Trompies on the ups and downs of fame: ‘We’re lucky to be alive today’

2018-07-13 16:11
Trompies (PHOTO: Papi Morake & Martin De Kock)

Cape Town - Say the name Trompies and nostalgic memories of brightly-coloured bucket hats, Converse All Star sneakers and flowy shirts instantly come to mind.

Who can forget the sounds of Magasman, Madibuseng and Sweety Lavo blaring from the boot of almost every car in ekasi as Trompies rose to fame?

It’s been over two decades since the five-man band burst onto the music scene with the head-bopping pantsula moves that made them popular, yet their signature look is still emulated in many townships. And with ’90s fashion making a comeback, their style is here to stay.

Twenty-four years later, K.O, Kid X and even Cassper Nyovest quote the crew in their club bangers. The legendary group dropped an album four years ago but Jairus “Jakarumba” Nkwe is confident there’s life in them yet.

“Trompies ayikaphelelwa (we’re still relevant),” he says. Jakarumba and bandmates Eugene “Donald Duck” Mthethwa, Emmanuel “Mjokes” Matsane and Mandla “Spikiri” Mofokeng have been performing together, most recently at Joburg’s Red Bull Music Festival, as they work on a new album. The kwaito kings plan to drop The Best of Trompies album – featuring all the classics.

A national tour and a live DVD recording are also on the cards. Noticeably absent from their crowd-pleasing live shows, however, is Zynne “Mahoota” Sibika. Eugene is quick to set the record straight when DRUM meets him and Jakarumba for a catch-up.

“We all have our solo careers, but we’ve always remained Trompies and nothing will change that.”

It’s not true that Mahoota has left the group, Eugene says, addressing the persistent rumours.

“Mahoota will always be a part of Trompies, and will join them in studio to record new music,” Jakarumba adds.

 “We respect each other, we are a family and every family has different characters. Nothing has changed.”

“Our job is to entertain. We’ve kept our brand the same, all our songs have their own choreography and we have stayed the same for 24 years.”

Consistency is the key to success say the guys who are now on a mission to make their music live long in people’s memories.

We take a throwback tour with Trompies. In the beginning before they found fame, they were friends. “We grew up together in Soweto,” Eugene says.

They all had an interest in music and came from church backgrounds where their families were involved in the choir, but Trompies was only born in 1994 when the guys were in their late twenties.

“We never planned to start Trompies, but when we made jokes around each other, people would laugh and we’d make a song out of what someone said,” Eugene recalls.

After some time they decided to form a group and make money instead of entertaining people for free. All in a name taking their name from an Afrikaans TV series popular in the 1970s was a deliberate political statement.

“When we started the group South Africa had attained its freedom and black people were allowed to vote,” Eugene says.

“We felt we could do anything and say anything, so we chose to name ourselves after an Afrikaans character from Trompie en die Boksombende. Our name was fun but also a political statement.”

The guys could also identify with the mischievous main character, Trompie, “because we were very mischievous, but in a good way,” Eugene says with a laugh.

Dark side of fame.

The rising stars lived a rock ’n roll lifestyle when they first tasted freedom and fame.

“We’re lucky to be alive today and still be able to share our music,” Eugene says.

Back in the day Trompies would be booked for four music shows in one day. He says they drove themselves to all the gigs with plenty of alcohol in the car.

“We used to buy 24 bottles of whiskey and keep them in the boot. “I was the driver because the others couldn’t yet drive. We’d sleep in the car and regretted some of the things we did. But those things taught us to value life.”

They weren’t perfect but Eugene says they understood one another and kept each other motivated.

“Jakarumba was the loose cannon who would party into the morning, I was the designated driver and there’s the one who thinks he’s always right, but we won’t mention names,” he says as the guys burst into laughter.

Eugene gets serious when he says they’ve made their fair share of mistakes and hopes upcoming artists learn from them. Cash kings with fame comes fortune.

Eugene and Jakarumba reveal one of the highlights of their careers was their first big royalty pay out from the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro). They each received R100 000, Eugene recalls.

“We went to the bank to cash our cheques and we rocked up there looking like regular township boys – the entire bank was covered with police officers because they thought we were lying.”

After a few phone calls it was established that they didn’t steal the money, and Eugene and the rest of the guys cashed their cheques.

“I bought a house in Kempton Park but it was repossessed a few years ago as I owed money,” Eugene says.

Jakarumba says he used the money to pay his parents’ debt.

“My parents were swimming in debt and I managed to pay off their debt. I could rebuild their house before my father died when we continued to make money.”

Business matters.

If there’s one thing they regret it’s not being more business-savvy with their brand.

“When we started Trompies we were naive and we followed the business side as much as we could but we didn’t educate ourselves enough,” Eugene laments.

As the pioneers of pantsula culture, Eugene says they were once made to wear an American clothing label, which was not in line with their brand.

“They offered to dress us but didn’t give us any money . . . but that was a long time ago.”

Leaving a legacy.

“We’ve since learnt the business side of the music industry,” Eugene says.

These days Trompies faces other challenges. “Veterans aren’t treated well in this country, they’re still dying poor,” he says.

The guys feel disrespected as radio stations won’t play their music because they’re considered old school.

 “We’re treated as less than politicians and politicians need us to campaign to get votes. We fill up the stadiums – they cannot.”

 “But that will never erase us from the books of history."
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