Millennium jazz restaurant in Mogoditshane was the place to be for both the old and the ‘old at heart’ on Independence Day. South Africa’s Tswana soul maestro, Johnny Mokhali, dished out some of his yester year tunes that made him a household name.
Mokhali, who has of late turned Botswana into his second home, gave the packed Millennium crowd more than their money’s worth with two incredibly generous sets of performances. The second of them lasted until the wee hours, leaving the audience still begging for more. There has never been a more interactive concert; he had everyone singing along to every single tune. The show was truly a marvel to behold and it proved just how Johnny Mokhali is a true legend of his music.
The Telegraph’s Thobo Motlhoka sat for a chat with him the morning after to find out what makes the man tick and this is what he had to say after the usual pleasantries.
So, who is Johnny Mokhali? That is a tricky one and I don’t even think I know where to begin … (ponders for a while, then┬á …) ok, Johnny Mokhali was born in the Free State (South Africa) but my parents relocated to the North West when I was a kid and that is where I spent my formative years .It’s a small village about 22 km from Mafikeng called Lotlhakane.
So when did the music start? I started singing back in 1978 but it was not until 1983 when I released my first album, titled Ditorong. And incidentally, ┬áit will be a huge mistake not to mention that I owe a great deal of my popularity here to the late Phillip Mokgankgara of Radio Botswana. He was one the first Djs to play my music and there was one particular song, Gofetogile, that he could not get enough of. It was his personal favourite.
How would you describe your music? (Without hesitation) Soul music
All of your songs seem to carry a strong message, what inspires your music? I don’t really compose most of my music, it’s not me. It’s like every time I sit down to write a song something else takes over, like an alter ego or some kind of a spiritual power; Most of the time when I listen to my own music I wonder how it all came about, or where it all came from. But, of course, there are those records that were inspired by my own life experiences and those that I wrote just for a laugh, like Tsipa and Lerato ka mogala.
So I’m told one of the women on stage last night is your wife? (He takes deep breath)┬á Yes, she is .Her name is Ontlametse. I also did perform with my first wife Mpule, from whom I separated back in 2004 after more than 22 years of marriage. It (the separation) was a difficult period in my life but luckily, through Gods grace, I met Ontlametse and we have since been blessed with two little angels, Karabo (6) and Tebogo (3).
For someone who has been on stage for ages you don’t seem to age .Can I have a drop of the ‘anti-ageing’ potion? (Blushes) ┬áI wish I had it. Honestly, it’s all thanks to exercise and karate. I hold a 3rd degree black belt.
Back to music, unlike most of today’s artists you don’t seem to mind playing all night.┬á It is all due to the love of my music and giving my fans their money’s worth. People pay to see me perform and I cannot afford to disappoint them.
Are you as appreciated in South Africa as you are here in Botswana? Not that much, I think Batswana appreciate my music more and I love the way they sing along with me. The passion is overwhelming and that is what keeps bringing me back. I was telling Motsweding fm in an interview recently that I enjoy playing here in Botswana more than I do playing back home.
Steve Kekana also comes here a lot, are you two close? Very much so .In fact, we are planning a tour with the Soul Brothers; myself, Steve, Kori Moraba and Bapsi Mlangeni.
When last did you release an album? 2011, titled Motho, through my own record label Mokhanjo Music.
Any new projects we should look out for? Currently, I am working on my next about to be called Mpotse.
Should we expect to see you again soon? (Laughs), I can’t really say, maybe. I really want to lay low for a while and finish up my new project before coming back here but hey, who knows, I might be back next month.
Thanks Johnny for allowing me to interrupt your breakfast, have a safe trip back home. Go lebogile nna ntate (my pleasure).