New age Doc Shebeleza: building hope and houses

Mention the name Doc Shebeleza and you might get a bit of a mixed response. Like trying to make shapes out of clouds on a summer day‚ the name means different things to different people.

“It’s true‚ people tend to sing my name now instead of say it‚” he laughs‚ in reference to rapper Cassper Nyovest using his name as the title of his 2014 hit single.

“Before he was so famous Cassper used to call me‚ many times‚ to try and meet with me but I couldn’t engage with him. Yes‚ sometimes I used to think this boy was irritating me. But eventually I met with him and he told me he wanted to do a song about me. I told him that I won’t allow my name to be used to insult other people but he assured me that it was a song all about me‚” Doc says.

What followed was a massive hit that saw Doc Shebeleza’s name once again thrust into the spotlight. But while many‚ at first‚ though that the song was sung by him‚ the real Doc Shebeleza was sitting quietly‚ watching from the sidelines.

Now he’s sitting across from me in a meeting room at the Times Media offices in Rosebank. He may be dressed casually in a jacket and a cap‚ but his persona is anything but casual. As we chat he looks forward‚ contemplating the weight of his words as he speaks. Relaxed but resolute. This is a man that knows what he wants

It’s a persona that I imagine Doc Shebeleza uses to his advantage in his new venture‚ where the red tape of bureaucracy meets the slow wheels of progress.

You see‚ you might not have heard from musician Doc Shebeleza in a while. But please excuse him‚ he’s been very busy building houses and uplifting communities.

“I have been working with some of the veterans of the entertainment industry. The likes of Blondie Makhene‚ actor Kenneth Nkosi and Mafikizolo‚ to help some of the poorest communities. Nationally‚ we have built about 15 fully furnished homes. It’s very rewarding. And also very refreshing for people to see that musicians are not just about singing songs about woman and cars and money‚” Doc says.

The initiative‚ called the African Musicians Against HIV-AIDS (AMAHA)‚ is the brainchild of Doc Shebeleza and he has been working with government for some time. But the musician assures us that it is not political.

“Community work is a lot like music‚ it is fluid. It’s like water. Everyone benefits from it regardless of what you believe and what political thoughts you have. Everyone needs water to survive and we’re just the tap‚” he explains.

’People have to understand that I am a human first’

And while his transition from glitzy musician to hard working-community advocate may seem a little strange‚ Doc Shebeleza says that it was a natural one.

“People have to understand that I am a human first. I was in the industry‚ with many connections‚ and I thought how can I use my position to bring people together and help the communities that really need it. And‚ to be honest‚ it grounds you and makes you reflect on your life more deeply and the things that are most important.

A lot of that comes from my upbringing. My family and my community that really shaped me. There were times where we had no food or my mother had to go look for a job and she would ask the neighbours for help. That’s where I’m coming from. It’s the poison (if you could call it that) of humanity that was injected into my veins from a young age‚” he explains.

Musically‚ Doc Shebeleza has reached the highest of highs and worked with some of the biggest artists in South Africa. No doubt‚ he could sit for days and tell me stories about them. But today he only wants to tell me about one man: the late Mandoza.

“Mandoza was like a brother to me. We loved and supported each other so much. He looked arrogant and like a thug‚ but he really wasn’t like that. You know‚ I was actually surprised when he married Mpho. I thought: ‘this boy is taking chances’‚ because he was a crazy boy who liked to have fun. But look‚ they were married for 18 years‚” he says.

Doc Shebeleza was ever present at Mandoza’s house in the days following the late kwaito artist’s death. I bumped into him on several occasions as I reported from the house. He was also instrumental in organising the star’s funeral.

’I am still very angry about that’

And while reports from Sunday Sun claimed that the funeral had been marred by a scuffle between Doc Shebeleza and Trompie’s Eugene Mthethwa‚ he says that he was happy with the send-off.

“I was happy with how it went. Look‚ there was an issue with the program. (Program director) Mzwakhe (Mbuli) was not supposed to call all of the kwaito artists to the stage. He was supposed to announce a kwaito tribute and leave it. But he called everyone up and it was chaos. They had changed the whole thing. I am still very angry about that. Eugene was also upset by the program and how it turned out‚ and so I was alerted to his anger and simply went to calm him down.

In fact‚ Mandoza’s funeral brought many of us (music veterans) together. We are now having breakfast together‚” Doc adds.

Mandoza’s death was also felt by those not in the kwaito industry. Rapper Riky Rick took to Twitter a few days after the late artist’s death to announce that he would be working on kwaito music‚ in tribute to the star.

But a recent report in Sowetan quoted the chairman of the SA Music Awards expressing his concern with the lack of entries from the kwaito industry‚ warning that the future of the genre might be in danger if artists do not make music in the genre.

Doc doesn’t share such fears.

“We as veterans of the kwaito movement have been saying that we need to reinject the kwaito industry. It has been crucified by the media but it is coming back and it has been helped by the SABC’s 90% local music quota. It is massive and can’t be ignored‚” Doc says.

And he wouldn’t mind returning to help it along.

“I would love to return to making music. It is who I am and I can’t deny it. There are a few things that I am occupied with at the moment but I will come back. Not because people are asking me to return‚ but when I feel like I have the right product that can continue my legacy of making big hits‚” Doc explains.

And whether that day comes tomorrow or in several years‚ with the legacy he has created both in front and behind the mic‚ it is clear that Doc Shebeleza is one name we won’t forget.


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