BHEKI NQOKO PROFILE
“All my experiences have turned me into what I believe is a well-rounded artist. At the end of it all the public will decide whether I will have a place in South Africa’s music history books. Personally, I believe I haven’t disappointed.” – Bheki Nqoko
Bheki Nqoko is a singer, songwriter, arranger, engineer and producer – to mention few of his myriad of skills and roles as an artist. He was born into a devout Christian family with a father who is a church leader. In the formative years he sang at school and church choirs, often taking a leading role in this regard. So at a young age he thought he would be a gospel singer, but fate eventually dictated otherwise. The rich variety of Durban’s musical traditions steered him towards secular sounds that included pop, hip hop, folk, choral, jazz and
After working with the Ntuzuma Mass Choir as lead vocalist, songwriter, arranger and conductor, he subsequently sang as a lead vocalist in Stax, one of Durban’s best known Afro fusion bands whose origins can be traced to the early eighties. When he left his hometown in the late nineties for bigger opportunities in Johannesburg, he was under no illusion that his industrious nature and level-headedness will contribute to his success. It came as no surprise then that among the first artists he worked with as a session musician were prominent artists that included Brenda Fassie, Rebecca Malope, Ringo Madlingozi and Busi Mhlongo. He has also performed in a number of musicals, including Mbongeni Ngema’s Maria Maria (1997), Siphiwe Khumalo’s Woza! (The Civic Theatre) and Jubilation, directed by Ivor Jones.
Since then he has lent his skills as a songwriter and producer to an array of talented musicians of his generation – well-known artists such as Siphokazi Maraqana, Lundi Tyamara, the late Mr Staff and Kelly Khumalo. She features on his latest album in the song Ngiyamthatha – about taking a romantic relationship to another level. In 1997 he launched a solo professional career with the release of Mina Nawe, a gospel album under the EMI subsidiary, CCP Records. It was not well received but in retrospect proved to be an important learning curve in his musical journey. The setback exposed his inexperience in the industry but made him realise that he could succeed if he was allowed to take charge of making his own music.
Few years later – in November 2005 to be precise – he achieved the breakthrough he had always yearned for following the release of the album Emakhoneni under the Electromode label with the all-male vocal harmony quintet called Kofifi. The line-up consisted of Nhlanhla Ngwekazi, Siboniso Dladla, Fani Ntlama, Lungi Masondo and Nqoko. The Afro-pop group’s name was inspired by the music of the 1950s that was produced in Sophiatown by the illustrious Manhattan Brothers of King Kong fame. Years later the fifteen-track album remains one of the finely crafted works with lasting quality.
With a distinctive R&B, flavour it incorporates idioms as varied as gospel, folk, hip hop, soul, African pop and other adult contemporary styles. Ngikuthandile (I Loved You), a dance floor phenomenon sung in Zulu was the first track to be played on radio. Together with the title track, it made it on the charts of Metro FM and Ikwekwezi FM, the first radio stations to provide airplay. The industry officially recognised their talent and musicianship when they were nominated at the Metro FM Music Awards in the best newcomer category. Emakhoneni is a touching song about the need for hope in the midst of unemployment and scarce job opportunities for young people who come to the big city in search of a breakthrough in their lives.
Bheki’s second solo album, Kuwe (2012) reflects the exciting, eventful musical journey he has navigated on the gospel, Afro-pop and jazz streams. And typical of a contemporary, independent-minded artist, he did everything himself – including producing, arranging, engineering and releasing the album under his own record label, Okzin Productions. It is a powerful showcasing of his vocal artistry – romantic ballads and soulful observations about everyday matters as well as a tribute to the departed artists like Brenda Fassie, Busi Mhlongo, Jabu Khanyile, Lebo Mathosa and Lucky Dube.
Ironically, when he first submitted the demo to various record companies, they turned him down. Undeterred, he decided to launch his own publishing label, Okzin Productions. The album’s title track became so popular he decided to rename his company Kuwe Records. After the album was released it was well received and enjoyed generous airplay on several radio stations. But the one radio personality who really fell in love with Kuwe was the late Metro FM DJ Eddie Zondi. Kuwe also enjoyed airplay as one of the soundtracks of the popular SABC drama series, Zone 14.
To release his latest album, Made in Ntuzuma (2016), Bheki signed a distribution deal with Gallo in a partnership with his recording label, Kuwe Records with the hope that a contract with a major label would take his music career to new heights. Made in Ntuzuma is an album that is likely to eclipse its acclaimed predecessor, Kuwe (2012) should it receive fair exposure on the airwaves. It’s an adult contemporary album with the power to catapult him into bigger things.
His remarkable workmanship and natural touch shine through this seventeen-track marvel. And it’s a befitting tribute to where it all started: Ntuzuma, north of Durban. The title immortalises his small township by putting it on the musical map. “Home is best,” he says. “Through my music journey and experiences, this album was born, and I intend to share these experiences with music lovers – particularly those who have been supporting me since I began my musical journey.” The mellifluous Mama Africa features the incomparable Mbuso Khoza. It is about appreciating the inner and outer beauty of women. Mzamo da Poet features on Maladiez, another song that salutes women.
Outstanding tracks in this album include S’nqandamathe Sam’ (My Love), Ngiyamthatha (I’m Marrying Her) and Mama Africa. But Mzukwane (Way Back) has an edge over the rest. It’s in the league of those rare recordings that literally gives the listener goose bumps due to its sheer beauty. It features Tlale Makhene (percussion), Mandla Zikalala (bass), Bongani Masina (bass), Billy Monama (guitar), Tshegofatso Teffo (guitar), Lulu Maduna (drums) and Gabriel Mawande Stuurman (piano). Bongekile Mhlanga, Bongekile Mabaso and Sbu Dludlu provided backing vocals. After three albums to his name as a solo artist, he feels that he has paid his dues in this tough industry as a veteran session musician, songwriter and band member. Nqoko has also written bridge music (one that indicates a jump from one scene to another) for e.tv’s music drama series, Rhythm City. Indeed the Durban-born musician has paid his dues. He is currently studying voice and piano through the Campus of Performing Arts (COPA) in Kensington, Johannesburg as well as conducting workshops at schools in partnership with Concert SA and Soweto Theatre.
Mina Nawe (CCP Records, 1997) Emakhoneni (Electromode, 2005
Kuwe (Okzin Productions, 2012)
Made in Ntuzuma (Kuwe Records, 2016)
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