‘The love of music started long ago,” says Ndumiso Khumalo, who is popularly known in maskandi music circles as Mpotoze, a name he got for his ability to charm the ladies back home in Madazane village, KwaZulu-Natal.
“I used to cry for a guitar, not a ball, when I was with my mother at the shops,” says the 29-year-old, fondly recalling how it all began.
His mother, unfortunately, could not afford to buy him one but luck struck when the family next door gave him a guitar that belonged to their late grandfather.
It’s a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon in late July but Khumalo is a bit agitated, constantly leaving the room to speak on the phone to the singers who will be sharing the stage with him during the launch of his first CD album Love Bite at the Diepkloof hostel in Soweto.
The 10-song album touches on a number of issues, including love, betrayal and the hardships of living in Johannesburg.
His ability to change his amazing voice while singing into the microphone is phenomenal and his mastery of the guitar is mesmerising.
In addition to the title track Love Bite, Sibuy’emnambithi, Sidalelwene, Inkunzi Yenyathi, Emcitsheni and Ngiyajabulo are some of the songs on the album that will keep maskandi lovers entertained.
A bright yellow Inkatha Freedom Party poster, emblazoned with the face of its founder and former leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, hangs on a wall in the open-plan kitchen, beyond which five dancers are rehearsing their moves. The coal stove in the middle of the room does not seems not to deter them.
“Come on guys, we have to get this right!” an irritated Chazubuhle Dladla shouts at the dancers. They acquiesce and repeat the moves several times until they dance in unison.
Khumalo learnt to play the guitar under the guidance of Celumuzi Makhanyile at the hostel. He drew inspiration from Amashayina Amahle, Abafana Benkululeko and Mgqumeni. He was recruited to join maskandi group Phathaphatha, before going solo in 2020.
To succeed in the competitive music industry, “good marketing is very important and the burning of impepho/ incense back at home, asking ancestors for guidance, protection and success”, says one of the artists at the launch, Njabulo “Ichwane LikaStezie” Zulu.
He adds, “If your parents never got married, ask your uncles to speak to your ancestors for you when impepho is burning — and that the pen that you use to write songs should be placed at your grandmother’s home.”
Khumalo jumps in and says, “For me, it is important that when I call or praise my ancestors for the talent that they gave me, I call both my parents’ surnames because they never got married, even though my father paid lobola.”
Backstage at maskandi
Last year, legendary maskandi music godfather and multiple award winner Bheki “Ihhashi Elimhlophe” Ngcobo made history by becoming the first maskandi artist to record a live DVD at the Soweto Theatre.
Two of the most popular young artists in KwaZulu-Natal, Khuzani Mpungose and Mthandeni Manqele, were embroiled in a fierce fight that resulted in the death of a person in 2017. The two have had off-the-stage run-ins for sometime, after Manqele and some other artists accused Mpungose of stealing their material.
The war-torn province feared the tension might lead to more bloodshed, if not resolved, forcing the Tribal Authority to intervene.
In 2016, Sibusiso Gcabashe was sentenced for 28 years in prison for impersonating award-winning musician Khulekani “Mgqumeni” Khumalo, who died in 2009.
Thousands of fans flocked to his KwaZulu-Natal home in 2012, believing he had been resurrected. Three years after his death, Gcabashe returned to the singer’s hometown, claiming he had been kidnapped by a witchdoctor who cast a spell on him and held him in a cave with zombies.
Gcabashe was found guilty of rape, assault, kidnapping, attempted escape from lawful custody as well as impersonating Khumalo.
The CD launch event
For many upcoming artists their performances are curated on a makeshift stage for the convenience of the audiences who are mostly from hostels or informal settlements.
A small crowd has already gathered outside the main hall, where the launch event was held, and are being entertained by MC Ngubane.
To lure the crowd from their rooms, besides playing popular maskandi music, he plays interesting games with the audience. For example, he gives a monetary reward to a willing participant for holding a full two-litre bottle in one hand, with arms outstretched, until a song that runs for several minutes ends.
As soon as Mpotoze and his dancers come on stage for a brief performance, the crowds come from their rooms, rushing to see them perform and to sing along to popular tracks.
Ichwane LikaStezie performs one of his songs on the roof of a car, which surprises many and the audience goes berserk when Dalac Wodumo throws sweets in the air.
When the main act performs again, it is at sunset and many people have gathered, already having fun.