Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse is much more that one of South Africa, and the worlds, most admired and respected musicians; he is a gentle living legend.
Today, after close on 50 years of musical accomplishment and history behind him, Mabuse’s influence on the industry that gave him his voice continues to grow in leaps and bounds.
Mabuse wears many hats – entertainer, businessman, father and care-giver to many, he is an integral part of the entertainment industry and his contribution to the diverse landscape of South Africa is appreciated and honoured by music lovers the world over. From Carnegie Hall, New York to Newtown Johannesburg, when “Hotstix” hits a stage, the world sits up and listens.
Born in Johannesburg in 1951, Mabuse began playing the drums from the age of 8 – the instrument that he would master to such an extent that he quickly gained the nickname “Hotstix”, a name that follows him to this day.
Fiercely proud and keen to share his wealth of knowledge, he’s passionate about having the youth look, learn and respect the veterans of what makes this country great. “Our elders, parents and forefathers need to be respected and heard for their contribution,” he explains. “If we look and listen, we can only continue to grow.”
Mabuse, as a clearly competent musician, has mastered many instruments: the drums, flute, piano, saxophone, kalimba, alto flute, timbales and African drums. However, as a young man, he thought he was destined to become a doctor or a lawyer, not a world famous musician. Music affected him at a very young age with influences from his grandfather and uncles, who were traditional singers of scatamiya, a choral music derivative sung mainly by men.
He began his career as a professional musician at the age of 15 when, during his high school years, he formed his first band The Beaters. The Beaters evolved to become Harari, one of the most successful acts that dominated the music scene of the 1970’s in South Africa. A highlight in their more than decade long career came in 1978 when the group was invited to perform in the USA with Hugh Masekela. During the tour, the band’s leader Selby Ntuli died, leaving Sipho as the new front man. Harari supported and backed Percy Sledge, Timmy Thomas, Letta Mbula, Brook Benton and Wilson Pickett on their South African tours. This eclectic ensemble was impossible to categorise; mixing funk and disco with jazz, while also using traditional African instruments to create a completely unique sound that many tried, but failed to imitate. They were the ultimate party band, yet boasted some of the best musicians around at the time, such as Alec Khali and Lionel Petersen. One of South Africa’s most important musical acts – Harari will forever hold legendary status – even after their split in 1982.
In his solo capacity, Mabuse continued to create great, original South African-born music, culminating with his most important single in 1985. “Burn Out” catapulted him to a new level of fame, turning him into a much applauded success. Released the year PW Botha, the former President, declared a state of emergency, this impeccably funky township disco jive jam became the first major crossover hit in South Africa, selling in excess of half a million copies. Over the years the song has been remixed by international deejays and covered by many of South African artists, qualifying it as one of the country’s most cherished classic tracks ever. His name became synonymous with “township jive”, but, as his live performances over the past two decades have shown, it’s never been easy to label “Hotstix”.
In 1996, after a ten-year sabbatical, Mabuse returned with the album Township Child, an album that brought him back into the musical forefront. A number of albums followed, including two live albums in 2005 and 2006, both captured the spirit of what makes every Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse performance great. In fact, throughout the course of Mabuse’s near 50-year career, he has become a musical ambassador for South Africa, performing in virtually every country in Africa and touring to places such as the United States, England, France, Germany and Italy as well as a host of others. He has also recorded and produced many legendary artists such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri and Sibongile Khumalo.
Beyond his ongoing musical and philanthropic work, he’s busier in 2010 than at the height of his pop career of the 1970’s and 80s. Accepting invitations to perform right around the world or championing many local causes, was made easier when in 2005, as owner of Kippies, he decided to close what si still remembered today as being one of the country’s most prolific jazz establishments. As a regular commentator on arts and culture in the country, he has sat on the boards of The National Arts Council and SAMRO (South African Musicians Rights Organisation).
As one era ended, so a new one has begun and with it the promise of a brand new album in 2011, the year in which Mabuse celebrates his golden anniversary as one of South Africa’s most endearing talent, the future looks bright indeed.
“I still have a lot to sing and perform for,” he smiles in conclusion. Between constant touring that’s set to only increase, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse is doing everything but slow down. “There is rarely a time when I am not actively involved in the music industry – and that’s the way I like it,” he asserts.
Warm, compassionate, caring and gifted in ways even he is still learning about, this gentle giant of great original music is as vital a player today as he ever was. With a wealthy catalogue that’s anchored in Africa, all who meet, greet and share stages with him are equally touched by a humility and grace that’s as rare as the talent this living legend shares with us all.