A tinny concertina sounds faintly as an indistinct maskandi back-track is looped inside the Moses Mabhida Stadium. A chorus of vuvuzelas distort the song playing in the distance. The voice of a lesser-known maskandi bandleader emerges every so often. Scattered applause is heard from the audience.
Outside the stadium, the stakes are high as maskandi enthusiasts try to negotiate their way into the stadium for a concert that is set to be a historic event.
In the small stretch of road in between Jonsson Kings Park and Moses Mabhida Stadium’s entrance, the smell of simmering chicken stew, beef curry and boerie rolls fill the air. Street vendors selling airtime, food and blue merchandising with “King Khuzani” embossed on caps and t-shirts line the opposite ends of the road.
A young woman runs in between a crowd of royal blue t-shirts. Her tight black pencil skirt bandages her thighs together, constricting her ability to run at full speed. “How about you?” she pants desperately. “Don’t you have an extra ticket?” She repeats her question to anyone who stops to listen. Her energy becomes frantic as more and more people fail to answer positively.
She changes direction as the possibility of missing out on the Gcwalisa iMabhida concert becomes more concrete. She exclaims “I can’t! I just can’t miss out on seeing King Khuba live.” She smears the “Khuzani King” stamp imprinted across her left cheek slightly as she dries the beads of sweat off her face.
She is one of the many disappointed fans who had hoped that they could purchase their tickets at the door. A commotion stirs near the entrance as a man swears at the guards who stand watch in front of the gates. “Ngeke, we won’t leave!” he hisses. “We all travelled very far to come to this event today, some of us had to sleep in Durban to attend. We live in the villages and won’t go back without going in!”
Fill it up
This is the first exclusively maskandi-led stadium concert of its kind. An audience of 30 000 has congregated expecting to see Ihhashi Elimhlophe, Shwi NoMntekhala, Ingane Zoma, Dlubheka, Imthente, Amageza Amahle and Benny Mayengane, among other heavyweights in the industry. Dubbed King Khuba, iNdlamlenze and the King of the Blue Nation, 30-year-old Nkandla-born Khuzani Mpungose leads the charge as one of the genre’s most prolific recording artists.
Despite his own successes as a performer, doubts loomed large about his ability to pull off the show initially. The concert’s beginnings were mired in controversy. Mpungose announced to the country in September 2018 that he hoped to fill up the Moses Mabhida Stadium a mere week after hip-hop artist Cassper Nyovest would attempt to fill up the same venue on 1 December.
The controversy was sparked by the use of the words “fill up” and a hashtag associated with it. Nyovest had threatened to sue Tsonga musician Benny Mayengani over the #FillUp trademark when Mayengani used the same hashtag for his show at the Giyani Stadium. As a result, Mpungose decided to rename his project Gcwalisa iMabhida (which loosely translates from isiZulu as “fill up Moses Mabhida Stadium”).
At the time, Mpungose was reported to have taken this decision because he wanted to “avoid controversy between [the] music genres”. This was despite him pointing out to his fans through his social media accounts that Cassper’s self-professed #FillUp hashtag was considered as a general turn of phrase that was invoked too often to be legitimately trademarked by one specific artist. According to section 9, read alongside section 10 of the Trade Marks Act 194 of 1993, in order for a trade mark to be registrable it must be distinctive and unique.
“Cassper said he would take action against anyone who uses the term, so I came with something new to stay away from the controversy. We are not scared or afraid, we just don’t want the controversy,” Mpungose said.
Readying for the big day
The name #GcwalisaIMabhida emerged with a new tagline: “Ingami, Ingawe, Ingathi Sonke”. The event became a call to the entire maskandi community to come together to provide a one-day festival in which some of the most celebrated musicians in the genre from across KwaZulu-Natal would share a platform with emerging groups with smaller and limited fan bases. A new date was set and the concert was moved from its projected date in December to the end of March and was repurposed to include over 65 acts.
Accompanied by an exhaustive marketing strategy targeting national radio stations such as UkhoziFM, along with activations in Nkandla, KwaMashu and Mega City, Mpungose was also endorsed by political leaders such as Jacob Zuma, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and isilo King Zwelithini. Weeks before the event, the eThekwini municipality was reportedly set to spend just under R3 million on the event.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) offered two trains to take fans from eMlazi, two from KwaMashu and one in Cato Ridge.
The many sponsors of the event included the National Department of Arts and Culture, the National Arts Council, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport, Tourism, the eThekwini Municipality, Durban Tourism and Isolezwe.
Gcwalisa iMabhida marked a decided shift in the scale and production attached to traditional music in South Africa.
Show time in living colour
The violent machismo inherent in maskandi, along with its pageantry and pomp, found new articulations at the concert. It was scheduled to run from around 2pm on 30 March and ended at 5.30am the next morning. Thousands of fans who had bought their tickets made their way to the stadium, filling it with each passing hour.
Two large LED screens were placed on either end of the stage, onto which the mobile camera crew projected the intricate details of each performance in its every minutiae, thrilling the fans in attendance. The intricate lighting patterns rigged onto the stage accounted for one part of the colour show in the stadium.
Colour filled the stands as an important signifier of each artist’s support base and an outward expression of the performers’ masculine pride and the ways in which they position themselves in the stylings of the genre.
Thabile Nene, 38, and Lindiwe Nkosi, 42, wear Mpungose’s branded royal blue t- shirts. Nene told New Frame that it was her first time at a stadium. “As amabinca, we are proud of our King Khuba. I would never wear any other colour,” she declared.
Fans of the recently departed Sibongiseni Ngubane, otherwise known as Mjikjelwa, were both on stage and also among the crowd in their light blue T-shirts. Clusters of white t-shirts also appeared across the stadium, signifying a small and unwelcome base of Mthandeni Manqele’s fans. Manqele imagines himself as the sole claimant to the maskandi throne and has positioned himself as a rival to Mpungose.
At around 10pm a commotion broke out in the general standing area when Manqele appeared suddenly and was followed by a host of his supporters all dressed in white. Mpungose fans immediately swarmed around him and his base. Threats were exchanged immediately. “Uyaphi lo?” (“Where is this one going?”) asked one of the members of the crowd, incensed. His biceps bulge under his blue t-shirt. “Didn’t this one say that those who were coming here were idiots?” asked his friends rhetorically, referring to Manqele.
Khuzani and Manqele have shared a longstanding beef. In 2018, Move! reported that the ongoing warring between the two artists could lead to bloodshed. In June 2017 representatives of both the Mpungose and the Manqele camps organised for the Empangeni Inyanga, prompting Thulani “3 Seconds” Nkwanyana to intervene in the worsening rivalry.
This arose after the two artists exchanged violent threats and insults and had run-ins both on- and off-stage. It was also a result of the inflammatory lyrics in Mpungose’s Inhlinini Yoxolo, from his seventh album, which translates into a fake apology (presumably to Manqele). Mpungose, however, had extended an olive branch to Manqele’s management and offered him a slot in the concert, which Manqele declined.
Many fans and followers of the beef were surprised by Manqele’s decision to make an appearance at the show. He was quickly chased out of the stadium without any real interruption to the programming.
Dawn Thandeka King, who is known popularly for her role as Ma’Ngcobo on the SABC1 soapie Uzalo, titillated the audience with her humour and was followed soon after by eternal playboy Mastermind, played by Ntokozo TK Dlamini.
Well after midnight, Mpungose descended on to the stage. “Khuba, Khuba, Khuba” chanted the crowd after waiting for over 10 hours to see him perform. Mpungose appeared to fly in from the roof of the stadium. He hovered above his fans screaming in adulation below, as he waved at them.
His music blared from the speakers. “Awu madoda, inkosi yangemphela ” shouted a fan through the furore.
The self-professed “King of the blue nation” had donned a royal blue cape. A golden cross glittered across his chest, matching the crown on his head. When he eventually got on stage fireworks shot out. An army of men dressed in traditional Zulu skins and amashoba encircled him and sang “elikaKhuba izwe”. At that moment, the world did indeed appear to belong to Mpungose as the showman was brought into crystal focus.
Thobile Madlala, 34, told New Frame that “It’s always like this, it’s always a spectacle whenever he performs” as she watched over her stall outside the stadium. Crowds roared in the distance. Small traces of curry remained on the bottom of the big pot she used to sell food to fans and onlookers throughout the event.
“We love Khuzani,” she said, packing up for the night. “He gives us street vendors a chance to follow him throughout the country and sell our food.”
“This music here,” she added, “this music here fills up our stomachs and our souls.”