The most celebrated independent record label in Mzansi finds itself sailing in stormy waters.
FOR two decades, Kalawa Jazmee has been at the top of South Africa’s popular music; churning out hit songs and popular artists faster than any other label could keep up.
In fact there was a time when, to be a guaranteed hit, an artist needed to be signed to Kalawa Jazmee, and have their career kickstarted by label founders Don Laka, Bruce ‘Dope’ Sebitlo, Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa, Mandla ‘Spikiri’ Mthethwa, Zynne ‘Mahoota’ Sibika and Emmanuel ‘Mjokes’ Matsane.
Due to the consistency and success of the brand, it has always seemed that the label was here to stay.
From the very beginning, Kalawa hits just kept coming; from kwaito pioneers like Boom Shaka, Bongo Maffin, Thebe, Trompies and Brothers of Peace; to the present where it is still home to some of the most popular names in the music industry, including Uhuru, Professor, and Heavy K.
When people talk about Kalawa, it is with respect for its achievements and staying power. However, it now seems like the ship is sailing in stormy seas and the golden days are over for Kalawa. Insiders at the label tell Move! that Kalawa Jazmee is a ship that is sinking itself.
News of trouble in paradise date back to 2015 when it was reported that the label’s executive directors – who are mostly recording artists – are engaged in a power struggle that is threatening to split Kalawa in two.
A Kalawa artist who spoke on condition of anonymity says, “The problem is that most of its directors are also recording artists.
How can you run a company and be responsible to get your artists booked when you are also going after the same piece of pie as your artists?
The problem that caused all the mess at the stable is that the bosses are also ambitious artists. They also want to be booked and to have their music sell and get radio airplay. it’s a mes that no one can deal with.
Another insider says the fact that the label’s bosses are ambitious and successful artists has turned Kalawa into a company that functions like a political party with factions.
As the former artist reveals, “Artists are not united. Others are aligned to certain executives and they get bookings through the influence of those they are close to.
For example, if Mahoota is booked by promoters and you are not close to him, then you are not going to be part of his gigs. He prefers to involve those close to him”.
GOING DOWN? According to some media reports, Kalawa Jazmee has been sold for R50 million to Tacwise, which is a division of Universal Music. Even though some at Kalawa deny the sale, some artists are nonetheless confused as they do not know what their future holds. Asked for comment, Theo Kgosinkwe of Mafizolo, who are one the stable’s most succesful bands, said, “no comment boss!”.
Stoan of Bongo Maffin says, “Bongo Maffin is still contracted to Kalawa and we still need to release one more album with the label. Kalawa gave me an opportunity and guys like Oskido and Sebitlo are always supportive towards the growth of Kalawa artists. They are forthcoming when it comes to their artists and the label. I believe that new changes will benefit artists”.
Winnie Khumalo says, “I left the stable in 2014 because I wanted to be independent and do things my own way. I have my own label right now and I am also working with DJ Christos. I was the first person to leave and the rest followed”.
Last year, the popular Dr Malinga left Kalawa when he was at the height of his popularity.
Character, of X Ongasolveki fame, says, “I don’t know anything and I just don’t know what to tell you. I am in Durban right now as I am busy shooting my music video. Nobody is telling me about things that are happening. I am in the dark. I suggest you call Kalawa for answers”.
Candy Mokwena of Tsa Ma Ndebele says, “No one told me anything about the sale. But as far as things stand, I am contracted to Kalawa”.
Professor was very dismissive. “Kalawa hasn’t been sold, and everything is still intact. Amanga wonke lawo (it’s all a lie),” he says.
Mahoota also denies that Kalawa has been sold. “The truth is that we are negotiating a new licence partnership with Universal, as we did nine years ago. We do communicate with our artists to tell them about new developments.
We recently called half of our artists to our offices to explain to them that our company is not being sold.
We won’t sell Kalawa for anything under the sun, it’s our legacy and a brand we built on our own,” Mahoota insists.