township.
“Growing up in PE is one of the things I am grateful for,” he tells me once he’s taken a seat. It’s the typical upbringing where violence and crime are rife in the neighbourhood. In an attempt to protect him from reality, his mother would often pretend she is taking a break from eating meat whenever he would ask her why his and the plates of his father and brother have a small piece and hers has none at all. But things changed when he turned 16.
“My brother sent me to go ask for some movies on a USB stick,” Heavy K recalls, “and then I met this producer called Kwesta. I instantly fell in love with music. Even though I had plans to be a scientist, the music was always calling me.”
“The law of attraction was important to me because I used to dream so much back in those days,” he continues. “Everything that I dreamt of even back then, happened. Like my dream to own a Mercedes C63! I knew that I would drop my very first album at the age of 21 and I did and after that, my whole life changed.”
Before he met Oskido and agreed on a licensing deal for his groundbreaking debut, Respect The Drumboss 2013 or his double disc follow-up, Respect The Drumboss 2015, Heavy K was in a group called Point 5. His incessant dreaming and belief in the law of attraction put him at odds with the rest of the group.
In Siphum’ elokshin, Mondli sings about how there are many people trying to kill your passion but you must thrive anyway. I ask Heavy K if he’s had to experience this and he nods. He tells me about how he’d find out older DJs had paid promoters or club owners to not play his music or hire him because they felt threatened by his star rising. That doesn’t seem to hurt him as much as what he tells me next.
“The second thing, my sister,” he says, “is me being in Point 5. I couldn’t be myself.” “I’m one of those weird human beings who dreams so much to the point that it might bore others,” the self-deprecation rears its head. “I would say: ‘Guys, it’s possible for us to make it without a deal.’ But they would say I’m crazy, we need to get signed. That doesn’t mean they were wrong. They didn’t do anything wrong. I was just different.”
“We didn’t have the same vision and that was one of the hardest times for me because I sat the guys down and said: ‘I don’t want to lie, this must be the most difficult part of my life because I need to branch away.’ Their vision is probably still amazing, but it just was not meant for me.”
Heavy K moved to Johannesburg, and instead of his passion dying, he began to kill the game. With songs like Umoya, Yini and Wena, he became ubiquitous in the music scene. “I know I’m dope,” he says, “But even if you’re dope, you can still get something wrong at some stage. I had pressure from the first album and it was my insecurity that caused me to make the second album a double disc. I was expecting a fail from the music side but things turned the other way.”
The year that he was still trying to process the success of Respect The Drumboss 2015, Heavy K and his now-fiancee were expecting their first child in December. Their son was born prematurely in October, and later that day, Heavy K’s mother suddenly passed away.
“My father said she just fell and he went and called the neighbours for help but she passed away – the whole thing took about seven minutes,” Heavy K says. “I always knew that even though everything is happening and my career is going so well, there’s always that one percent in me that thinks: ‘Something bad is going to happen.’ And everything was going well, then, boom! It took my mom’s life.”
He released his third album, 1950, as a therapeutic tribute to his mother. But the album was a slow burn. This grief-induced lull in his career took its toll on him. “I was weak, I was vulnerable, I wanted to share my success with my parents. But I became an introvert, I gained even more weight after that,” he recalls. “Grief is dangerous.”
The people he thought were his friends were nowhere to be found, his songs weren’t receiving radio rotation and then, suddenly, his oldest son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
“While 1950 helped me with my grief, there was now something else,” he says. “I knew I had to be there for my woman. The doctors are expensive and I knew I just had to make one more song. My son is my motivation, now more than ever. I told my future wife that it’s going to be a long journey but we’re going to turn things around. I wake up every day and go 10 times harder now.”
Shortly after discovering this news, he got with frequent collaborators, Bucie and Nokwazi for a smash comeback hit, Inde. The chorus reflects on a long journey and mirrors Heavy K’s professional and personal life. Siphum’ elokshin further cements his resilience in knowing that where there is tragedy, there will always be triumph.