How the Zimbabweans chewed bubble gum, and danced to Leja Pere: Daniel Sox Phakoe

 
By Mashudu Kenneth Sadike

One Friday night a few years ago at Nikki’s Oasis, one of Newtown’s popular night spots in Joburg where musicians, film makers, journalists, artists, you name them would gather for a night cap or for an unassuming conversation, when an argument ensued about the then music called bubble gum, and the musicians who plied its trade.
A few names were bandied about, as to the whereabouts of some of the household names. Amongst those names were those of Ali Kat, Mparanyana etcetera. A name that stood out for me was that of Sox ‘Leja pere’. Daniel Pakhoe.
Someone in the discussion said to my dismay that because Sox ‘Leja pere’ sang mostly in his Sesotho language and loved the Basotho people as he was a Mosotho himself had long gone back to Lesotho because he had lost out in the music industry and had gone poor. Some went to the extent of saying that Sox had died of a terrible car accident.
Some were saying he was destitute in Bloemfontein.
My protests were left unheard because of the plain truth that even professionals of their caliber would just grumble on without certainty or investigation at the least. I had it in good authority actually that Bra Sox, as he is affectionately known, was living in the East Rand township of Tembisa where he has a house of his own, and was alive and well.
Actually he was living in the township where he had started his music career more than three decades ago with the Hot Soul Singers, a group of the 1980s.
A few years later I’d gone on a mission to meet him at his home in Maokeng, Tembisa to prove once and for all that Daniel Molelle ‘Sox’ Phakoe was a living South African music legend who was then committed to the craft and still had an opinion on the issues of the country’s music industry.

 

Music of the 1990s

Sadly, Bra Sox is very clear at the fact that he would not go back to the music scene.
When I got outside his house, the now 54-year-old Bra Sox had been clothed in a Bloemfontein Celtic soccer jersey, sitting with his friends in a kombi by the gate; clearly he had been waiting for me. I knew him as a man with an unpredictable temper and a short fuse, but was affable and likeable.
So I apologised first for the photographer being late. With a smirk, he replied “Aggh don’t worry Sadike, you have stood me up before, I know you journalists, you not the first one!”
I wanted to find out first that why is it that why this brilliant man with exceptional talent, and I say exceptional because he had penned songs made up of 20 albums (most of them hits) in less than a decade was sitting at home and not in the studio inspiring us with his talent since his last album more than 2 decades ago?
Amongst many reasons Bra Sox was quick to acknowledge that times had changed, and he constantly refers to himself and his music as ‘my generation’.
“When the 90’s began, the music industry changed, kwaito took over, recording companies started taking over the radio waves,” Bra Sox said.
The 1990’s was also when the ban was lifted for international artists to start selling their music legally in the country, and not a lot of people bought South African records anymore. In actual fact it was only Brenda Fassie who competed with international music and kwaito during those days.
Another reason that saw the demise of the sort of music Bra Sox recorded fact the SABC stopped playing videos of the past and opted for new ones.

 

A slow death

Like he says, “If you watch any of the music shows on SABC, you can hold your breath until you turn blue in the face, you will not find anything. Only Thobela FM plays my music, I heard them play my song two weeks ago,” I thought it was comical so I gave a little chuckle. But Bra Sox would have none of it, he was livid. I could see at this point that he was a man who never shied away from telling it like it is as he continued.
“Watseba (you know) Sadike, this really irritates me, we marched to the SABC with the likes of Mzwakhe Mbuli ad others to no avail”.
“If you speak to a DJ to promote your new album, you’ll die a slow death because will play the old one.” I let him go on to put emphasis on why he would never go back to music. “and Piracy! These recording companies, people in the industry are the ones who commit this piracy to make more money for themselves, I won’t mention names. They know who they are, they do exactly what they say people should not do.”
However when we started talking about the invite he got and had honored to go perform with musicians from ‘his generation’, the likes of Condri Ziqubu, Dan Nkosi, Sidney of the ‘mamas baby’ fame and others at the Music of the 80’s concert at the Pretoria State Theatre last year, his face got fixed in a smile that told a story of man who had one of the times of his life. This is also when he mentioned that he would actually do only live shows from now on.
“I played Lesilo and Leja Pere on that day and people responded.” He explained
He had mentioned before that ‘Leja Pere’ was the most played and mostly known of them all. This song was written to subdue tribalism in the country in the 1980’s.
“When we Basotho spoke Sesotho here in Gauteng, we would get the Zulu people saying that we had come all the way from Lesotho on our horse and when it died on the way, we would eat it. What a load of rubbish!” he exclaimed
“I was trying to teach people that you can’t call another ‘Leja Pere’. But people continue to do so, tribalism will never end.”
He continued to explain that actually tribalism played a role in the naming of his stage name ‘Sox’. “My mother for some reason used to call me Selolo, and when I got to Joburg, the Zulu people could not pronounce the letter ‘L’. So came the name Sox,” with a sneer.

Changed the culture of Zimbabwe

Sadly, Bra Sox seemed more celebrated in other African countries than in South Africa. He has travelled in almost all of the SADC region. He toured Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe just to mention a few. He says that mostly he would be surprised as his songs would be mostly in Sesotho and crowds in other African states like Tanzania where they speak mostly Kiswahili would sing along with him.
“In Zimbabwe the song Leja Pere was like a national anthem. I heard that throughout areas like Matabeleland everyone, young people and old, played and danced to my song non-stop, throughout the night, and on all occasions. It is an honour to have changed the whole culture of a whole nation, though my music,” he said.
One other invite that he graced was that of the Mangaung African Cultural Festival (Macufe) held in his home crowd of Bloemfontein. He was invited in 2009 by the industry’s mogul Phill Hollis who brought the likes of Yvonne Chaka-chaka and Chico Twala in the music field.
Although at that time Bra Sox was not the only one who played a brand of Bubble Gum music that was designed specifically to motivate fans and party goers during the dark days of apartheid and curfews. Other musicians like Steve Kekana, Ali Kat, Condri Ziqubu, Phumi Maduna, Zizi Kongo and also Babsy Mlangeni, who are also lost to us, were in the mix, taking turns to sing about hardships black people were living in the township and rural areas.
It seemed to me that Br Sox would have been somewhat sad and bitterly disappointed at the way things turned out with his music career lasting only a decade and, separated to his wife and living alone. But his love for music still shows in his appearance, its almost transparent of the way he talks about music and other musicians that he adored the craft.
Infact I’ve seen his reaction to some of the old hits they play at a popular hang out joint in Tembisa called ‘Ikhaya lo Music (The home of music), where bra Sox frequents as a regular. It is a reaction of a man in seventh heaven. Bra Sox is alive and well in Tembisa in the East rand and makes his living with a few general jobs that come his way.

 

Daniel ‘Sox’ Phakoe’s factfile

1959: Born in Maokeng, Kroonstad in the Free State
1972: Broke his hip bone while playing soccer with other boys in the streets.
1978: Moved to Mapetla, Soweto.
1987: Released his first solo album, The Master.
1988: Shot music video of ‘Leja Pere’ that sold over 150 000 platinum.
1988: Was nominated for the OK TV awards for best newcomer and lost out to Mark Alex.

 

The Mashudu Kenneth Sadike column is the latest offering to connect Zimbabweans in the diaspora with the arts and culture of South Africa, SADC and Africa. Stay tuned to your favourite newspaper for the best in African music and entertainment, only on zimbabwedigitalnews.com

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