Meet the backstage magic man behind SA’s biggest stars

02 October 2016 - 02:00

If it's hip-hop and it went big, music promoter and producer Lance Stehr was probably responsible for it, writes Gabi Mbele

See him in the street and you'd think he was just an average Joe in cargo shorts and old T-shirt. Many South Africans, however, know Lance Stehr as the maker of musical talent.

"I don't care what I wear," he says. "I care about helping people in the music business."

This month his company Muthaland Entertainment (formerly Ghetto Ruff) celebrates 25 years of nurturing music giants such as Zola 7, DJ Cleo, Pitch Black Afro, Bricks, and the late Brown Dash.


Stehr calls himself "the first South African to record and release anything in the hip-hop genre". He launched Cape Town group Prophets of Da City, followed by Brasse Vannie Kaap, Tuks Senganga and Morafe - the band that launched Khuli Chana's career.

"Music has been part of my life since 1988," says Stehr, 55.

"It started off as something I liked at home and grew into a passion when I first managed Prophets of Da City in 1989. That band was about making a political statement because we were tired of the ill-treatment and apartheid, so we toured the world telling our story through music."

The original POC were vocalist Ishmael Morabe, DJ Ready D, dancer Mark Heuvel and Shaheen Ariefdien. In 1990 they released their first album, Our World.

More band members were added and in 1991 Stehr took nine musicians to London.

"This is when I learnt my biggest lesson about the music industry," he says. "I put all my money into the creation and building of POC. We had no proper budget or plan as to how we'd cope when we got abroad."

They played all over Europe and the US, sharing stages with James Brown, the Fugees, Ice T and Ice Cube. Money was tight. They slept on couches, often sharing one room.

"But we had to come back in 1994," says Stehr. "The group didn't have that big song, that hook that would sustain us. That was when Ish [Morabe] found two friends, decided he wanted to do something different and founded Skeem."

Under Stehr's guidance, Skeem released Waar Was Jy, which became a youth anthem. Three men dressed in hobo-chic attire (a look being resuscitated by Kanye West on fashion ramps in the US) caught young South Africa's attention.


From there Stehr found more hitmakers: O'da Meesta; four-girl band Ghetto Luv; Pietermaritzburg R&B and pop boy band Shana. Those were good times, he says.

In 2001 things got even better when Stehr supervised the music for the TV drama YizoYizo 2.

Here he discovered actor Bonginkosi Dlamini, who he turned into the kwaito sensation known as Zola 7. Stehr called Dlamini "the second biggest brand in the country, next to Nelson Mandela".

But in 2007 the pair parted ways after a contractual dispute.

"I have made friends and had fall outs with people. That is the nature of business. Some might think I'm a bad guy, but those who know me know the truth," Stehr says.

Last year his son was killed in a motorbike accident and a few months later Stehr suffered a heart attack.

"I hated 2015," he says. "There is no pain worse than that of losing a child."

In the same recording studio he's used since 1991, Stehr sips on a cider. The walls are papered with posters of performers, announcements of performances, press releases and meeting reminders. The phone never stops ringing.