Mama’s boy: Sjava and his mom’s spe­cial re­la­tion­ship

Maskandi singer Sjava opens up about his strong bond with his mom, why he’s ‘mar­ry­ing’ her and how he copes with the down­side of fame

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HE’S dog tired af­ter driv­ing home straight af­ter an elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance in Dur­ban, but he lights up when his rental car rolls into the Bergville prop­erty. It’s been a long time since he’s seen the woman wait­ing for him on the stoep. Sjava gives Thandi Nk­abinde a bear hug be­fore the pair start talk­ing up a storm.

Mother and son have plenty of catch­ing up to do – they haven’t seen each other since Jan­uary, thanks to the award-win­ning artist’s hec­tic sched­ule. Af­ter his re­cent home­town con­cert, he couldn’t re­sist the chance to pop in at home.

“It feels good,” Sjava (34) tells DRUM

as he shows us around. “It’s so quiet here.”

Thandi (64) beams as her son walks around the house he’s built for her. It’s her first in­ter­view with Sjava, whose hit sin­gle Umama was writ­ten for her.

Thandi tells us she’s ex­cited to get her makeup done, but even with­out the “face beat” Sjava thinks his mom is flaw­less.

“She’s the only per­son who un­der­stands me,” he says.

Since win­ning big at the Black En­ter­tain­ment Tele­vi­sion (BET) Awards last year, he’s hardly been home but “she’s the only one who com­plains about not see­ing me”.

“When ev­ery­one else wants some­thing from me, she’s the only per­son who doesn’t.

“When I say I’m go­ing to call her back and I don’t or say I’m com­ing home and I don’t, she doesn’t re­ally com­plain be­cause she knows how hard I work. “She’s very un­der­stand­ing and help­ful.”

They seem as close as two coats of paint, but Thandi is the first to ad­mit her re­la­tion­ship with her son hasn’t al­ways been this great. She raised Sjava, real name Jab­u­lani Hadebe, and his sib­lings, Sibu­siso (43) and Sindy (40), in Bergville.

She says she wasn’t ex­actly sup­port­ive when her youngest son told her he wanted to be a mu­si­cian.

“Us older peo­ple, we only know some­one has to be a teacher or some­thing to find work. When he said he wanted to be a mu­si­cian I didn’t un­der­stand.”

Her doubts over Sjava’s ca­reer choice

were also coloured by her own ex­pe­ri­ence. “When I was younger, I used to sing,” she re­calls. “Af­ter I had my first child, I told my fa­ther I wanted to sing but he told me to leave and never come back.”

SJAVA holds no grudges. “When it comes to my ca­reer, a lot of peo­ple didn’t sup­port it. You see, the kind of place we come from, peo­ple only re­alise it’s real when they see things start work­ing out,” he says.

“You can’t blame them be­cause they’re from a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion.”

Things were so strained be­tween mom and son at one point, Sjava hadn’t seen Thandi in two years.

“She was at the rank (sell­ing food)

and I was ( hus­tling) in the streets,” he says. “There were years she didn’t know where I was be­cause I was work­ing on mak­ing my dream come true.”

Now he’s liv­ing the dream. Sjava has been in hot de­mand since he was hand­picked by Amer­i­can rap­pers Ken­drick La­mar and TDE, along­side Babes Wo­dumo, Yu­gen Blakrok and Saudi, to fea­ture on the sound­track of the Hol­ly­wood hit Black Pan­ther.

It’s thanks to this suc­cess, and his early years as an ac­tor, that he could af­ford to build his mom a house from scratch. Sjava whis­tles as he walks around the brick home.

Thandi says he should come home more of­ten be­cause he works so hard.

She’s clearly proud of her son. She didn’t imag­ine he’d be­come such a roar­ing suc­cess, al­though she “could see there was some tal­ent when he was a child”.

Sjava was a quiet boy, Thandi says, but he came alive when there was mu­sic. “It started very early; he must have been a year old when he started singing. He used to sing along to ad­verts and we al­ways used to tell him to keep quiet be­cause he was mak­ing a noise.

“He’d be quiet for a few min­utes then start again,” she says with a laugh.

Like any mother and son, they’ve had their share of ups and downs but Sjava has al­ways had a spe­cial spot for Thandi. He grew up with­out his fa­ther, Sbinde Hadebe, af­ter the cou­ple split when he was seven.

“Grow­ing up you were never your fa­ther’s friend,” he says.

“You talk to him when he’s talk­ing to you. I never had the type of re­la­tion­ship where we just talked. We were cool but never tight.”

His re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, who died of nat­u­ral causes in 2009, be­came more strained when Thandi and Sbinde broke up and Thandi moved to Jo­han­nes­burg with the chil­dren. “Our re­la­tion­ship was shaky be­cause we never saw each other.”

IN Joburg his sin­gle mother spent her days sell­ing meals at a taxi rank while Sjava went to school. “Joburg life is dif­fer­ent,” he says of those days. “There’s pres­sure on you to make sure what­ever you’re do­ing works out, so you don’t fail your par­ent.”

In 2004 he broke into the in­dus­try as an ac­tor, go­ing on to ap­pear in Zone 14, Gen­er­a­tions and 7de Laan.

Sjava fell in love with mu­sic when he dis­cov­ered hip-hop, but he was in­flu­enced by mbaxanga and maskandi. In 2013 he was in­tro­duced to Em­tee,

(Turn over)

(From pre­vi­ous page) who was signed to Am­bi­tiouz En­ter­tain­ment. When Em­tee told his record com­pany about Sjava, they signed him to their la­bel.

Last year Sjava put African trap mu­sic on the map when he won the view­ers’ choice best in­ter­na­tional act at the BET Awards in Los An­ge­les. Life has cer­tainly changed since his hum­ble be­gin­nings. These days he can’t walk down the street or or­der at KFC with­out be­ing recog­nised.

His jour­ney to suc­cess has been a long time in the mak­ing – 16 years to be ex­act. “Now that peo­ple are see­ing things hap­pen­ing, they’re counting it from there but this suc­cess didn’t come quickly,” he says.

Bag­ging the BET award has cer­tainly opened doors for him, but he doesn’t only want to be known for that. “There is so much that has hap­pened in my life, but all peo­ple fo­cus on is that be­cause it’s from over­seas.”

His BET gong is still caus­ing a buzz but it’s not the val­i­da­tion he strives for. Sjava, who is nom­i­nated for four ­Sa­mas, in­clud­ing best Afropop al­bum, says he doesn’t take voting awards se­ri­ously. “For me, meet­ing some­one who tells me ‘ I lis­tened to your song and it helped me in this way’ is the only thing that mat­ters.”

He wants to make mu­sic that moves peo­ple, but he also wants to make some coin. Sjava loves spoil­ing his mom and he’s brought along a gift for Thandi, who’s pre­par­ing for our pho­to­shoot. She smiles at the sur­prise.

“Oh, Hadebe,” Thandi says, fit­ting on the pur­ple coat. All she needs now are boots, she quips.

THE win­ter coat is an early Mother’s Day gift as Sjava won’t be home to cel­e­brate with Thandi. “It hurts that I can’t just spend time with my mom,” he says. “You travel all over the world but you never get time with the peo­ple you love and are do­ing this for. “All you can do is send money.” Thandi is grate­ful for the gift but the one present she’d like is her son’s pres­ence. “I can never get hold of him and he can’t just come home,” she says. “I don’t know my child any­more, I can’t just sit with him.”

Sjava would love to spend more time at home with her, do­ing reg­u­lar things. He wants to cut the grass, he says, point­ing at the shrub­bery in the yard. But his ca­reer is in full flight, and he must be on the road all the time.

He’s taken steps to make sure Thandi is well taken care of, though. Sjava built his mom’s house on the same land his fa­ther’s house stood on be­fore his par­ents broke up.

“I came back 16, 17 years later and built my mother a house be­cause we grew up rent­ing rooms,” he says. “It was her dream to own a home of her own, where she can wake up when­ever she wants and do what­ever she wants with­out a land­lord knock­ing at the door and ask­ing for money. “I had to make her dream come true.” His com­mit­ment to his mother is sec­ond to none. Sjava is fol­low­ing a Zulu cul­tural pro­cess that will al­low him to “marry” his mother. He’s do­ing what his fa­ther couldn’t be­cause, ac­cord­ing to Sjava’s tra­di­tion, he’ll re­main a bach­e­lor un­til his mother weds.

“I won’t be able to get mar­ried if my mom isn’t mar­ried so I have to marry her,” he says.

“Grow­ing up in Joburg, there’s a lot of cul­tural knowl­edge that I lost. My mom helps me with that – it’s very im­por­tant as a man to know why we do cer­tain things.”

HIS ded­i­ca­tion to their cul­ture means a great deal to Thandi, who is a loyal mem­ber of the Shembe Church. She’s been with them for 15 years and in line with re­li­gious be­liefs has been made to sit with un­mar­ried and sin­gle women while mar­ried women are seated on an­other side of the church.

Thandi is look­ing for­ward to be­ing recog­nised as a mar­ried woman, and like any mom she longs to see her son walk down the aisle with his dream woman. “I want him to be greater, to be happy, to get mar­ried and have chil

dren. I want for us all to be happy as a fam­ily,” she says.

When the con­ver­sa­tion turns to dat­ing, Sjava is tight-lipped. His love life be­came the talk of the town when Lady Za­mar re­cently re­vealed she and the rap­per had bro­ken up. So­cial me­dia users had long spec­u­lated Sjava and the Love is Blind singer were se­cret lovers, but the pair kept a lid on things un­til the songstress con­firmed their split on so­cial me­dia.

Fans are hop­ing the pop­u­lar pair will rekin­dle their two- year re­la­tion­ship but Sjava isn’t en­ter­tain­ing the topic. “I’m not go­ing to talk about my re­la­tion­ship sta­tus,” he says.

He knows it comes with the ter­ri­tory but hav­ing his pri­vate life in the pub­lic eye is one of the things he hates about be­ing pop­u­lar. “I miss my life,” Sjava says.

“I don’t en­joy the fame but I’m grate­ful for ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing. This (travelling) comes with it.”

He seems rue­ful as he gets ready to catch his plane back to Joburg. “Some­times your call­ing is to make sure ev­ery­one is happy but your­self. There’s noth­ing I can do about that.

“All I can do is take care of my mom and fam­ily.”

Life as he knows it “is gone” but Thandi is the one con­stant Sjava can count on. “She means a lot to me,” he says. “I al­ways feel for peo­ple who have no moms be­cause I re­alise how blessed I am to have her.”

THOLAKELE MNGANGA

LEFT: The singer ac­cepts his BET award from host Ter­rence J. ABOVE: With rap­pers Saudi (left) and Em­tee. RIGHT: Sjava and fel­low singer Lady Za­mar split ear­lier this year.

FAR LEFT and LEFT: Sjava says there’s a down­side to fame and that he’s grate­ful his mom is un­der­stand­ing about his hec­tic sched­ule.

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