Man Oh Man – Jab­u­lani ‘Sjava’ Hadebe

SJAVA’S re­fresh­ingly can­did lyrics will ei­ther have you yearn­ing to fall in love at a mo­ment’s no­tice, or com­pel you to re­flect on your own truth. Get to know him...


My two pas­sions, soc­cer and mu­sic, have al­ways lived along­side each other. I played pro­fes­sion­ally for Wits Univer­sity in high school, then moved to Corinthi­ans Foot­ball Club. Even though I de­cided not to pur­sue a pro­fes­sional ca­reer in soc­cer, to this day, my favourite past­time is play­ing with my boys. As I got older, my pas­sion for mu­sic kept beck­on­ing un­til I gave in.

My soc­cer skills landed me a role on the SABC 1 drama se­ries Zone 14 and, es­sen­tially, launched my act­ing ca­reer. We trained with Or­lando Pi­rates’ re­serve team in prepa­ra­tion for the show, and I re­mem­ber [coach] Au­gusto Pala­cios want­ing to sign me on the spot in 2004. I po­litely de­clined and told him that I wanted to fous on mu­sic. I had a lot of friends who played soc­cer and knew what con­di­tions they had to en­dure.

I got into act­ing purely by chance. Our neigh­bour in Malvern, sis’ Mavis, gave me de­tails for a Yizo Yizo cast­ing. My plan was to go there to drop off my demo in the hope that it would be fea­tured on the show’s sound­track. Lo and be­hold, the au­di­tions were for Zone 14. Sis’ Mavis in­sisted I au­di­tion for the show be­cause I al­ready knew how to play soc­cer — and that was the start of my act­ing ca­reer. I went on to act in uGugu no Andile, Gen­er­a­tions, Soul City, Saints and Sin­ners, Soul Bud­dyz and Soul City.

No one sup­ported my de­ci­sion to quit act­ing in 2013. Ev­ery­one deemed it im­pos­si­ble be­cause, at 30, they thought I was too old to crack it in the mu­sic busi­ness. I de­cided to quit act­ing shortly af­ter I’d met fel­low mu­sos Em­tee and Ruff.

I re­mem­ber send­ing my demo to a ma­jor mu­sic la­bel be­tween 2010 and 2012 and they, in turn, asked how many so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers I had. I wasn’t on any plat­form at that point and they, straight up, told me that they wouldn’t be able to work with me. I just con­tin­ued mak­ing mu­sic with the ATM gang. We fea­tured on Em­tee’s sin­gle Roll Up, which went on to be­come Song of the Year at the 2015 SAMAs. That song paved the way for each of us.

I re­leased the four-track EP Um­phako to give my fans some­thing to lis­ten while I work on my sec­ond al­bum, which I hope to re­lease later this year. Peo­ple just want you to re­lease new mu­sic all the time, and don’t care much about how you feel or what’s hap­pen­ing in your life. I think it’s time peo­ple un­der­stood that we are hu­man too, and that mak­ing good mu­sic is ac­tu­ally not a walk in the park. For in­stance, my sched­ule is so hec­tic at the mo­ment that no time has been set aside for me to record mu­sic.

My big­gest fear is mak­ing trashy mu­sic. Due to work com­mit­ments, I can no longer do some of the things that once in­spired me to write great mu­sic but I’m work­ing on redis­cov­er­ing my­self.

Re­mem­ber­ing who I re­ally am, and why I am do­ing this keeps me sane amidst all the de­mands of this in­dus­try. Mak­ing mu­sic, for me, has never been about fame or mak­ing a quick buck. Fans send me pri­vate mes­sages on so­cial me­dia sharing their sui­ci­dal thoughts, and some beg­ging me to be a fa­ther fig­ure in their lives. Be­cause of my up­lift­ing songs, I’ve be­come a bea­con of hope and a hero to some. These are the very peo­ple who in­spire me to get up and sol­dier on when I’m too ex­hausted to write or record mu­sic.

I live for those mo­ments when fans share anec­dotes of how my mu­sic has in­spired them. Much as I ap­pre­ci­ate it, I’m not fazed by be­ing called the big­gest

artist in the coun­try. I’ve never been a fan of awards be­cause I find them con­fus­ing. Firstly, we (the pub­lic) al­ways as­sume that a song that receives a lot air­play de­serves the cov­eted Song of the Year ti­tle, when in fact that’s de­ter­mined by the num­ber of pub­lic votes the song earns.

The awards that I have won are iconic and tes­ta­ment to the fact that hard work pays off. The awards are not just mine to dis­play but be­long to the en­tire coun­try and con­ti­nent. I be­lieve peo­ple look at them and think to them­selves, ‘that guy made it from noth­ing!’. I re­mem­ber be­ing re­luc­tant to at­tend the DStv View­ers Choice Awards be­cause I was con­vinced they would give the award to a ris­ing star. To have won that award when I was 33 in 2016 was a big mo­ti­va­tion to those who are con­tem­plat­ing shelv­ing their dreams for fear of be­ing too old to pur­sue them. I’m glad that the Best Pro­duced Al­bum award Isina Muva bagged at the SAMAs ear­lier this year hon­oured my pro­ducer Ruff’s ded­i­ca­tion and hard work. Most im­por­tantly, these awards reaf­firm that stay­ing true to your­self makes you re­lat­able to fans.

My mu­sic, and that of the rest of the ATM Gang is heav­ily in­flu­enced by trap mu­sic — hence we coined the genre African trap mu­sic (ATM). The genre also fea­tures el­e­ments of maskandi, kwaito, is’cathamiya and hip-hop be­cause we want South Africans to be in­spired to em­brace their dif­fer­ent cul­tural her­itages. A lot of peo­ple think they have to sound Amer­i­can in or­der to suc­ceed or sound cool. But the re­al­ity of it all is that Americans will never be drawn to some­thing that they were the first to in­vent, in­stead they love peo­ple who bring a dif­fer­ent flavour to the ta­ble. Do you know how frus­trat­ing it is when, for in­stance, some­one who isn’t Sotho butch­ers the lan­guage? The whole point was to cre­ate some­thing uniquely South African within hiphop. Just for the record, I am not an R&B singer!

I find it odd that out of the 16 tracks on my de­but al­bum Isina Muva, there are only three sad songs yet those seem to be more pop­u­lar [chuck­les]. There are no heart­break songs on Um­phako yet peo­ple are lov­ing it. I al­ways write my mu­sic from an hon­est place.

I’m learn­ing that hu­mil­ity and fame al­ways clash. When you’re hum­ble, some peo­ple see that as an op­por­tu­nity to take ad­van­tage of you.

The fun­ni­est thing I’ve read about my­self was that I’m married and have ne­glected my wife. I’ve learnt to laugh off such things.

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