Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse: Kirstenbosch, ‘Clash of the Choirs’ and SA Music Exchange

South African music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse will fulfil a long-standing dream by performing at Kirstenbosch on Sunday 17 February – and then returns to Cape Town for the South African Music Exchange.

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Weekend Argus” of 17 February 2013.

8.15am is the only time Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse can accommodate our interview and, even then, it means he has to step away from what he should really be doing. In this case: rehearsing his charges from North West Province for the “Clash of the Choirs” “scripted reality” competition on DSTV’s MzansiMagic channel. He’s as amicable and polite as ever, a true gentleman of the South African musical scene. Ever eager to do more, and following his much publicised completion of a matric last year, he has signed on for even more studying in 2013.

“In a way I’m a workaholic, a sucker for doing it all,” he says via telephone from Rustenberg, where the choir is assembled for a pre-work rehearsal. “I feel helpless and useless if I don’t engage. Maybe that’s why I play almost every instrument I find? Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and I don’t want to feel idle…”

Mabuse earned his nickname from a legendary drum solo that he performed during a performance by his alma mater band, the politically conscious Harari. The power went out on stage and Mabuse was the only one who could play without amplification – and did so, for over thirty minutes. Guitarist and longtime friend Condry Zigubu quipped that he had “hot sticks”. The name stuck, even after Mabuse moved from drums to playing mainly saxophone and flute, as well as composing and arranging. Does he still have any time to play the instrument that made him famous?

“Sadly so, the answer is that I don’t do much drums, anymore,” he says, then adds. “Eish, you’ve just given me an idea. I could do a drum solo before the Kirstenbosch set starts? Just to show people where that nickname comes from. Maybe I will do that, and you’ll read about it here first.”

Kirstenbosch: Longstanding dream

Despite playing and recording alongside Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Ray Phiri, as well as Paul Simon and Percy Sledge and headlining the 46664 celebrations in London in 2008 and the Mandela Day Concert in New York City in 2009, and, most recently, opening the African Cup of Nations, he says the Kirstenbosch concert will be a feather in his cap.

“It has long been my wish to play there. There are certain places which you consider as sacrosanct – as a musician, if you have not played there, then you have not arrived. Kirstenbosch Gardens is one of those places, and I am really looking forward to being on stage there. It’s like Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Royal Festival Hall in London – two other stages I know I have to play.”

A recent stage success was his performance of “Nkosi Sikile iAfrika” at the opening concert of the Africa Cup of Nations. “I’m always doing these openings,” he jokes. “During the rugby world cup, one of the Aussie guys asked me, ‘Why don’t you sing our national anthem too?’ I said, ‘No, man, I’m South African – I have to be patriotic.” It’s a great experience, but it’s also frightening, given the psyche of the South African population. You go out there and you have to sing, remembering the history of people like Ras Dumisani – you want to make sure you don’t make a similar mistake! At Afcon, what more could we ask for? Surrounded by a number of great South African musicians, and especially working with Sibongile Khumalo, who is just one of those phenomenal South African talents.”

Mabuse will play his inaugural Kirstenbosch concert, part of the Old Mutual Summer Sunset series, with a full eight-piece band, with him as band-leader, vocalist, saxophonist and flutist – and, just perhaps, doing that drum solo. Indications are that the veteran arranger also plans to get a local choir to perform a gospel song with the band.

South African Music Exchange

After Sunday, Mabuse returns to “Clash of the Choirs” and other commitments before returning to Cape Town in March for the South African Music Exchange conferences and workshops. He will be speaking alongside the likes of Nick Motsaste, CEO of the South African Music Rights Organisation; Thebe Ikalafeng, vice-chairman of the Brand Council of South Africa; Charles Webster, UK electronic dance producer and remixer (MiCasa, Black Coffee); Rashid Lombard, founder of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival; Peter Lacey, Musketeer Records (Seether / Saron Gas); Martin Myers, Triple M Entertainment (producers of the Deer Park Sunday concert series) and artists including Arno Carstens, RJ Benjamin, Pascal Righini (The Plastics),  Dino Michael, Ivan Turanjanin and more.

“I have a passion for artist development of younger musicians,” says Mabuse. “It is important that we impart our own experiences and knowledge, and understand the reason that we are in the music industry in the first place. Without education, what do you do? What can you achieve and what can you bring into line? It’s not only learning about the music itself, it’s learning about how the whole industry operates. We don’t want people to be disempowered, and we want the industry to give them a good lifeline.”

Matric, and musicology

Mabuse is putting his money – and his time and sweat – where his mouth is. Decades ago, his burgeoning career as a musician meant that he abandoned his schooling – but he finally returned to complete his matric certificate last year, at the age of sixty-two. Now he has enrolled for a degree in Musicology from UNISA. “And, hopefully going beyond that, if God gives me the strength”, he says, noting that he has his eye on a Masters degree in Anthropology.

“The tough part about studying as an adult was the time limit,” he says. “The biggest challenge is how you do it within the limited hours of study that I had and, if I have a performance, or I go on tour, I miss out on a class. I had wonderful teachers and support from my fellow students – and great support from the public. When I achieved the pass, it was humbling to receive so much praise from the nation – even our president!”

More interviews with Sipho Mabuse:

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  • Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse plays the Old Mutual Summer Sunset concert on Sunday 17 February (Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Drive, Newlands, gates 4pm; concert runs from 5.30pm to 7pm; tickets R110 (adults) and R80 (6 to 21 years old, with ID) from 021-7998783/8620 and WebTickets.co.za). Details SANBI.org and OldMutual.co.za/Music.
  • The third independent South African Music Exchange features conferences, workshop and concerts from 1 to 3 March featuring over fifty speakers and panelists. Tickets WebTickets.co.za; details MusicExchange.co.za

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Weekend Argus” of 17 February 2013.

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