/ 16 August 2022

Remembering Magesh, a kwaito star who was ahead of his time

Tokollo Magesh Tshabalala Has Died Picture Instagram
Tokollo Magesh Tshabalala-Instagram

When Tokollo “Magesh” Tshabalala was born into a famous footballing family on 14 October, 1976, no one could have imagined he’d go on to become the centrepiece of perhaps the most important South African group of the late 1990s, TKZee. 

His father, Stanley “Screamer” Tshabalala, was one of the best-known sporting figures in the country, having been a founding member of Kaizer Chiefs Football Club. Screamer revolutionised the way the club played football with what became known as the “shoeshine and piano” style of play. 

While many might have expected Magesh to follow in his father’s footsteps, he instead chose a path of his own after befriending Kabelo Mabalane and Zwai Bala at St Stithians College in Johannesburg. They teamed up to form the kwaito group TKZee. 

A few years later, when Magesh was 21, the group burst onto the scene with the release of the chart-topping single Phalafala in 1997.

“Sbu batshele ses’fikile!” Magesh declared at the beginning of the song, announcing their arrival with style and swagger. Indeed, throughout the group’s illustrious run over the next decade, it was he who often led the way with his larger-than-life persona. 

So profound was his impact that the late kwaito star, Mandoza named his son Tokollo.

That summer, Maria McCloy reported for this paper: “Ask anyone – I mean anyone, from South Africa’s hot producers to popular young artists and DJs to the average kid looking for a good time – what they’re getting down to, and they’ll almost certainly tell you it’s TKZee’s latest single, Phalafala.”

A year later, they cemented their place as the hottest new guys on the scene with their classic album Halloween and the anthemic single Shibobo, which they recorded alongside national soccer star Benni McCarthy in Amsterdam. They would go on to release three more albums, Guz 2001, Trinity and Guz Hits. 

Magesh’s catchy melodies and hooks were the driving force behind the group’s music. Their lyrics, heavily laden with township lingo, were relatable to the average South African and easy to sing along to. Their aura was infectious. They influenced culture, language and style across the country at a time when young black South Africans were searching for identity after Nelson Mandela’s release and the end of apartheid. Along with their contemporaries, the likes of Zola, Mandoza, Trompies, Mzekezeke, Brown Dash, Spikiri, Mzambiya and Brikz, TKZee were part of a cultural renaissance that defined an entire era. So profound was their impact at the time that the late kwaito star Mandoza named his son Tokollo.

After a few years off the scene as kwaito’s popularity faded, TKZee were in the midst of a late-career comeback over the past year or two and had been a fixture at the popular Soweto establishment Konka. I was there in September when the group headlined a show and took a delirious crowd on a trip down memory lane with a nostalgic performance of their classic hits. 

This comeback was cut short on Monday morning when Magesh died after suffering an epileptic seizure. Orlando Pirates, the club his father currently oversees as a director, broke the news on their website: “Tokollo, who also goes by the name of Magesh, was a renowned musician, famously known for his song writing and being a member of the group TKZee. We convey our heartfelt and deepest sympathy to the Tshabalala family and pledge our profound moral support. We supplicate that God gives the family fortitude at this moment of extreme grief and pain.”

While Magesh no doubt held his own as a solo artist with several solo releases, it’s his time with TKZee that we’ll remember most fondly.

Khuli Chana was among the many entertainers who shared their condolences on social media: “Rest in peace to my idol, my brother Magesh. Our last conversation was  heartwarming. Collaborating with you was one of my wildest dreams. Thank you for making it a reality.” 

Magesh’s solo feature on Khuli’s smash hit single Hape Le Hape in 2013 was one of the last times we got a glimpse of his prodigious talents.

In 2019, TKZee were recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th South African Music Awards for their indelible contribution to the local music scene. Magesh got his flowers while he could still smell them. As radio stations no doubt prepare to play marathons of his music, be sure to tune in.