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Where are Our Heroes? The Hotstix Interview

2008-08-05 17:03
"Every generation has its own heroes," smiles Sipho modestly. "I still love The Beatles, but if you ask someone from a younger generation, they’ll go 'Who?' There’s been a generation who loved Michael Jackson and you have the hip-hop generation today whose heroes are the Jay-Zs. So in all fairness to the young people one wouldn't want the young generation to be beholden to you."

Point taken, so who are some of his heroes? "Drummers like Elvin Jones, Ginger Baker, Billy Cobham…and of course, in South Africa Gilbert Matthews and Early Mabuza," says Mabuse. "When Early walked into a rehearsal room and sat behind my drum kit that did it for me. Here was this man who was a hero, you know? He won the South African Jazz Festival with his band in 1964.

And he walks in with Gilbert – they were probably attracted by the sound they heard - and I froze for a moment. I thought to myself, 'would I be doing the right thing if I went on practicing?' I had my shirt off because I was a rock drummer then! And Early said 'can I sit on your kit?' It was almost like if Nelson walked into your house and asked 'can I sit where you are sitting?' you wouldn’t know what to do."

Wait up. Rock drummer? What was a black man doing playing rock music in the 60s? "We listened to mostly white radio stations, the influences were The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zep, Deep Purple, and the Woodstock festivals," explains Mabuse. "We had always considered white music as superior then because of the level of consciousness at the time. But everything changed when we toured [the then] Rhodesia, Botswana and Mozambique and became Harari. The question arose: 'why all those overseas influences, when there’s all these other influences just across the border?'"
Why indeed. Why model yourself on Ginger Baker when Cream's drummer was rushing off to Nigeria to check out the revolution of Afrobeat king firebrand Fela Kuti? "Absolutely, yeah!" exclaims Hotstix. "Fela was king. But you never heard Fela on the radio. In accordance with the SA laws at the time he was just blasphemous, not the kind of music that people should be exposed to. We could not even hear Hugh Masekela. But there was always information coming through. Miriam did a song called "Pasop Verwoerd" which was banned. But somehow it was still big in the country because most of the records were sneaked into the country by activists."

Ah yes, those infamously dark apartheid days. A black consciousness-raising time for an ambitious young Afro-rock band like The Beaters who, in the aftermath of the Soweto student uprising of 1976, actually helped smuggle young activists into exile hidden in their amp cases and drum kits! "The struggle was intensified back home," recalls Mabuse. "We were influenced by the black consciousness movement and the necessity for African musicians to find a clear identity. In Rhodesia we fell in love with [the Salisbury township] Harari. We composed a song dedicated to the people. When we came home it was a massive hit! Everybody started calling us Harari."

1980's Heatwave scored Harari an American release shifting some 250 000 units. Back at home they were also revolutionaries, becoming the first black group to appear on SATV in 1979 and stage their own show at Joburg’s Colosseum in 1980. "We were recording some of the hottest music," remembers Hotstix. "Harari had a very big influence on creating an identity for Stimela, Sakhile and all these bands with African names who modelled themselves on us. We were ahead of everybody. You know we had a song on the Billboard Top 100? That in itself was a milestone for an African band, an achievement."

[NEXT: Hostix on Oppikoppi, Kwani Experience & more] [page 1 of 2]

Sipho 'Hotsix' Mabuse is a legend. As the driving force behind pioneering Afro-rock combos like The Beaters and Harrai back in the 70s he paved the way for Proudly Pan African acts like Juluka, Stimela, and Sakhile to come. In the 80s he pretty much patented the Rainbow Nation pop path to come with his all-time classic crossover party starter "Burn Out". And in the 90s he pushed the African jazz envelope on genre-free fusion workouts like Township Child. He also represented South Africa alongsid
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