Sabelo Mthembu: The Journey To The Dream

by | Dec 8, 2015 | Entertainment, Kulture, Latest, Profile | 0 comments

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Sabelo Mthembu won the hearts of many as a contest on ‘Idols South Africa IV’ (Season 4), 2007, and while he may not have won the competition, he continues to fight for his dream to become a successful artist.

Compiled by: Blacklight writer
Main image: Supplied

The soul crooner released his debut album Songs of brotherhood, independently, and with the infectious ballad Angiphili Mawungekho slowly gaining traction on radio, this may finally be his time to shine.

Sabelo chats to Blacklight about his journey to become a music star.

Blacklight: What did being on Idols SA do for your career?
Sabelo Mthembu:
I believe Idols SA helped put my talent into perspective, both to my supporter and to myself. Being on Idols ignited my love for the art of music and performance.

I was fortunate to enter the music business in an era where the digital platform made it easier for musicians to reach their audiences without relying entirely on a record label.

BL: After Idols, you joined the corporate world. Was that a hard sacrifice to make?
SM:
I took part in Idols while working; hence I was labelled the “bank singer” by then judge Dave Thompson. I remember having to apply for unpaid leave because I had advanced further than I had enough leave days for.

Perhaps after Idols, we can say I was faced with the decision of whether to continue working or pursuing music full time. I decided to continue working because back then it was too early to say how far I wanted to take my music. I was still formulating my goals and strategy, and finding my feet, musically.

BL: Why did you decide to release your album without the backing of a record label?
SM:
I was fortunate to enter the music business in an era where the digital platform made it easier for musicians to reach their audiences without relying entirely on a record label.

I’ve also always believed in the idea of being artistically free – having creative freedom. Having said that, I have always been open to collaborating with record labels in marketing and distribution, but I often hit a brick wall when discussing with potential collaborations, due to clashing interests, which led me to reject a few offers.

BL: Given that you work full-time, what was the process of creating the album like?
SM:
Creating my first project was an exciting process because I had no pressure whatsoever. I was able to work around my schedule without anyone checking the clock.

I would go into the studio for short sessions or sometimes for intense sessions. Most sessions were in the evening, after work, so that made the balance much easier.

I also took my time to write because I wanted everything to come from an honest space, and it had to correlate with my character and value system.

BL: What was your main goal with the record?
SM:
I have always believed that my music is a ministry and one that should be held with highest regard. If the music does not minister to me, then I cannot put it out there and hope to get results. I wanted my music to minister to people while mesmerising their musical senses.

I have always believed that my music is a ministry and one that should be held with highest regard.

BL: I believe at some point you were selling the album from the boot of your car. What did it teach you about the business side of the music?
SM:
We literally sold the album out from the boot of the car and at live shows. I personally delivered a number of copies to fans (to their delight and surprise).

This taught me humility. It also taught me that you cannot make excuses for failing; do what you can, with what you have, where you are. At first, I thought the industry was aloof towards me. But I later realised that it was nothing personal; it was just business.

I have also learnt that it is not the talent that will make me great, but the amount of work I put in.

BL: What do you think has been the force that has led to the record eventually catching fire?
SM:
The rise to success and prominence is much longer for independent artists than for signed artists, but the rewards are enormous. We literally launched the album without any networks in the industry. All we had was the album, and the desire to succeed.

Some of the promises made were broken, which made it extremely difficult to get into the mainstream. After spending months and months trying to convince the industry to give us attention, we realised that we needed to go back to the masses, hence the selling of CDs from the boot.

We started doing more live shows, going to smaller community radio stations (and being playlisted there), performing at weddings, etc. We also engaged in direct selling using courier services.

So much of the work has seen my single Angiphili Mawungekho peak at number 2 on the SA Jazz iTunes charts, an achievement we never believed would be possible, especially two years after it’s launch.

BL:What would you say to a young musician who hopes to take the business route you took with “Songs of Brotherhood”?
SM:
They have to be certain about what it is they want to achieve with their music. With the right goals and attitude, your stay in the business will be elongated.

I have also learnt that it is not the talent that will make me great, but the amount of work I put in.

BL: What would you say are some of the mistakes you made with your debut, that you wish to rectify with your second effort?
SM:
This time, I will plan better. With the first effort, I just launched without a solid plan in place. We did everything by chance, which was not necessarily such a bad thing, given the strides we made.

Sabelo’s album “Songs of Brotherhood’ is available on iTunes.


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