On the 25th of July 2021, Zakes Bantwini caused a flurry of digital media activity with one single tweet. In fact little did we know it then, but much of the second half of the year would be spent discussing Zakes on social media due to the viral release of his single Osama, his upcoming album Ghetto King and its subsequent single releases.
But on that fateful mid-winter afternoon, Zakes tweeted something else that got the country’s attention. He called on the powers that govern South Africa to give him a shot as this country’s minister of sports, arts and culture. He rationalised his vision briefly before virtually dropping his mic and leaving the country to react.
At the time, I replied that this was an idea I’d get behind for a number of reasons – vision, leadership and creativity being at the heart of them.
Zakhele Madida, the real name behind the stage-act that is Zakes Bantwini, will probably be among the most streamed artists on the continent by the end of 2021 thanks to the masterful release of the singles that are about to make up the soon-to-be-release Ghetto King and it’s down to the three traits above.
He had the vision to work on his latest Afro-tech house project, the leadership to execute the vision and the right balance of timing and creativity to capture the ears and hearts of listeners across Africa.
In our first ever interview with Zakhele, we speak about the process which gave birth to his latest project, as well as his take on the kind of leadership South African arts and culture deserve.
He might not be our minister yet, but he’s already proving to be the Ghetto King.
What’s a Minister to a Ghetto King?
Zakes, welcome to Moziak Magazine! How are you on this level-1 day?
I’m well thanks, thanks for having me guys.
We’re in good spirits thanks to the way you’ve had us grooving all year. Osama and iMali have scorched the charts. I’ve never seen as much hype for anything as I have for Osama’s pre-release. How does it feel to have arguably the song of the year right now?
It feels amazing. It’s each and every artist or producer’s dream to have a song that will be appreciated by many. It’s about having a song that would be appreciated and listened to by the world. I don’t really chase “song of the year” or “number one single” labels. I’m just a guy who chases beautiful music and tries to make music that will make an impresion on anyone who listens to it. That has always been my goal.
Osama features Kasango, how did you approach them to turn their original version into the song we now know and love?
He originally made his own beat for a song but I heard it when someone who works for me was playing it and then I approached him and asked if I could use the song for my album. Kasango was cool, he sent me the separates and I went to the studio to add some additional production and once we were done and listened to the instrumentals, I invited Nana Atta into the studio to write the song.
The rollout for Osama was absolutely electric and looked to do exactly what any artist would hope. How did you plan to market it?
To be honest with you the plan was always to start playing it at gigs and wait about 6 weeks before releasing the single. But after seeing the absolute support it was getting and the demand people had, we decided to move the release a bit closer to September and drop the track. From there it just took a life of its own.
There are a lot of people who have wondered what the lyrics mean, what language did Nana write them in?
The lyrics are actually in tongues, the spiritual language. Osama is a song I wanted people to relate to in their own way because it felt like a spiritual recording. The word itself means “Lion” in Arabic, and I wanted to embody the idea of discovering your inner lion (something which some spiritual practices speak of) in a deeply spiritual way.
We’ve heard Osama and iMali already, what can we expect from Ghetto King?
You can expect a really good album, an album where we haven’t made it to chase any status or anything like that. I wanted to make an album which was just aimed at giving listeners a wonderful, musical experience. I want you to be drawn in when you listen and make your conclusions from there. What it goes on to do after that, is less about me and more about how the world receives it. But I put my heart into this body of work, it’s actually a body of art for me, and I put everything into it so let’s see what listeners feel. Look out for some exciting things we are planning along with the release of the album in the month of December.
Your project comes at an interesting time when people now believe “Afro-tech house is back”. Others believe “Amapiano has taken over” Some say “Hip hop is dead”. Why can’t all our genres co-exist and thrive?
That’s one thing that personally, I blame the media for. It’s the media who puts these things against one another and now listeners start feeling like they have to choose instead of just enjoying. Awards and achievements are something [to be proud of], but the way the media goes on about these things starts to feel like they are putting competition against each artist and each genre. There doesn’t need to be that competition, without it, we can all enjoy and support the music we love and we won’t need to add boundaries to the genres we can support.
You got people talking earlier this year when you expressed your interest in the sports, arts and culture portfolio as minister. How did that come about?
I think a lot of artists in South Africa have felt as if they needed more support from the government over the past few months with the things that have happened. It’s not even that we want special privilege, but artists need to have a voice when decisions are made that will affect their livelihoods. Artists deserve strong leadership, just like we all deserve good leaders, and I think there have been times where that presence has been missing in SA arts. So when I put my name there I wanted to say, here we are, here I am, I’m ready to stand up and take arts and culture in the right direction
Do you think you are the man to take arts and culture forward?
Here’s the thing, it doesn’t just have to be me. It might not only be me, it might not ever be me. But what I believe is that we need to start having artists be part of the ministry, and the minister be someone who has worked as an artist and knows what goes on as an artist in this country. Only then will you get the needs of the artists you are hoping to serve. So we need to have more artists in the department of arts and culture.