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The Unofficial Minister of Music

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Humbled by a Master of the Arts, noting that his style of dress was very easy-going, laid-back with a touch of some seemingly designer Western footwear, I liked. Open minded and hearted, he’s not one to mince words but still possess a native understanding of his contribution as a social enlightener. A Historian of Southern African Jazz, finding his Soul over the decades without the need of a contract, but still not too proud to shed knowledge on the path towards seeking distinct ensembles. Bra Pop Mohamed ensnares general groove theory with a kinky Wizardry, a stringent Gentleness with soft-spoken sober-minded definitive edge. Honestly a mild natured pillar, Southern Comforts Jazz genre would lack an Infotainment without his African-biased focus on Native Sounds and local Instruments.

“Finding Oneself “, one of many philosophical questions that puzzle thinking man, enchant all that sought for a purpose-driven life, yet also subsequently the title of Bra Pops Mohamed’s delectable piece of a Southern African tapestry adding to a career that’s over 40 years in the making.

Album after album his produce, includes Kalamazoo and Sophiatown not to mention that he also has his Own Label entitled Kalamazoo Music. A majesty of Instrumental dynamics and finding slipstream sentiments in a cut-throat industry, all pale in comparison to the virtuosity ascribed to a Man we all can just refer to as the Unofficial Minister of Music . A humbled experience indeed, expressing a lot more with his hands than most, Bra Pops is a satirical African guy who just so happens to have mapped fame without actually placing it on any benchmark. A privateer by nature his exact words are “Be Original”, Simplicity maketh a man indeed.

As a musical Icon, that has managed to master producing Social Vibes with a Benoni undertone, he says that the prequel to his latest rudimentary Rendition is a more sleek, upbeat, young and vibrant episode in his quite detailed journey, through the Realm of his lengthy Profession. Socities Vibes: Fast Forward features a plethora of youthful giants climbing their own individual career ladders.

Ntsiki Mazwai, Zubz, and a Lesego Motsepe are just a few deep diamonds he has managed to recruit to his latest release. Bra Pops also reflected on those Techno-Artists who utilize complex Musical Software to find themselves and the nature of their arduous genre of Music. He is also a Kwaito fanatic and Pro-African in his utterances, he shows a great deal of depth in his deconstruction of varying Musical discipline.

Not at all a humdrum persona Bra Pops seems to describe his knowledge of Sounds, Notes and chords in a very basic yet exact manner. A grand Master of Piano and old-school Guitar, coming across the likes of Sisi Sibongile Khumalo and Bra Kiepie Moeketsi in his story, fondly remarking on his earliest days as a Township youngster.

Besides the Joburg traffic, and the zero-cool weather, we arrived to a silently scintillating Bassline. Along with Strings and Skins, Bra Pops, a humbled Tutor to all who wish to stand a chance in the Music Production and Distribution aspects of home brewed Ethnic Art as an Industry, was setting up on stage. By stature not a tall man, but still a witty presence to him.
A Jazz-Head Intellectual would have been utterly tongue-tied but since I was neither tongue-tied nor …nervous my approach was direct and his reception was comforting. The remainder of the latter evening was filled with a definitive assortment of Afro-Indian Instrumentalists producing the sweetest tones.

Most of the Selection were taken from their new album “Passages of Time” rendered by Strings ‘n Skins, the Guitarist Greg Geogedis was constantly reselecting guitars, amongst his six guitars he was playing for the evening he featured a Bozouki, a Nylon-String Guitar and a mischievous North African Oud. Ashish Joshi on the Dhoum Dhoum, Djembe , Zarb, Thunder Box and Tabla and Steve Newman on Classic Percussion with a supportive Drum Kit. The talented trio unified into an original multi-ethnic piece of well atoned audio-architecture to be quite frank, the music was truly soothing.

Bra Pops allowed them to initiate the Performance he later contributed, playing the Kora (African Harp) and also the Mbira (African Thumb Piano).Their harmony is a breath-taking sojourn, a noble affirmation of relaxation perceived.
This is what he had to express:


LiannYou are known as the “Minister of Music”, where does that title come from?

PopsNot ‘the’ Minister of Music I think they said Unofficial Minister of Music. [Laughs]

Well that I think comes from an article I think I did in 1995, 1996 an Interview I did in England, London. I was with a Journalist I remember we went to see a Concert done by Tracy Chapman during the Concert he was Interviewing me, and the next day when I saw this I think it was Roots Magazine or something like that … anyway that’s when I saw the title Unofficial Minister of Music.

For some reason someone put it on the Internet, the Whole Interview, I think that’s where a lot of people are getting it from.

I still don’t know what he meant by that statement [laughs]

LiannYou grew up in Benoni during Apartheid, starting your own Band at the young Age of Fourteen?

PopsYah, well it was a High School Band round about the age of thirteen or fourteen, it was a High School Band. In those days it was hip to have some kind of Musical form happening in the School so on Saturday Afternoon we would perform in the Classrooms of the School.

Adults would come, kids would come and the money we made enabled us to pay our School funds.

LiannAt this point in time I assume you weren’t playing the Mbira or the Didgeridoo…?

PopsNo. In those days it was Guitars, Bass Guitar, Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar and Drums. I mean that was the in thing, if you look in the days of the Beatles and the Shadows. Everyone was into it at the time. So we use to do cover versions of everything that came on through the Radio station.

LiannAnything that comes to mind…?

PopsGosh… I mean we did Jimmy Hendrix, when the Beatles came in we did the Beatles but I think we did Cliff Richards “Summer Holiday”. Singing ’We all going on a Summer Holiday’, you know.

So those were the people that influenced us a lot I mean not so long ago Cliff Richards was here in South Africa in March, I think. When they did the final tour, I think they Split up now I mean they’ve been together for Fifty years.

I was fortunate last year when they reunited again in London. When they reopened to do the final tour I was to watch that. I mean those were my heroes back in the days it just took us back to when we were young. That was a big influence; I still love listening to Cliff Richards and the Shadows. Now that’s when we played.

LiannA few words on something local maybe Bra Abdullah Ibrahim or Bra Kiepie Moeketsi.

PopsIt was too early at the time. I think when I was round about fifteen, sixteen I started at Dog House. In Eloff Street and that’s when I got in touch with Abdullah Ibrahim and those people, not in touch with them, but I started noticing these people and also growing up in Benoni there was a Hall you know a Community Hall it’s still there it’s called the Davie Social Centre. Over weekends people like Bra Kiepie and the late Zakes Nkosi, all those Big Bands from those days people like The Shantytown Saxtet . They use to come weekends and perform in Benoni and next to Benoni we have Daveyton we have Wakeville I mean a lot of the Top Musicians we have come from the East Rand.

For us to see Bands coming from Joburg was like seeing someone from New York. That was around the time I was playing around with School Band, but as we grew older I started realizing why I started Guitar seriously, I noticed these guys like is that Uncle that normally comes to Benoni. We didn’t know their names we just saw those guys and I just admired them.

Whenever they perform I just say hell one day I’d love to be on stage. Later in the years you start hearing about Kiepie Moekestsi, Abdullah Ibrahim. You be like whose Kiepie Moeketsi? AHH!! I know him, I know him.

You start checking things out, you get know these people. These we all the Greats .

It was a pleasure getting to know these people at an early age cause then it changes your whole concept of what you doing and what they are doing. They playing a different kind of Music and that I mean we got a good start listening to the Beatles, Cliff Richards and the Shadows and then people would come to you and say :
My lightie jy moet check hie’so,
This is how you do it, daai ding van laanies,
Haai’kona. Jy moet bietjie mooi check.
So that it how it was, checking it out and you just take them seriously.

LiannYou produced the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa’s album. I think it’s called “Finding Oneself”. How did it feel working on that?

PopsIt was great because, well it goes back further than that producing Moses. I think in 1980, or 1979 F.U.B.A started here in town, not far away from here. Federation Union of Black Arts, I became a student there as well studying piano even Sibongile Khumalo was working there, I think as a Secretary at the time and she helped me through with my exams.
We did Jazz and there people like Levi Pehle, Rashid Lanie and that time I sorta established my name. I just wanted to get deeper. That’s when I met Moses.

Moses was still very young and his wife Flo as well. They were students as well at F.U.B.A, already then he kicking… you know.
I noticed him and I could tell that he was taking his passion seriously. I sorta became friendly with him and over the years Hugh Masekela came back from abroad. Then Moses started working with him.
In time he started writing compositions. We were good friend and he said to me Bra Pops, I would like you to produce my Album. I felt honored.

I had always said to him that I have to produce your first Album and he said we’ll check it out and it finally happened.
There wasn’t much producing to be done he was such a genius; I felt that I didn’t need to do anything but he insisted that he felt safe with my favor. That was his first album and he need that boost, it was really nice working with him. We stay friends forever, we travelled a lot. We did lots of Gigs abroad Denmark and London. We toured a lot, in fact I still have a lot of footage to bring out and show people they haven’t seen of Moses abroad.

LiannWorking with Sheer Sound Recording which is your favourite Album, maybe the latest?

PopsAt the moment I am no t with Sheer, I am not a Sheer artist. My latest Album is out and I have got my own Label. It’s been almost five years now I haven’t been with Sheer for while. We still in good terms, I mean we use to license our items to Sheer. I wasn’t a signed Artist to Sheer. I was never signed to any record Label, even when I was with Melt before sheer. I wasn’t signed I was just there. I had one album deal with Melt ,“How Far Have We Come” it was once-off and then Melt and Sheer had a relationship to do distribution for them in the country and for some reason I don’t know how I ended up with sheer they start producing stuff for me and the late Sipho Gumede.

All the Kalamazoo C.D’s, then we did “Society Vibes” under Sheer as well. It was not even intended to be a Sheer product as well. I had already decided that I was going to start my own Label back then. That’s 13 years ago. I did it in my small little Studio with McCoy Mrubata. We duplicated casette’s and started selling cassettes in the shops and C.D’s had just come out at the time and I think we had C.D’s on an interview we had. They played the C.D and Sheer heard album and they came and took my dream away and said we want to license the Album from you. I said this is a not-so-good production it on cassette. They took it and mastered it, and distributed it country-wide. The whole Idea of having a Label just faded, cause it seemed easier to License things to them.
Until four years ago, I felt now is the time for me to go out on my own. So Sheer has their own distribution called Iris, but the distribution label also offers Small Labels a service. If you are starting you own Label you could join this Distribution, and sell your products through them.

I told them that what I need is just Distribution. I moved from Sheer and started my own Label as Kalamazoo Music. The Latest Album ‘Society Vibes, Fast Forward’ comes out thirteen years later, after the first Society Vibes. There has been a lot of Demand for another Society Vibes, I decided that if I am going to do another Society Vibes I need something new, young, fresh, vibrant it’s got to be something deep, it’s gotta be sleek, that’s why I started working with a lot of young people. I worked with Zubz, Ntsiki Mazwai, Lesego Motsepe from Isidingo…well former Isidingo. It features a lot of young talent, did a few collaborations with these people. I’ve been on the fly for the last two months, just promoting. I subtitled it Fast Forward cause there’s been an absence of the album for the past thirteen years. I feel that I’ve caught up a lot with what I could’ve missed out on over the years, that why I didn’t want it to sound like the first Society Vibes.

LiannYou won the O.K.T.V Awards for which Album?

PopsI was nominated for Kalamazoo and then my first S.A.M.A award that I got was for “Ancestral Healing” and then I was nominated for “Kalamazoo” and I was nominated for” Society Vibes”. My Second S.A.M.A award was for an Album called “Timeless” that myself and Bruce Cassidy. He is one of the Ex-members of ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’. So that was my second nomination I don’t remember the third. I was also nominated for an album I did two years ago called ‘Pops Mohamed presents Healing Sounds from Mother Africa’. Those things don’t bother me I mean Awards and nominations; I don’t write Music to get Awards. I know that there are a lot of people that want to write hits, and to write Hits is a dangerous thing.

Once you are up there people want to see another hit, and if you can’t produce another hit they say “Yah that one hy is klaar”. So whenever I write Albums or Songs I don’t write with hits on my mind, this thing need to be nominated I need to get an Award for this…no, no, no, I don’t write in that way.

I didn’t want to have this image like a Pop-Star Image I prefer to stay low-key. I think that’s the reason why I am still in this industry, this is like forty years later and we are still here, we are very careful what we do, how we produce our music, we have a steady flow of people who follow our music. We are very careful of how we become public people, I myself am not a very public person, I see myself as private person, but when promoting you are given so much attention. When you are always on the moving and constantly performing, you creating a lot of pressure cause people expect a certain thing to come out of you.

LiannWhat would you say is the elemental drive of your Music?

PopsI think it’s the use of Indigenous Instruments that defines what I am doing. Before I starting getting into the use of these instruments my music always seemed so empty, the fact the we recorded covers of other groups and still people never bought it although people come to clubs where ever we perform. Be it a High School Band or any other Band that I was performing with, like in the seventies we had a Band called Societies Children very popular Band but we did a lot of covers. When we actually record people don’t buy they prefer to have the original.

There was a lot of emptiness as if your fans are not true to you, but that how it is. Here… this is exactly what I want to see, how I want to sound that was almost 25 years ago, like man even if it takes me thirty years this is what I want to do. It’s a long process; you have to be very careful how you mix sounds. You mustn’t be pretentious, when people listen to it must sound real, it mustn’t sound like a D-Jay who just remixed something. It needs to be real and you gotta think, if I’m putting these sounds together will I be able to perform it as well. That’s how I write my songs.

LiannAny Inspiring word for Forth-Coming Artist?

PopsJust be original, that’s all. See, what the outside world is telling us is give us something that we don’t know then we’ll listen to you.

Today we as Africans we have got so many opportunities, there’s literally so much that we can do with our music but we always look down on ourselves we give ourselves a hard time, cause it’s not American. You have to have a talented American Programmer who can program like Babyface it’s gotta be hip so we think that’s what’s happening you try to through down their throats the same stuff that they have been giving you.

That’s what they do not want. It’s sad that their several music forms that are popular in the country that just can’t make it abroad, this sounds like Programming. The Programming is almost twenty years old it’s outdated. There’s an Album I did called “Pops Mohammed meets the London Sound Collective”, it’s a Drum and Bass Album that we did, using indigenous Instruments. It’s Drum and Bass and a little Trip Hop. We’ve got one or two speed-garage tracks as well; this was a whole learning curve for me, learning and understanding the Art of Programming Music. Compared to the way that we do it, it’s miles apart. The guys would sit on one track for two or three weeks, working on the programming changing the drum sound, cutting and pasting, editing it to perfection. It takes a lot of work.

If you look at people like Goldy from England, it easy for us to imitate the thing but if you see just how much effort goes into that work. It takes them an extremely long time to produce an original sound and they don’t sell as much as our Kwaito artists.
So I have some insight into the procedure of making a unique sound that will in time become a grand compilation.
I have a lot more respect for Drum Machines, and I can see just how they can be used effectively. If you start Programming them you must still sound like a Drummer, and on my new Album you must tell me please, which is the Drum Machine and which is the Drummer [laughs]

We learn the Art of Programming for the Pro’s; they have the know-how and understand where these sounds originate.
When Kwaito came out and Drum and Bass came out, Kwaito grew into a very stationery mode but Drum and Bass was expanded upon. Kwaito couldn’t improve, and people are scared to experiment and try to come in with New Sounds.
That’s why you get hard Kwaito and soft, I love Kwaito Music and that’s why I’m so critical about it. Alot could’ve been done with it. It’s broad and it’s local, but it isn’t making it abroad cause we giving the people something that they already know.
They’re receiving it as a House track with another Language on top of it.
Kwaito shows great potential and massive enthusiasm, but it’s basic ingenuity is what makes it not-so-hot globally.

LiannHow many instruments is it that you can play?

PopsAt the moment I’m play about five or six constantly, but it’s about 18 or 19.

“Constantly practicing Music “was the inspirational sensation I walked away feeling. It seemed that he just picked up true love and could stop caressing the fine print, an unwavering commitment, yet still a functional effort.


Bra Pops… casual, real, urban and still all about the focus and the Passion of a Noble Sound.
Sound untrue? Get any of the albums afore mentioned and maybe the Passages of Time will direct your path to the Way of Finding Oneself. Consciousness, it’s a Lifestyle. Feel It, it is here!

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