The story behind the Muffinz
15 January 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. Returning guest on the podcast today, he is the drummer and vocalist of Muffinz, Gregory Keke Mabusela. Keke, welcome nice to chat once again, good to have you back on.
Keke: Thank you for having me again.
BB: Keke, you told us the last time we spoke a little bit about your musical journey and how it all started, and where you went to school and the struggle to convince your parents that you wanted to study arts. But while you were at school you started the band you’re in now. Tell us a little bit about Muffinz, and how that started?
The beginnings of the band
K: Oh, so it all happened by chance, really. It all happened by chance, so the other members of the Muffinz were in varsity. They were studying in UJ, University of Johannesburg, and they were in the music choir and at some point their choirmaster had an event.
So the choir was going to sing and they were going to have another band perform. I don’t know what happened to that band that was supposed to come through and he was in a predicament and asked one of the guys, Sifiso, one of the vocalists to say, “Dude, I’m in need of a band. If you can organise a band please do that because this event has to have a band.”
Luckily Sifiso knew the other guys and he asked the other guys, “Guys, our headmaster needs a band,”. “I know you guys play guitars,” and that’s how it happened. That’s how they got together actually, as a band and then from there, they never looked back. They just started practicing. They got a drummer. They practiced, etcetera, and all of that and they called themselves Item 45 because apparently, they were item 45 on the programme, so that’s why they called themselves that.
BB: I love that.
How I hooked up with them
K: By the time they were about to finish with their university, with their degrees, almost their final year, their drummer got a job and he had to quit. The following month they were going to play at a metal rock festival, so now Sifiso and I met by chance through another band and he was like, “I met this guy and he’s a drummer.” He was like, okay and he called me up.
I got to the guys, and it was just really, an awesome energy and we rehearsed. I really loved their vibe and they also loved my vibe, and when we got to rehearse, because we rested for about a day, then the following day we were there. When we got there little did they know that I actually play and sing as well, and then that was really a start of an amazing journey for us actually.
BB: You joined the band back in 2011, so it’s four years basically that you guys have been playing and gigging. From those humble beginnings what would you say has been your proudest moment, as a musician and a band with Muffinz to date?
Proudest moment to date
K: I think this must be, number one, with us getting signed to Just Music, which is such a great label. That really also worked so hard to put our music where it is now. Number two actually its three things; so number two is also its Yamaha. Yamaha endorsed us.
Yamaha came through and they were like ‘guys we love your work’, ‘here’s some instruments’. We’ve been endorsed by Yamaha for a while now. Number three it must be last year. Last year we got to play at the Apollo Theatre, a sold-out show, folks in America singing our songs that was the most humbling experience ever.
BB: Keke, I sit here when you say that, people in America singing your songs. I’m not even in the band. I didn’t write the songs and I’ve got goose bumps. That must be an incredible feeling. It’s one thing playing to people you know back home but to play to strangers, on the other side of the world and they know your stuff. That must be incredible.
K: Yes, it is crazy. It is so, so crazy. We played at very weird countries, Norway, we’ve toured the whole of Norway. The people in Norway know our music. It is just really, yes.
BB: Keke, you guys are pretty different. You’re not the run of the mill. You’re carving your own niche. Was that a conscious decision or was it just that each of you in the band have been influenced by different people and you wanted to come up with something unique? You didn’t want to be another same-old, same-old band. You wanted to do something different.
Our individual uniqueness binds us
K: Really, it’s five really, unique guys that have different musical backgrounds. One guy grew up listening to jazz, and another guy was in gospel, and the other guy that’s from Zimbabwe, he grew up listening to, he loves Britney Spears. He would die right now for Britney Spears. He loves bands, so those UK bands that was in the 90’s, he’s that guy.
Then we’ve got a reggae guy, and reggae and hip hopping it is Sifiso, and then they’ve got me. Somehow I just find myself listening to South African music, Salif Keita, among others. So when all those ingredients come together you have this sound, unique sound that just consists of drums, harmonies, and guitars and bass, and no keys whatsoever. We just find ourselves doing this unique sound, which at this point, I must say this world, its African world music.
BB: Has it come to you as a surprise how successful you’ve been and how well received it’s been?
K: We must say it was scary. I mean, when we say that Jo’burg was a buzz for us but we never thought that other Provinces in the country would receive us the way they have, but it is actually a shock. It is a shock but, at the end of the day, our songs and the messages are just really straightforward. We are not trying to sing about girls, half naked or expensive cars. We are really tackling issues that the country, communities, or families are going through, so I think at some degree, hence people will definitely relate to the music.
BB: Keke, in your wildest dreams, looking at this band and looking at your future, what do you still want to achieve?
Where to from here?
K: I’m just really seeing amazing things. The journey might seem slow to a lot of people but I think, at this rate, it’s perfect because we are about, we only do generational music. So 20 years or 10 years from now, we are going to see those relations in the country, you know.
We just really want to play everywhere, absolutely everywhere. Play with all the legends, and in 2016 we are excited. A couple of tours and we also want to release our DVD, our live DVD, so those are the things in line, actually for 2016. We’ll conquer the world one year at a time. That’s the stuff, yes.
BB: I love that, conquer the world one year at a time. That’s a great philosophy to live by. Keke then, if someone is listening to this, who’s a youngster, maybe a 14-year-old you, who’s building drums and starting to play music and wants to do this as a career. What would you go back and tell yourself, your 14-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
Best advice for budding drummers
K: Number one, you really need to love that passion. It needs to be new. It really needs to be new because no one really taught me. No one really taught me drums. Only when I was in my 18’s, where I started to listen to other musicians and stuff like that.
But little did I know that, as I was playing those drums that I was actually the training ground for me because I loved it so much. In my head I imagined me playing so great. So number one, love it, believe it, and never give up on the dream, never, never give up on the dream.
BB: Keke, what’s been the hardest thing that you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are now in your musical journey?
K: I think, my mum was a cleaner. She was a cleaner at a store, and at that time, things were not coming together, in terms of the music career that I was embarking on. Obviously she was worried. Just as I was about to tap into it she passed on, and that was one of the most, saddest moments. Because I wanted her to see all these achievements, and everything I wanted to do for her.
I wanted to buy her a house. I wanted to spoil her because she worked hard but everything happens for a reason, and I believe she’s looking down to earth, to see what’s happening now because there’s a lot of things happening. I’m providing for my family. I’ve got my sister and my niece a house, and those are all the moments I wanted to share with my mum. Yes, I must say that because it happened just as I was about to, or things started happening in my life.
BB: Keke, I can tell you now that she’s very, very proud of what you and the band have achieved. I think you guys are absolutely amazing. Keep flying the flag. Internationally you’re doing some amazing things too. I hope that 2016 is your best year ever, for you and the rest of the band. We look forward to hearing great things from you in the weeks and months to come.
K: Thank you so much for having us. All the best to you guys as well.