Living the dream

Living the dream

Most young boys grow up wanting to be firemen or astronauts. Empangeni-born David Jenkins however, always wanted to be a Zulu warrior. Dubbed the ‘new Johnny Clegg’, Jenkins and his partner and mentor Maqhinga Radebe are taking their hugely successful traditional Maskandi music to audiences in South Africa and around the world.

Known as Qadasi (meaning white person), David and his partner Maqhinga are travelling from city to city bringing their unmistakably traditional African sound, with a western folk thread, to audiences both nationally and internationally. This year alone, the duo has travelled to four different countries and opened for well-known South African band, Mango Groove at their concert in Ballito earlier this year.

But 26-year-old David’s story starts when he was first exposed to the Zulu culture at around nine years old. “My late father was a journalist with the Mercury newspaper and I used to go into rural areas with him when he was covering events and doing stories. I fell in love with the Zulu culture and a big part of that culture is music,” says David.

A passion ignited

David started his journey of discovering and learning Maskandi music by collecting cassette tapes of legendary traditional Zulu musicians and, when his parents introduced him to the music of Johnny Clegg at around 10 years old, his passion was truly ignited. David taught himself to play the guitar by watching Johnny Clegg DVD’s and listening to Maskandi tapes, copying the chords one-by-one.

When you meet David it’s hard to believe this young white boy who speaks fluent Zulu grew up in town and not on a farm. However, none of his family speaks Zulu and instead he picked it up from the music he listened to. He also did Zulu instead of Afrikaans at school.

In the beginning David says it was quite hard to learn to play Maskandi, so he fine-tuned his skills learning Western folk and country music instead.

Despite being very shy in his younger years (and still quite shy in fact), David was persuaded to perform on stage at school and even took part in the SA’s Got Talent reality television programme in 2008, shortly after his dad passed away. “I didn’t get very far in the competition, I was just too young. But the response I got from the judges and audience proved to me that I could take my music to the next level.”

Kindred spirits

A year later David met the man who would help set his musical career in motion. It was suggested to him that he find a man named Maqhinga Radebe, a highly respected Maskandi guitarist, when he was looking for someone to help him tune his new instrument, the concertina or Zulu ‘squash box’.

“I got Maqhinga’s details and met him at a small studio in Durban, which was owned by Sibongiseni Shabalala (the son of Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo fame). My mom, sister and I went to Durban to meet him and he took me to get the instrument tuned. Afterwards we went back to the studio and Maqhinga and I ended up having an impromptu jam session.” Two weeks later David received a call from Sibongiseni, offering him a solo record deal.

Already very successful in his own right, Maqhinga had spent a few years touring overseas with Ladysmith Black Mambazo as their guitarist and had also been a member of Sibongiseni’s Maskandi group, called Shabalala Rhythm. “When I met him, I had no idea how highly respected Maqhinga was in the Maskandi music industry.” 

With Maqhinga as his producer, David released his first solo album and started to create a name for himself as a Zulu musician. “Maqhinga was always behind the scenes, but we spent a lot of time together jamming and writing songs. One day we decided to start doing some intimate, acoustic gigs together.” The duo started receiving enquiries about doing international gigs and their first big overseas gig was in Ireland in 2013. Since then they’ve performed across Asia, the United Kingdom, Europe and around South Africa. They’ve opened for Johnny Clegg and have performed for King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The duo released their album, Lashis ‘Ilanga, in 2016 and it was nominated for a South African Music Award and a South African Traditional Music award in 2017.

“Our music really is traditional, old school Maskandi and while we do have a western influence, to make ourselves more relatable on an international stage, we are still seriously African, and South African. Going forward we hope to create more of a name for ourselves internationally. We want to fly our flag high. The flag always comes first, and then our own success.”

Details: / Facebook: Qadasi Music / Maqhinga Radebe

Text: Leah Shone | Photographer: Amy Jenkins



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