Zulu Warriors: A white kid on my stoep

15 May 2015 - 02:22 By Santham Pillay

In 2009, a teenaged David Jenkins made the 170km trek from Empangeni to Durban on a mission to find someone who could teach him to play the accordion like the maskandi greats. He found an eager tutor in maskandi legend Maqhinga Radebe, whose career started in the 1980s.Five years later, Jenkins is better known by his moniker Qadasi (which means "white person" in Zulu).Radebe and Jenkins first met at a studio in Glenwood, Durban, owned by Sibongiseni Tshabalala, a member of the Grammy award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo.The pair immediately had a jam session, which lead to Jenkins signing a recording deal with the studio."It was a really awesome moment. Right here in this studio. It just clicked," Jenkins says of their first gig.When Jenkins first made contact with Radebe, the older musician believed he was just a youngster wanting to learn the art of maskandi music.He was astonished to find Jenkins already well-versed in the genre and turning out maskandi rhythms of his own on his guitar."On that first day I remember I was very proud," says Radebe, "He really surprised me. In my life I only know one white person, Johnny Clegg, who can perform maskandi music so well."I saw that there was an opportunity to begin working on something that could become international."Jenkins, 23, has always been fascinated by Zulu culture. Growing up in Empangeni, he had accompanied his journalist father to various Zulu cultural events. But it was the re-run of a classic South African television show that sealed his decision to pursue a career as a maskandi muso."I used to watch Shaka Zulu. I had to learn more. The interest was very strong. I started visiting stores in the area that stocked music from all the maskandi greats. I wanted to be just like them. I didn't want to be a cowboy or astronaut; I wanted to be a Zulu warrior."By contrast, in the course of his career Radebe has sold over 100,000 albums solo and with his group, Shabalala Rhythm. He performed for Nelson Mandela and played across the US with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in the UK with Zimbabwean poet Albert Nyathi, and produced big-name artists such as Thandiswa Mazwai and Jabu Khanyile.Since their first impromptu session in 2009, Radebe has acted as producer, lead guitarist and mentor to the younger artist.Last year their onstage relationship veered off its usual course and the pair found themselves performing more often as an acoustic duo. Audiences took to the pairing and their almost psychic musical connection.Jenkins concedes that the age gap between himself and Radebe is vast, but says it does nothing to hinder their relationship."We have an instinctive connection. We are also amazed at how much in sync we are. There is a big age gap. He is like my black father," he says.But it works. While still pursuing their individual projects, Jenkins and his "musical father" are working on putting together an album that will "bring back old-school maskandi music" to the masses.The album is set to be released later this year. In the interim, the duo will be taking to musical stages across the country, starting with the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July...

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