In this new series, featuring Dr. Tlou Setumu’s works on our history, the excerpt this week is from the biography of a talented radio superstar, Thamagana Maxwell Mojapelo. The book is entitled, Never Say Never: Max the Mixer Mix 4 Me.
MAX the Mixer came to radio with vigour, power, brilliance, dedication, talent, and most importantly, the love for what he was doing.
He was a man on a mission. He wanted his people to be proud of their radio station. He was a revelation to South Africa’s radio industry. Within a short space of time his popularity blurred racial and ethnic lines, which were demarcated by the apartheid authorities who controlled broadcasting in this country.
Besides his homebase among his millions of fans were Sothos, Tswanas, Tsongas, Vendas, Zulus, Xhosas, Ndebeles, Swazis and so on. This was also illustrated by the awards which he scooped ahead of his peers across the board and throughout the length and breadth of South Africa.
Max was indeed a bomb! He was a marvel to listen to. He possessed that power and magic very difficult to describe or understand. He had charisma and magnetic charm which kept listeners glued to their radio sets. He had his own poetic style of talking. He had this rare talent of poetic speech in which he could flow for a very long time with energy without pausing, especially when handling “hot” programmes.
He would work his listeners into a frenzy and captivate them into a music night vigil. Max’s presentation was like a mighty wind.
His favourite words and phrases which were his trade mark when doing his things behind the microphone included, “ngwanaka”, “e nkiša le naga”, “rati-rati”, “tabana-tswee-ya-kgwebo”, “tše…!” and so on. He used these words and phrases to charm and excite his listeners.
When he was later asked about where he got these trade mark words and phrases from, he admitted that he did not know as they just came to him naturally.
They set him apart from his peers in the radio industry.
The most powerful programme which became synonymous with the name Max, was a hit parade show called “Di Sa Le Malekelekeng”.
This is where Max’s power, talent, charisma, magic and charm were maximally paraded.
His favourite poetic lines in introducing this show were:
Ruthu! Ya kgaoga thapo ngwanaka
E le ge lelekeleke le lokolla
Molokoloko wa malekelekeng
Go Mohlakamotala Marega le Selemo
Bošego le mosegare
Lehlabula le Seruthwane,
Go tšwa mono Polokwane
Ga bo Maraba’ Sekwala
Polokwane gabo ngwana’diroko
Polokwane ga bo kgarebe ya matanyetša
Polokwane gabo Maria Sesi
This was Max at his best. He forcefully and powerfully echoed these lines with well-prepared sound effects and he researched the music he would be dishing out. When playing a song, he would quickly and clearly introduce that song, like he used to do in the Malekelekeng show, in which he would, for instance count the songs down like this:
Maemo a masomepedi, Stimela,
Gedle gedle trene ya botsotsi, ngwanaka
Ka tlhamo ya Ray Chikapa Phiri
Ba re, Whispers In The Deep
Go tšwa albamong ya go bitšwa,
Look Listen and Decide.
With such brief and concise ushering of the song, the listener was left with a rich knowledge that the name of the song is Whispers In The Deep; played by the band, Stimela; composed by Ray Phiri; and taken off the album, Look, Listen and Decide.
This brief and to-the-point introduction, does not only enrich the knowledge of the listener, it also helps the same listener to be able to go out and buy music.
If you loved that record, when you got into a record shop you would know that you are looking for the album called “Look, Listen and Decide” by Stimela.
Max would sometimes add by profiling the band members. Really this was enriching. The brief description of a song also helped listeners to pay attention to the lyrics as they had been given its background at the beginning.
In this example of Stimela, if you were given that kind of background when the song started, you would also listen attentively to all the instruments because you know who is playing what.
This important element of presentation is almost lost in many radio stations today. A presenter may play five songs in a row, without even mentioning their titles. For the listener to guess who could be playing the song on air is not only boring, but also unhelpful.
By the time the deejay mentions the past five songs (should he/she decides to do so at all) the actual music has already died out from the listener’s mind. This may sound like an unimportant issue, but it is very serious. Imagine if a listener is attracted by a certain song playing on radio and the presenter is silent about the name of that song, the artist or the album it was picked from.
How is that listener ever going to get that music if he/she wanted to buy it? The lazy presenter in fact, deprived the artist of an opportunity to sell music by failing to provide details to a potential buyer.
Therefore, by describing all details of the songs in a poetic and artistic way, Max made songs very beautiful, and even dull songs came to life with his magical art.
With this style, Max promoted a lot of artists. No wonder he was revered and highly respected by many artists.
He established a rare relationship with artists as they held him with high esteem because he helped them by promoting their music with his talent and his effort of paying attention to detail. He was very popular among artists.
When meeting most artists, Max did not have to introduce himself, they knew him already. He also interacted with these artists during the many festivals he compeered and the interviews he conducted on radio. He did not pay lip service to what he was doing like most of the current crop of presenters and dj’s.
Most of the current dj’s will definitely have to struggle when introducing themselves to artists to secure interviews because the artists don’t know and see what they are doing. In short, Max combined his talent with hard work, and the result was magic.
Nowadays, most dj’s have talent, but they don’t work hard – and talent alone is not enough. And still, some of them do not have talent and they also do not work hard – the result is absolute boredom on radio!
Although The Mixer handled other programmes, he was at his highest best in Malekelekeng. On this one he poured all his soul into the microphone and really set the airwaves alight. In this show he paraded hit songs which competed by going up and down the charts.
The hits were played from say, number twenty, counting them down to the climax – number one. As the show proceeded, Max would become hotter and hotter until climaxing at the song which was crowned as number one that week.
It must be borne in mind that this was a weekly show which was broadcast on Saturday evenings. At the end of every year he would compile all the hits of the year into what he called “Top Hits of the Year”.
The marathon would run for four hot hours starting at eight o’clock in the evening as we bade farewell to the old year. Just before midnight he would announce the top hit of the year. In most cases that would be the song he’d play as the nation welcomed the new year. At that boiling point all would break lose as he unleashes an assortment of sound effects. What a celebration!
The other shows which Max handled with aplomb included Morabaraba wa Mmino, which was his brainchild. In Morabaraba, Max asked listeners questions about music and winners took away prizes such as music albums, vouchers and money. What was remarkable and exciting was the way Max started this music quiz show.
He used a very catchy and exciting mbaqanga-like signature tune to introduce this programme. I’ve never heard it played anywhere else except in this particular programme.
After leaving this introductory song to rock for some minutes, Max would come on top of it and do his usual poetic thing.
With that record playing in the background, Max would drive you crazy as he recited and sang like this:
Morabaraba wa Mmino
Wow wow wa mmino
Wow wow wa mmino
Ke re lena bonana wee
Le lena bobuti wee
Le lena bosesi wee
Le lena bomama wee
Le lena bopapa wee
O a go tia ngwanaka
O hlakana le Max…yeh…
The Mixer Boy
Go ntše go kgaoga thapo ngwanaka
Re re ruthu! ruthu! ruthu!
Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp. co.za; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).