It’s just days before Zakes Bantwini becomes the first South African artist to headline DHL Stadium in Cape Town. Ahead of the historic concert, the Grammy Award winner is posted in the lobby of Cape Town’s The Rockefeller hotel. He stares blankly at the screen of the laptop in front of him, calculating and pondering over the set times for the show that his team has prepared. He makes a few tweaks, then smiles: “This makes sense now.”
Two decades into a sprawling career filled with many highs and lows, Bantwini is still as passionate and involved in every aspect of his career as ever. After ironing out a few details with his team, he turns to me and says: “It would be easy for me to just step back and let everyone dictate what happens around me, and just focus on music. But I enjoy this. I love what I do and I want things to be done right.”
Saturday’s show features a dynamic whole-day line-up of stars across amapiano, pop, afro tech, hip hop, R&B and gqom. Bantwini says it is truly representative of the people of South Africa.
“This show isn’t all about me,” he says. “It’s all about us, about everyone. We have a lot more in common as South Africans than we think, and this show is going to prove that. We’re going to make history together. DHL Stadium is the only major venue in South Africa that’s always been reserved for so-called international acts. We’re about to change that now.”
For the people
The 43-year-old has been punting the event, which he’s dubbed Abantu (“the people” in isiZulu), as a show for everybody. “Our slogan is ‘Come for the music, stay for the people’. I want this to be a special social event where people mingle and make memories together. I was very clear that the goal of this is to get all of us in one room. It’s not a black show, a white show or something designed for one segment. It’s for all of us.”
When you really love what you do, it’s not difficult to keep pushing
Bantwini has been enjoying one hell of a run since his single ‘Osama’ exploded into a global hit. Following a quiet few years, which he spent building his independent record label, Mayonie, ‘Osama’ thrust him back into the spotlight in the summer of 2021. The single went viral on release and went on a record-breaking run of 14 weeks atop the cumulative local radio charts.
‘Osama’, and Bantwini’s subsequent magnum opus album, Ghetto King, saw him bag a host of awards, including two South African Music Awards (Highest Airplay and Best Collaboration).
He followed that up with two hit collaborations in quick succession: ‘iMali’ and ‘Asanda’. Then, in an unprecedented culmination of this success, earlier this year Bantwini won his first Grammy Award for ‘Bayethe’, his collaboration with Wouter Kellerman and Nomcebo Zikode.
The highest level of accolade that can be bestowed in music, the Grammy Award is testament to the fact that Bantwini has a winning recipe. Now, in the midst of his concert promo run, this week Bantwini announced the imminent release of his latest album, A Star is Reborn. The lead single to the album, the long-awaited ‘Mama Thula’, comes out on 27 October, just in time for the concert.
While things seem to all be rosy right now, it hasn’t always been this way. Much of the past decade has seen the veteran afro tech star fade from the scene and reinvent himself over and over again.
When I ask him how he’s still able to keep pushing and persevering in the face of adversity, he shrugs: “When you really love what you do, it’s not difficult to keep pushing. So many different things have happened throughout my career that have made me a resilient and driven artist. I don’t believe in giving up and I’m always gonna figure things out. There’s just no other way.”
Earlier, when Bantwini first arrived at the hotel, he took me up to the stunning rooftop venue called Studio, which he co-owns. Occasionally, when he’s in the city, Bantwini hosts special events up here. Right outside, Bantwini’s face is plastered across a massive billboard high up on the building that reads: ‘Abantu – Grammy Award Winner.’
I hope people are inspired by this show to do something out of the ordinary
“This is a special venue. We’ve got views overlooking the most beautiful city in the world, a panoramic roof that opens, and positioning within the city centre. It’s an extension of who I am and yet another opportunity to showcase that many things that people would have thought are impossible for a black child are attainable. This place is fully booked out almost every weekend, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve done with this space in just over a year.”
Two years ago, shortly after the release of ‘Osama’, Bantwini teamed up with his manager and business partner Sibo Mhlungu to form talent-management company and events agency Independent Media Group Africa (IMG Africa). The company, which recently rebranded to Aline, is now home to not only Bantwini, but also to Grammy Award-winner Nomcebo Zikode – the voice behind one of the biggest global hit songs of the past few years, ‘Jerusalema’ – and platinum-selling musician and media personality Boity.
Rooted in Africanness
Realising that they had a special record on their hands, Bantwini and Mhlungu sought to figure out how to make ‘Osama’ more than just a moment, he shares. Having experienced many moments over the years, and wary of how fleeting they could be, the duo knew they needed to make a bigger plan.
And so they established a vision for a business that could, over time, represent talent from Africa and the diaspora globally. Bantwini was the perfect benchmark: a seasoned African act with a global DNA. Sports, art and film are spaces that the company is set to play in.
“The vision for the future is to create a globally competitive black-owned company that looks to venture out into the world and lead from Africa,” he says. “This is a truly black business rooted in its Africanness with a global outlook.”
For now though, his focus is squarely set on filling up DHL Stadium on Saturday.
“There’s so much preparation that’s gone into this. I feel like this is a moment that I’ve been working towards for my entire career. I hope that what we achieve on Saturday inspires children from across the continent to pursue their dreams and believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. My entire career has been all about collaboration. I love working with people because we’re stronger together. I hope people are inspired by this show to do something out of the ordinary.”
Saturday’s concert carries the added excitement of the live screening of the Rugby World Cup final, where South Africa will face New Zealand at 9pm local time.
“It’s an idea that we’ve had for a while. During the semi-final last weekend I was on the edge of my seat supporting the boys and I’m so happy we managed to pull it off. Now the concert is going to turn into the biggest Rugby World Cup fan park in SA. After my set on Saturday, we’re gonna stop the show right before kick-off and sing the national anthem with thousands of proud South Africans. It’s gonna be special.”
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