On the streets, Rocky and Lacosta dream of a music career

Sylvester Masiba (27), whose music name is Rocky, is one of the homeless migrants who go to the Tshwane Leadership Foundation every day for breakfast. He also benefits from the Tuesday evening soup kitchens. We first meet in the Foundation dining room, where we wait for other homeless men to come and participate in the research.

Donning a dirty cream hooded sweatshirt and black jeans, Masiba carries an air of confidence. He asks to know what the program is about. I explain to him that we are interested in having a conversation about their experiences on the street and to assess their vulnerabilities.

Masiba looks me straight in the eye and says that being on the street does not mean that they have no dreams or wishes.

He says he met his friend, Lucky Ndaba (24) – who goes by Lacosta – two months ago at the Tshwane Leadership Foundation and was drawn to him over their mutual love for music.

"We met here two months ago. We both like music and I know he [Ndaba] was always singing other people's songs. We decided to write our own songs," he says.

Ndaba wears a red hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. He has a sleepy look. He joins in the conversation. He is soft spoken. We are seated at a table in the foundation gardens away from the noise of the kitchen.

Their music, they say, is a mix of hip-hop and kwaito. Through their songs, they hope to deliver messages to the youth on what is happening on the streets.

"Our music talks to young people. We tell them to go to school and not to stay on the street with no education. Being on the street with no certificate is hard," Ndaba says.

Every morning, Masiba and Lucky wake up between 4am and 5am to look for money and food. They say they do not have time to write their songs because of the hopeless situation they face living on the streets. They spend the whole day hustling on the streets and are too tired in the evening to compose songs.

Life on the streets is like an endless conundrum of tragedy. They claim that sometimes the metro police will harass them and take their property.

"Metro police come and take out stuff. We do not have IDs. They took everything. They do not know the situation. They do not know where we live. To leave home, the circumstances were premeditated. It is not because I like to stay on the street," Ndaba explains.

Ndaba says he is the second of four boys in his family. He left home to find work because he was now old and to escape from his mother's constant reminders to find work.

When he left Soweto for Pretoria three months ago, he promised himself to only return home after making money. This way, he claims, he will be able to show his younger brother how to work.

"I must show my young brother how men do it. I must work to put something," he says.

His frustration at his failure to get a job while his peers work has affected his esteem.

"I see myself as a useless person now because my friends are working. Eish … this thing is stressing me. Unemployment is a bad thing," he says.

But on days when Masiba and Ndaba have money or food, they spend time composing songs.

"You cannot sing when you are tired or hungry," Masiba says.

Masiba says he sang in his school choir at Sepala Primary School in Botlokwa in Limpopo, where he learnt to play the altro trumpet.

Ndaba says a brother at the Roma Church in Soweto taught him how to play a keyboard.   

Before he left home, he reminisces, he and a couple of friends would meet on the streets and engage in rapping competitions.

Masiba and Ndaba, like many budding musicians, have names they have chosen for the music stage. Masiba is Rocky and Ndaba is Lacosta. They have composed songs in English, isiZulu and Sepedi.

Their musical influences include James Blunt, Brenda Fassie, Yvonce Chaka Chaka, Chico Twala, and Arthur Mafokate.

Masiba says Mafokate greatly influences him.

"Arthur Mafokate inspires me. I grew up dancing and listening to his music. I learnt how to dance from his music videos," he says.

When I ask if they have prepared a demo tape, Masiba quickly adds, "We do not have money to record a demo and take to record companies."

He instead offers to do an a capella. When he sings, he closes his eyes and nods his head to the quiet beats in his head. Ndaba interjects his rap at the right intervals and plays with different vocal sounds.

When they finish, Masiba looks like he just came back from a trance in another world. His eyes glitter.

"It is bad to have music and to keep it inside you," Masiba says softly. "You have to keep it loud and [to] have people listen to you."

They talk about a cultural music festival taking place in Soweto over the weekend of September 9 which they will not attend.

"This week there will be a concert in Soweto. We won't go there because we have shortage of a few things. We do not have money and clothes. It is a cultural event. We cannot attend it," Ndaba says.

Masiba and Ndaba hope to be an inspiration to other young South Africans in the future.

They request help in nurturing their talent and believe a breakthrough is coming soon.

"If we can get someone to help us with music, we can improve. Everyone has talent. Some people can work in the office. But us, we have music. And when we get this chance, we will grab it with both hands. We know it is coming to us," Masiba appeals.

When asked what their dreams are, fast-talking Masiba dreams of singing and looking after his family. Soft-spoken Ndaba dreams more specifically and says: "I want to see myself there on the outside cover of the a CD one day. At least singing among the professionals and competing with other singers."

Jackee Budesta Batanda is a writing fellow at the African Centre for Migration and Society. Her email is [email protected] Follow her on Twitter here.


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