Music

I spent half of this year struggling financially, admits Samthing Soweto

There have been hard times, but Samkelo Mdolomba pulled through and went back to the drawing board to create his record-breaking new album, 'Isphithiphithi'

27 October 2019 - 00:01 By Leonie Wagner
After various collaborations, Samthing Soweto has a successful new solo album, ‘Isphithiphithi’, on the market, which he describes as ‘accessible South African pop’.
After various collaborations, Samthing Soweto has a successful new solo album, ‘Isphithiphithi’, on the market, which he describes as ‘accessible South African pop’.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

'Today I feel very soft; I've been interacting with people who are saying only nice things to me. I've been met only by excitement and well wishers, it's a new feeling." This is a peculiar way for Samkelo Mdolomba to feel, given the success of his new album.

Known to his fans as Samthing Soweto, Mdolomba says he isn't surprised that his album, Isphithiphithi, is doing well because his sole objective was to create a purely South African "accessible pop album" that would make a great impression.

On first impressions, Isphithiphithi is a great album, so much so that it's broken South African records and is being played on almost every radio station.

His single Akulaleki was the top song on SA's Apple Music single chart and his album was the most pre-added album on South Africans' personal Apple Music libraries ahead of its release.

The term Isphithiphithi means chaos or mess. The title track is an ode to an old-school wedding song, which speaks about finding love in the chaos of Joburg. The other love song on the album is Umuhle Uyasabeka, which means you are so beautiful, it's scary. Uvalo is another love song about the fear you feel when a beautiful girl arrives.

LISTEN | 'Akulaleki' by Samthing Soweto featuring Shasha, DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small

Mdolomba admits that his only regret is that the album is only in Zulu and that it's not "real zulu, it's Joburg Zulu". But what it may lack in language, it makes up for in depth.

For Mdolomba, it's a deeply personal album. The song Nodoli, which means doll, is dedicated to his three-year-old daughter. In the song he tells her about the hardships he went through leading up to her birth.

"My daughter is 80% of the reason I have a music career today. The birth of my daughter compelled me to be more professional and less emotional when it comes to work," he says.

Mdolomba says he felt like he left his comfort zone when his daughter was born. He was making a cappella music, but wanted to make more popular music.

My daughter is 80% of the reason I have a music career today. Her birth compelled me to be more professional and less emotional about work
Samthing Soweto

The singer started his music career as the leader of an a cappella group, The Soil, but left the group in 2011, just before they shot to fame. He left because of a contractual disagreement with their record label, Native Rhythms. During this time he was also the lead singer of the neo-soul group, The Fridge, which disbanded in 2012.

Determined to make it in the music industry, Mdolomba released his solo EP, Eb'suka. In 2017 he released another solo project, Val'amehlo.

But, he says, he wishes Isphithiphithi was his debut album. On the album he teamed up with DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small to create three amapiano tracks.

"I've made jazz, contemporary band music, electronic music and now amapiano since I decided to not only make a cappella music but to try other genres too," he says. "It takes courage to say I might lose but I'm going to do it anyway because why not."

Clad in a Toy Story T-shirt, the six-foot singer is a walking contradiction. His bearish build doesn't match his velvet falsetto. He's awkward but alluring, facetious but earnest.

He says unashamedly that there's nothing he wouldn't do to get what he wants, but then instantly adds the proviso, "within the bounds of the law".

He adds this because at the age of 16, Mdolomba was charged with armed robbery and spent time awaiting trial in a juvenile detention centre. He was eventually handed a suspended sentence because it was his first offence.

It's a story that most people who know Mdolomba know well. What they don't know is that up until a month ago he was struggling financially. He went from making a lot of money performing across the country with his 2017 hit Akanamali - a collaboration with Sun-El Musician - to struggling to make ends meet for over a year.

I had to go back to the drawing board. But now most of my album is charting and radio is playing the entire thing. That's unheard of
Samthing Soweto

"I spent half of 2019 having a hard time and struggling financially. Then DJ Maphorisa dropped Amatombazane on his EP and that generated some shows for me. So I wasn't breathing with water close to my nose," he says.

"While this was happening I wasn't sleeping, I was travelling to the studio and working on my album.

"I'm not where I want to be financially. I'm having a hard time. I had to go back to the drawing board. But now most of my album is charting and radio is playing the entire thing. That's unheard of. I'm willing to do almost anything for the success I'm seeing now," he says.

Samthing Soweto believes that with Isphithiphithi people have a better idea of who he is. He's a man who is deeply spiritual, sensitive, passionate and determined. Much like the album's single, Akulaleki, which refers to being in a situation where you can't sleep because there are too many exciting things happening, Samthing Soweto's latest album is worth losing sleep over.


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