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Talent is not enough: Papa Zee


Mohalenyane Phakela

VETERAN rapper, producer and promoter, Papa Zee, has urged local artistes to work harder to perfect their craft in order to achieve international recognition.

The Maputsoe-born musician-turned-businessman told Xpress People in a recent interview that outstanding products automatically attracted international recognition.

“Local artistes need to be so good that they are better than anything international so that they can penetrate the market as there are a million people out there who are doing the same thing. So if one is not exceptional then it is just a waste of time,” Papa Zee said.

“Sometimes talent is not enough and hard work is required. If one becomes good at what he does, then the world becomes his market automatically. For example, Bhudaza is still based in Lesotho but he is internationally recognised.”

He said people should not become musicians just to perform in clubs but to be recognised for exceptional work.

He also called on artistes to invest in their talent, adding only they were responsible for the development of their careers.

“I was last involved in music in 2013 when I tried to help young artistes but I then realised that they were not ready to take ownership of their own careers. I invested a lot of money in recording and promoting them but once they got into the limelight it was time for them to take charge of their careers- something they failed to do.

“I stopped because there was always controversy with some saying I was benefiting from the artistes’ money whereas I had other businesses that paid me well,” he said.

Papa Zee, whose real name is Motlalehi Leshoele, joined the music industry in 1994 while still in high school.

Back then, there were no recording studios in the country and local music would be heard during live performances or if it was recorded in South Africa.

Papa Zee’s popularity grew on the back of his performances as the opening act for South African artistes who toured Lesotho.

He said he turned down an opportunity to sign up with a record label in South Africa because he abhorred the lifestyle of artistes in South Africa at that time.

“I have always been a musician from an early age but then people started recognising me in 1994 when I used to open for the likes of Bongo Muffin and Boom Shaka from South Africa when they performed at Setsoto Stadium.

“That was before many radio stations and the internet so the only way we could be heard was through performances. I used to work with the likes of Bakae Ncheke, Hlalefang Khoali and Tumelo Setlalekhosi.

“The only thing we had closest to a studio was Hlalefang’s computer which had recording software. Hlalefang had just comeback from America.

People who took music seriously would gather every weekend at Ntate Chaltin’s place in Ha Thamae as there were musical instruments and a big sound system which we would use to rehearse and I would travel from Maputsoe to Ha Thamae every weekend.

“The South Africans heard me at those shows at Setsoto Stadium and they booked to perform in Bloemfontein and other parts of South Africa. I got an offer from Polygram in 1996 and they were the company responsible for the Hip Hop mixtape Motherland Vol. 1. They thought I could produce and wanted me to work on volume two only to find I could not operate a studio.

“Junior from Boom Shaka was also interested in signing me and took me to a studio in Johannesburg to select a beat. While there I realised that the artistes there were drug junkies and I could not associate with them so I decided to come back home to continue my hustle. I then worked with my brother to establish small businesses such as restaurants.”

In 2004 Papa Zee moved to Cape Town to join his brother and sister. He said he decided to start a record label, Struggle Entertainment and in 2005, he signed Urich from Botswana as his first artiste.

He released The Signature album which failed to penetrate the South African market largely on account of the fact that Urich rapped in English instead of the-then popular lyrical style of African languages.

The label achieved recognition in 2007 when Papa Zee released the single Mokhotsi which was well received in Lesotho and South Africa.

“Struggle Entertainment was a record label to accommodate musicians who were not natives of South Africa but then the first project by Urich failed.

“I had to go back to the drawing board and recorded a track Mokhotsi with rapper, Mohahlaula. I went back to Cape Town, mastered the track and then released it.

“The track made a breakthrough dominating the charts on major radio stations like Metro FM and Lesedi FM. I moved to Johannesburg that same year to work on establishing Mohahlaula as a rapper. His impact was felt but then he could not speak for his art, which was a much needed skill at that time before public relations managers were key to the images of artistes.

“In 2008 I then compiled some of the songs I had done in the past, coming up with the album Psalm 23 which Lesedi FM appreciated so much because they needed Sesotho music as they broadcast in Sesotho.”

Psalm 23 introduced the Sotho Hip Hop subgenre into the market and several local artistes began to take pride in rapping in their mother tongue, including Skebz D and Fifi (now Chocolate Soul).

Papa Zee returned home permanently in 2012 to help local artistes while overseeing his restaurant businesses.

In 2013, he established Big Bang Records and worked on promoting the likes of Skebz D and Nde Seleke who became sought-after local acts.

Skebz D became popular for tracks such as Lintja, I Won’t Lie and Linaleli while Nde garnering fame through Harele Da and Pelo Eaka.

Unfortunately, the hype soon died probably due to the lack of skills to maintain the popularity. Those were the last projects Papa Zee worked on but he said he still loves music.

“I have not given up on music, in fact, many people are trying to get me back into studio. I have a lot of content and can release an album in two weeks. It is just that I am busy managing clubs and restaurants as well as being a legalised diamond dealer,” he said.


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