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On a quest to discover the origins of music and culture in Africa

On Carob Man this month we chat to Mpho Hlahla,  music executive, record label owner, sound engineer and artist manager. We talk to him about life, career, childhood, working with South African Music legends and traveling Africa.

I had only read about him a few times in the magazines and newspapers. But in real life, Mpho Hlahla is not a lover of the lime light. If he's not busy in studio recording artists he's in studio writing and mixing songs. 

Mpho is one of the few people who can boast working with almost every big artist in South Africa. He has worked with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Lucky Dube, Ladysmith black Mambazo, Lebo Mathosa,  Brenda Fassie, Thomas Chauke, Mandoza, Joe Nina and many more.

 Mpho Hlahla ' s love for music go back as far as his high school years when he used to bunk school and hit Jozi  with a friend,  they used to mimic music by popular artists and dance. 

Even though this was much earlier in his life, it was apparent even then that his path would lead him to pursue a career in music.

Early childhood

 "I grew up in Soshanguve township in Pretoria, it was tough growing up during those days because of the political system we were under. My uncle and role model Josh Moffat was the General Secretary of the PAC.
Many nights our door would be kicked down, the police would tear gas our house, ransack it and we were always terrorised by the people who would always come unannounced to look for him."

Pioneering Disc Jockey in SA

Soon after I left school I got a job with a community radio  station in Attridgeville. That's where I got to learn about radio production. I produced a show with DJ Jazzy D. We used to review new house songs, we would do a mix tape and a live mix, this is long before commercial radio stations started doing it. I know I won't be credited for this but for this,  I have to credit myself. 

The MTN deal

Mpho Hlahla was first seen on our TV screens on an MTN commercial that featured his band 'Suspects".

"After the audition we got a call as we just arrived back in our apartment in Yeoville Ponte, we were told that we got the deal."

A large sum of money was paid into our account. I had never seen so much money in my life before. And that deal sort of cemented my place in the music industry. Soon after the commercial, our song was playing all over radio and TV and we got quite a lot of gigs.

Traveling Africa in search of music,  culture, food, fashion, lifestyle

Mpho Hlahla is not only a gifted performer but a qualified sound engineer and a lover of Africa.
A few years ago he decided to embark on a  9 month long trip around Africa with a friend in search of music, culture, food, fashion and Lifestyle around the continent.

"During our 9 months on the road, I  have seen amazing things, met the friendliest and the most beautiful people, and learned so much about Africa.

We drove from South Africa to Botswana, from Botswana to Zimbabwe. We visited the great house of stones before we left for Namibia.

We went along making friends staying at their houses, buying them groceries as a way of contributing to their house expenses. Africa is full of warm and friendly people.

From Namibia we took a  2km bridge that crossed the biggest river in the Southern Africa to Zambia.  We had so much fun in Livingstone. Zambians have fun in Livingstone! !!! Music,  arts, food, galleries, clubs etc. .. They have it all...

From Zambia we stayed in a place called No man's land, it's in the border of Zambia and Tanzania. There we were introduced to Masai food even before we made it to Tanzania.
After a week our papers were cleared at the border and we could proceed to Tanzania

The country I enjoyed the most was Tanzania, first week we were there, my ears were itchy. I could not hear anything.  Not a lot of people speak English,  as a result,  I had to learn Swahili.  After a few weeks there I was like a local. We did all  we could in Tanzania,  climbed Mt Kilimanjaro,  went to Zanzibar,wore Masai clothing, ate their food etc. Tanzania was just too nice. The only thing I didn't quite get is why they drink warm beer when it was so hot, but the preferred it that way.

From Tanzania we drove to Kenya, Kenyans are more like Joburg people,  uptight and edgy. We were in Mombasa for a short while before we drove to Uganda.  In Uganda,  I discovered that people used bicycles as taxis. One thing you learn while traveling in the continent of Africa is that our biggest killer is malaria. I witnessed somebody catch Malaria and fortunately survived.  While in Uganda we stayed @ the university of Magerera, its the biggest university in Uganda. Because we had friends there,  we stayed at the University 's residence and ate res food (laughs).

As we were getting ready to leave for Congo the Ugandan locals advised us not to attempt crossing to Congo because of the war and political unrest. reluctant though we took their advice and returned home. But since I have traveled many countries and one that I still need to revisit for more answers is Egypt.

The pyramids are amazing but there are so many signs, inscriptions and writings on the walls that are still a mystery and no one I found in Egypt could read or interpret the writings proving one thing that the Arabs could not have been the writers of those inscriptions. 

One thing I could conclude from my trip in Egypt is that there was a super advanced race of people prior to the Arabs and those people were so advanced they were able to build structures such as the pyramids, obelisks, the sphinx, temples etc. This race of people is the race that we as Africans owe it to or selves to find out who they were to understand who we are today.

One thing  that that I can definitely say I learned from my quest to discover the origins of culture and music in Africa is that it is true, music originates in Africa and there isn't any other culturally rich continent in the world like Africa.