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 others.
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. 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 realize 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.
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