The evolution of Kalawa Jazmee

There is no way kwaito's golden era can be mentioned and not drop Kalawa Jazmee Records in the mix.

The independent record label, throughout its 25-year rich history, has been the mirror of our own joyride through pop culture - an unapologetic blast of kasi power.

In the process of giving us pulsating dance tones, the gigantic stable has yielded SA's biggest music names such as Boom Shaka, Bongo Maffin, Mafikizolo and DJ Black Coffee.

Record boss Oscar "Oskido" Mdlongwa tells Sowetan that when Kalawa Jazmee Records was birthed in 1994, he and co-founders Don Laka, Mandla "Spikiri" Mofokeng, Emmanuel "Mjokes" Matsane, Zynne "Mahoota" Sibika and Bruce "Dope" Sebitlo never in their wildest dreams imagined that they were writing their way into history books.

A year before, Oskido, Laka and DJ Christos Katsaitis had formed Kalawa. But after parting ways with DJ Christos, the remaining two joined forces with Trompies' Jazmee Records and Kalawa Jazmee Records was born.

"Kalawa Jazmee has been part of the pioneers of kwaito ever since we had a change from the bubblegum era. It happened around the death of the apartheid era.

"We decided to start creating our own music and start owning our own businesses in the music industry, not only in the form of entertainment but have ownership. It created an economy," recalls Oskido.

"So when we started and merged, we had Boom Shaka, Trompies, BOP and Bongo Maffin. It's not something that was planned ... we were just doing what we enjoy, which was creating music.

"Little did we know what we were creating was going to be something that was celebrated in our country and worldwide.

Oskido says although over the years they produced a legion of superstars, they never had a formula that they followed.

"Each name had its own era - From Boom Shaka to Bongo Maffin to Zonke Dikana. We created stars," he says.

"For example, look at someone like Busiswa, who is the biggest star right now. When she started she was doing poetry and we put her in the studio with DJ Zinhle. Every story is different and special."

The 51-year-old musician and business person strongly holds that Kalawa Jazmee's biggest accomplishment has been seeing close collaborators such as DJ Tira and DJ Black Coffee go on to have their record labels. He says they paid it forward by creating and empowering others.

"Creating brands that are now prominent in the music industry has been special and these brands have created their own businesses.

"From just signing artists we moved on to being able to license, giving guys like DJ BlackCoffee a platform. The first three albums from Soulistic Music were under Kalawa. [We also] ]helped guys like DJ Tira to start his own record label Afrotainment.

"Musically, after the Afro-pop era that was synonymous with Mafikizolo, we started signing young people like Black Motion, Dr Malinga and DJ Maphorisa. That's how we evolved over the years.

Oskido reveals that as Kalawa Jazmee celebrates 25 years, it's bittersweet. The stable is facing its biggest challenge yet - surviving the ever-changing digital era. They are now back to the drawing board, plotting their next music move.

"People are consuming music differently and they are not buying as they used to. It has affected us and our income.

"So, now we are thinking, how do we monetise this digital era in a way that we will produce income like we used to have?"

Oskido says kwaito is not dead and it will never die. The fiery spirit of the genre can still be found in gqom and amapiano with artists like new kids on the block Distruction Boyz and Babes Wodumo paving the way.

Recently, the sound of local rappers such as Cassper Nyovest and K.O has been heavily influenced by kwaito.

"If you can look at what's popular now like gqom, for me that's kwaito. It's going back to where kwaito started with only one word where Mdu [Masilela] will be like tsiki tsiki yo, and it becomes a song," he says.

"You look at songs like Omunye, and those are the catch-phrases of kwaito. Amapiano uses the kwaito bass-lines and lyric. It's all kwaito's subcultures.

"Kwaito has developed a lot of art form in terms of the youth culture and became a pride of the country. When you went overseas there wasn't anything like that. It put the country on the map in terms of creativity. Americans have hip-hop, we have kwaito."

A TV series by filmmaker Vincent Moloi to tell the story of Kalawa Jazmee is in early development.

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