Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Review: ‘Vukazithathe’, a portrait of the maskandi artist as a mentor and friend

When Nthato Mokgata was awarded the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music last year, the two of us met up for an interview at a quiet Johannesburg restaurant and I asked him what he considered to be some of the key moments of his career.

Engaging in the creative and collaborative scene of Cape Town in the early 2000s ranked highly, as did the release of his debut album as Spoek Mathambo, Mshini Wam. “Oh, and doing Future Sounds, man, that was key,” he said. “Meeting Bheki? That was one of the most important moments for me.”

Back in 2012, when Mokgata began touring the country and gathering footage for what would become his 2015 documentary on the myriad sounds of South African music, Future Sounds of Mzansi, he met a KwaZulu-Natal-based musician by the name of Bhekisenzo “Vukazithathe” Cele. The multi-instrumentalist became a mentor to Mokgata as well as a collaborator on numerous projects. Now, eight years later, Mokgata’s new documentary Vukazithathe provides a glimpse into the life and music of the maskandi artist.

Set largely in rural Dweshula, Port Shepstone, where Vukazithathe grew up, the documentary comprises sweeping footage (occasionally recycled and repeated) of the rolling hills and mountainous reaches of the area, where many of its crucial interviews take place. The city of Durban, where Vukazithathe often performs, makes up the rest of the location footage, as well as a few short performance scenes in Johannesburg for the 2017 Afropunk festival. In this way, the documentary is short and uncomplicated in its composition. Mokgata allows his mentor to do all the talking, and to convey his own life story.

From shirking his cattle-herding responsibilities to practise guitar in the hills and losing his father at a young age, to moving to Umlazi and pursuing a music career with nothing but his instrument and a bag of clothes, Vukazithathe’s recounting of his younger years is rich in sincerity and personal anecdote. These intimate interviews are some of the film’s best moments and are well-curated by Mokgata and creative partner Carla Fonseca (who also had a hand in the project’s editing). Vukazithathe’s adult life, however, is not without personal and spiritual strife, and a great deal of loss. The documentary largely mirrors this trajectory, so prepare yourself for a hefty second half.

Central to Vukazithathe’s personal journey is the story of maskandi, which the musician unpacks, picks apart and reassembles at various points throughout the documentary — sometimes through interviews with Mokgata, other times by simply picking up his guitar and playing. My initial feeling is that the film could have benefited from the inclusion of varying takes and perspectives on the genre and history of maskandi (Vukazithathe is the only source who speaks about the musical genre), but then it seems as if Mokgata’s intention for the documentary was always about paying tribute to his mentor — a living maskandi legend — more than it was about contextualising and documenting the style of music he performs. Either way, Vukazithathe serves as a short and detailed repository on the style, sound, history and instrumentation of maskandi.

Finally, a moment to celebrate Mokgata himself. Throughout his own musical career, as well as his frequent collaborations across the realms of art, music, film and more, the interdisciplinary artist has always strived to celebrate the organic efforts of South African artists, and place them on a platform for the rest of the world to engage with. To my mind, Vukazithathe is simply another one of Mokgata’s efforts to get the rest of the world to pay attention to the incredible and often underappreciated work we’ve got going on, here. Certainly, this documentary will not be the last of Mokgata’s efforts in this vein.

Vukazithathe is available to view here; tickets cost R35. 

This article was first published on The Critter.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Dave Mann
Dave Mann is a Johannesburg-based writer and arts journalist. He is also the co-founder and publisher of Ja. magazine.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Court judgment about alien fish is about more than trout...

Judge finds that public participation in democratic processes is not the exclusive preserve of the privileged few who have access to the internet and can read English

Marikana victims mull complaint against Judge Lamont after civil case...

Judge Colin Lamont withdrew from the case because of his shares in the mining company Sibanye

More top stories

Court judgment about alien fish is about more than trout...

Judge finds that public participation in democratic processes is not the exclusive preserve of the privileged few who have access to the internet and can read English

Matric exam timetable changes to accommodate elections

Moving the national senior certificate exams forward also allows matrics who are old enough to cast their ballots on 1 November

Duarte threatens to remove North West’s Chauke from interim provincial...

The ANC deputy secretary general wants the national executive committee members in the province to assess the suitability of the IPC coordinator

The R15.3-million Limpopo ‘shack’ tender was earned fraudulently – SIU

The SIU is trying to recover R2.5-million from a housing tender as part of its investigation into corruption during the Covid-19 state of disaster
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×