Words by Lethabo Bogatsu and photography by Khotso Tsaagane
LIVE Magazine SA sat down with the lead singer of Kwani Experience Kwelagopele Sekele (aka, Chakra Zulu, Soweto Griot, King Kwela) and now better known as the Po Box Project, in his dressing room just before his performance at last week’s BLACK CUBE SESSIONS at the Alex Theatre (Joburg), to talk about music, Kwani Experience and his solo project.
Talking about Kwani Experience
Having been together for about 8 years creating music that was more than just about selling records than telling a story that people could relate to, Kwani Experience, had solidified their place in many people’s hearts as one of those bands that you never imagined would ever split up. So when they did inevitably split up (or ‘take a break’ to focus on solo projects) many of us fans were left devastated and playing their albums Birth Of Muthaland Funk as our only consolation. Kwela himself never thought about the band splitting up and going their separate ways, he remembers saying “I don’t need a solo project,” but with a such a close knit group of passionate and creative musicians it can be extremely difficult to get along all the time. “Being in a band is like being married to four or more people at the same time,” Kwela says when touching on the difficulty of compromising when everyone in the band has such a strong and clear idea of what they want. “Artists are very egotistical and their individual passions are the route of (most) conflict with the group,” he says. Kwela obviously had a difficult time with this since he describes himself as being a control freak and the “Hitler of the band.”
He has now ventured into his own solo project, under the name the Po Box Project, and is making waves all over South Africa, having performed on so many different stages (the most recent being The Black Cube Sessions at The Alex Theatre, Grietfest and Oppikoppi). Kwela describes his journey and transition from being part of a collective/movement such as Kwani Experience (simply calling it a band would be musical injustice) to going solo as “hard in the beginning” as he realized that he had to change how he went about producing music. He had to change the creative process, which like many other musicians was fuelled by drugs and alcohol. “I was depending on weed too much, I felt as though I needed it to create good music,” he admits honestly. So he decided to sacrifice his vices and stop chasing the elusive creative high and focus on the honesty that came with sobriety. When asked if sobriety and abstemiousness made him a better artist and improve his craft, he credits growth instead, “I’m a better musician now because I’m older, I’ve matured,” he says.
This growth and maturity is evident in how he speaks of his experiences and the influences that have shaped him to be the artist he is now. He has toured Reunion Island with DJ Kenzhero and was part of the Motif Records team as a tour manager and artist liaison for Zaki Ibrahim and Reason (who are now both enjoying great success respectively). Young people who want to get into the music or entertainment industry can learn a lot from the latter experience. It’s a brilliantly smart idea to dabble in, and acquaint, yourself with different aspects of the industry.
Advice to the youth
Kwela says everyone doesn’t need to be a performer when there’s a need for capable music journalists, entertainment lawyers and publicists. “The best thing to do is match your strengths with your interest and passion for music and have fun,” advises Kwela.
Black Cube Sessions
“Music is all about fun,” says Kwela and that’s why people can relate to Po Box Project because the music is exactly that – fun! When surrounded by like-minded cool folk like those who packed The Alex Theatre this past Friday night, listening to the Po Box Project and his DJ you can’t help but have fun. From the opening lines of “Hello Africa tell me how you doin’,” he had the crowds attention from the first song of his performance to the second track, an ode to Nelson Mandela, which I feel is a good song regardless of whether you are “pro or anti-Mandela. The overall performance was an eclectic blend of different genres from tribal West African music to rock, electro and hip-hop that had the crowd on its feet, especially with the African twist to the ever popular Harlem Shake.
I suggest you keep your ears to the ground and be on the look out for the Po Box Project’s forthcoming EP/mixtape which will be available this month for free download on Bandcamp. I also suggest you check out the other collaboration project Kwela is involved in with the band Black Pimp’n Jesus (comprising of Professor Trance, Killa Snyman and Willy Is The Limit.) called Battle Cock.
While you’re at it, don’t miss the next Black Cube Sessions, which happen every month at The Alex Theatre in Braamfontein showcasing South Africa’s best DJ’s and musicians plus collaborations with great video artists and photographers.
Hometown: Soweto, Johannesburg
Musical Influences: Indigenous music, West Africa, Balkan music, Casabian, Kwaito, Hip Hop
Website: www.thepoboxproject.co.za / www.sowetogriot.tumblr.com / thepoboxproject.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/thepoboxproject / Twitter: @thepoboxproject