Zakes Bantwini: Hennessy Artistry, OppiKoppi & SA crossver

Multiple award-nominee, hit-maker, creator of Durban Kwaito, Zakes Bantwini, the man behind ‘Shake Your Bum Bum’, just survived OppiKoppi and is collaborating with everyone from Flash Republic to Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 09/04.

Zakes Bantwini: Hennessy Artistry, OppiKoppi & SA crossver

Zakes Bantwini is on a roll – he’s still soaring up Southern African radio and mobile download charts with songs off last year’s “Love, Light and Music”, cracking into the European market with remixes of those same songs by the likes of South African DJ Black Coffee; he played to his first serious crossover audience at last month’s OppiKoppi festival; a grandmother in an airport lounge came up to him and told him she loved his music; and he’s been given free rein on a new collaboration project courtesy of Hennessy Artistry. Also, his music is coming to Cape Town as part of that project, even if the Durban-based artist himself won’t be in the house. His scorching sounds are a crucial part of the project though, not least because they represent what seems to be the current nexus of South African urban dance music that is “the Durban sound”.
“I don’t know what it is, but judging from the South African Music Awards and the MetroFM Awards, I’d definitely have to say that Durban has been dominating,” says Bantwini by ‘phone from his KwaZulu Natal hometown. “If you listen to the radio stations too, most of the music that is charting over the last four or five years, is by people that are coming from KZN. Durban is a party city. Part of the culture is that, when people go to clubs, they sing their own lyrics to songs. Artists from Durban take those gimmicks and hooks and record them. Also, for a while, a lot of artists who were not Johannesburg-born were residing there, so it looked as if Joburg was dominating the music of South Africa. The Durban artists didn’t move. You have artists that are national brands living in the city. That is part of what makes collaborating outside such an important thing.”
Which brings us to the Hennessy Artistry project. The series sees the cognac – rated internationally as on a par with South Africa’s gold medal-winning brandies – bringing together six South African musical talents under the banner of “The Art of Blending”. The 2011 Artistry series features the legendary Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse (who celebrated his 60th birthday at aforementioned OppiKoppi festival), perennial dancefloor favourites Flash Republic, Skwatta Kamp alumni Slikour, Cape Town “ghetto tech” pioneers Crazy White Boy (you’ve heard “Love You Better”), Kalawa Jazzmee songstress Zonke and the “cosmo pop” of the collaboration-hungry Zakes Bantwini. Once complete, the track will be remixed by internationally acclaimed producers, The Layabouts.
“What is being done here is very, very beautiful,” says Bantwini. “As someone working in our music industry, I see how it is still so much apart. It’s like South Africa is living in two different worlds. You have artists like The Parlotones or Karen Zoid, and no-one in the black market knows who they are. Then you have Zakes Bantwini, who probably can’t play a gig in South Africa where the people don’t know the songs, but in the white market, people haven’t even heard of him.”
“In this industry, the artists really love one another, and want to work together – it’s not like in politics,” he jokes. “But when do we get a chance to work together? I will probably be killed by the Department of Health for saying this but, if it wasn’t for Hennessy, then something like this beautiful collaboration could never happen. For them to come along and say, ‘Here’s a studio; we will pay for everything; you just come in and make music.’ That never happens and it is a very important thing for the music in this country, and the people in this country. Artists promote responsible drinking, and if the alcohol industry is able to bring the music industry together, then that is a good thing.”
Bantwini was one of the highlights at the recent OppiKoppi festival, although he was uncharacteristically nervous before the show. He regularly performs to clubs thronging with fans who know the words to his songs, and to kwaito or dance shows with thousands in the audience. But the bushveld festival, with its largely white audience and a history in rock music, was different. “I don’t want to lie, I was really worried about the show,” he says. “I always do my research before I do a set for an audience in another African country, or a crowd here that I do not know. I worry. I check things out. Before OppiKoppi, I made a few calls see if someone like Flash Republic or Cassette wanted to collaborate with me, but the artists who are booked for the festival are busy with their own thing, and I failed. So it was just me, just Zakes Bantwini.”
“Then I thought, ‘This is a crowd that won’t throw stones or boo you; they will just walk off to the next stage and ignore you – all I have to lose is pride.’ I thought, ‘I’ll just do what I do best – get out there and perform.’ Every song that is popular right now – there was a time that people first heard it. OppiKoppi was the biggest crossover audience I have played to, but I had a full band backing me, and that always helps. You are not tied to CD backing tracks and timing; you can pick things up from the audience and be spontaneous. If you are creative, that gives you an opportunity to release your creativity. I was able to dance and sing to some people who knew my songs, and a lot of people who did not. I really enjoyed the set and I loved the festival. It is crazy, but I want to go back there every year, just for the party; even if I am not booked to perform.”
Hear Zakes Bantwini’s new collaborative material at Hennessy Artistry, which comes to Cape Town for one night only on Saturday 10 September, featuring Slikour, Flash Republic, Crazy White Boy, three surprise guests and ProVerb as MC (One & Only Hotel, Dock Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, 8pm, R100).
The “Halo Event” finale is on Saturday 17 September in Johannesburg featuring all the collaborating artists, Zakes Bantwini, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Flash Republic, Slikour, Crazy White Boy, Zonke and ProVerb (The Venue, Melrose Arch, 10pm). More on Hennessy.com and find Zakes Bantwini on Facebook and YouTube.

First appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2011/ 09/04.

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