On: Mandoza

On: Mandoza
Nkalakatha is township slang for top dog. For the better part of the early naughties, this is exactly what Mandoza was. Born Mduduzi Tshabalala in Soweto, Mandoza
was catapulted into national stardom by his hit song, Nkalakatha, in 2000. It was the lead single and title of his second solo album.
Frequent collaborator, Gabi Le Roux, produced it. Just six years since the first
democratic elections in South Africa, the nation was still struggling with the concept of the rainbow nation. But Nkalakatha – with its undeniable rock riff influence and Mandoza’s rough intonations – succeeded in becoming a hit in both black and white circles.
Even now, 16 years later, the song is considered the crossover hit and can be heard everywhere from rugby matches to ratchet parties. Le Roux chalks this status up to Mandoza’s ability to bring about social cohesion. “It takes one song to bring us together,” says Le Roux, “Nkalakatha was that song.”
“Mandoza was also an example of an African boy who came from very humble beginnings but using his talent and working with the right people, he stood out as a true shining example that anyone who believes in himself or herself can achieve their dreams.”
“With the legacy of apartheid, the majority of our people had the odds stacked
against them. In his time, it was a young democracy. But even the most rightwing
and racist communities adored him and that song. He had the freedom of any city.
We can take Mandoza as an example that a good song and an artist like that can
bring us together.”
But Mandoza didn’t start out as a shining example. At just 16, he was arrested for car theft. When he came back home, he joined forces with Siphiwe “The General GTZ” Sibisi and the late Sizwe “Lollipop” Motaung and Sibusiso “Bless” Thanjakwayo.
Together, they became known as Chiskop and signed to Arthur Mafokate’s 999 record label. There, they had a hit called Klaima.
General remembers how it all began: “We used to do gymnastics at a college in Jabulani (Soweto). After those classes, we’d exchange cassette tapes. Then we started writing our own songs and performing at places like Miss Soweto.”
At first, the group called itself The Red City Boys. Then they became Ragga City Breakers on account of their love for breakdancing.
But Mafokate wasn’t fond of these names.
“So we thought: what is popular ekasi,” General shares, “The one thing that everyone – from the gangsters to boys spinning cars to the taxi owners – had was a chiskop (bald head).”
“And Arthur said: ja! That’s the name. After a while, we made Chiskop have this
meaning to us: Children Have Intelligence in Soweto especially when they put their Kops together.”
In those late 90s, Chiskop worked closely with Le Roux under his company, Groove City, with house music maverick, Tim White.
“In 1999, we decided Mandoza was the most obvious one to launch as a solo artist first,” says Le Roux. “He’s got that X-Factor that you cannot train or teach or buy with money. He’s just born with it. He displayed early on that he was such a strong catalyst for people to be attracted to Chiskop. While our intention was to launch each of them as solos, we felt he was the first one who was ready.”
Thanjakwayo and Motaung sadly passed away and now, General is the last surviving member of Chiskop.
Mandoza set on his solo path and released the groundbreaking 9II5 Zola South album. It spawned the hit single, Uzoyithola Kanjani which featured General.
“Uzoyithola Kanjani is my favourite Mandoza song and not because I’m featured on it,” says General.
“When we made the song, we didn’t know how it would impact people. Amajita ekasi (guys in the hood) didn’t have jobs at that time but they told us that when the song came out, they got up from the corner and went and looked for jobs. It was an inspirational anthem.”
Another anthem – albeit for the nation and not just for the corner – came in the form of Nkalakatha.
Le Roux vividly remembers how the song was created. He says: “My studio was still in my house in Fish Hoek at the time. Mandoza was sitting outside in the garden just thinking of lyrics and I was in the studio messing around with some basslines on the keyboard.”
“A lot of people think that famous Nkalakatha bass sound is a rock guitar but it’s not. It’s actually an organ and I just edited it to sound very aggressive like rock. I was playing around with that sound on the sampler and came across that riff. He came rushing into the room and said: ‘Bra Gabs! This is gonna be big!’”
“I didn’t realise I had created a monster riff. As soon as he started to put the lines in there and funny enough, it was one of the songs that happened so quickly. We had the basic structure in two and a half hours. I suppose it was a divine intervention and the ancestors were smiling on us that day.”
The multi-South African Music Award-winning Nkalakatha went on to sell in excess of 350 000 units, making Mandoza a platinum-selling artist. He went on to release a well-selling album a year. There was Godoba then Tornado then Sgelegeqe (the first single that wasn’t produced by Le Roux but by DJ Cleo) and then in 2004, Mandoza collaborated with pop crooner, Danny K on an album called Same Difference.
“Coke was doing Coca-Cola Collab TV series and they put Mandoza and I together
to do a song called Music,” Danny K reminisces. “We just loved working with each
other. We were so different. Thanks to that show, we realised this weird mix of genres and personalities was resulting in something pretty cool.”
“We said to our respective record companies that we want to do this album together and at first they weren’t supportive of it because they thought it was going to be a failure. But we pushed them to agree.”
“So EMI and Gallo did a joint venture and the album went gold within a week. It was a different time in the country because collabs across the colour lines were still quite unique then so people were quite taken by Same Difference. I guess it proved that we could work together despite our differences.”
That album scooped the SAMA for Best Pop Album as well as a Channel O Music
By the time Mandoza released Phunyuka Bamphete in 2005, the music landscape was changing. Artists were no longer selling as well as they used to and
the paparazzi culture was growing. Soon, Mandoza became tabloid headline fodder and in 2008, he was involved in a car accident that claimed the lives of two people.
“Mandoza has always been very humble,” says Vaughn Eaton who was Mandoza’s business and personal manager from 1999 to 2009. “He’s been very upset at media occasionally.”
Eaton says 2008 was “extremely challenging for him as an individual. He had gone through the whole process in terms of the court case and the challenges that came with it.”
Curwyn Eaton, who managed Mandoza from 2009 to 2015 says the only thing that helped Mandoza rise above his adversities was making more music. It was only on
Mandoza’s 13 th album, Sgantsontso (released in 2013) that the kwaito star started to feel like the public was receptive to him again.
“After that accident, I had to assist him in cutting his expenses and help him change his image towards the public,” says Curwyn Eaton. “I think Sgantsontso impacted Mandoza very well. He was extremely excited about it. We received a lot of airplay after that and he felt like he was back.”
But even so, Mandoza was plagued by illness after illness and was frequently in hospital. Mandoza is survived by his wife, Mpho, and his three children.

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