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.