Words by Glenn Kisela
Kwesta’s Spirit has taken South Africa by storm. The track has had a resoundingly positive reception, with Kwesta’s ability to bring in an international act and still remain authentic constantly highlighted by critics. With the song dominating the airwaves of South Africa the way it did, it was only natural that the music video itself would have a lot of pressure to exceed expectations.
When the video did eventually drop, the love towards it rivalled the track itself. The storytelling was uniquely South African, with some publications calling it a love letter to this country. The man behind the music video has been making waves himself due to the success he’s had in filmmaking. Tebogo “Tebza” Malope is fast becoming a household name and thus the success of this music video should come as no surprise. I sat down with him to chat about Spirit, filmmaking and everything in between.
It was Tebogo who suggested that I come along to a private listening session of musician (and also his partner) Elo. I arrive to the venue and am immediately surrounded by South African musical legends such as Crash Car Burn and Nota Nhlamulo Baloyi, just to name a few. This is a special group of people that have pioneered a lot in the local music scene.
I’m offered a drink and then take a seat as Tebogo continues the story he was in the middle of telling before I had arrived. You can tell he’s a natural storyteller as he recounts meeting Swizz Beats – the story in and of itself is incredible. But the way he describes it all is emotive – his eyes light up as he talks and you can feel his excitement mixed with incredulity.
“I just can’t believe it” he contiunes, as the conversation moves on to how well received the music video was and how big it has gotten. “My phone won’t stop blowing up” he adds, talking about how many people have reached out since the video in the hopes of working with him. Nota at one point informs him that the music video has garnered over 1 million views and Tebogo is visibly blown away. You can tell the success hasn’t gotten to his head, that the passion and wonder is still there.
The conversation steers to the idea that people will now look at Tebogo as an overnight success. People will point to this moment of Spirit as when he “made it” but the reality is vastly different. Tebogo has been on his grind for years and all that hard work built up to where he is today. Nota mentions a line from an African music group that he recently worked with that have the lyrics in their song:
“We want the whole truth. We want the whole truth. Not just what you post on social media.”
We all laugh in agreement, particularly Tebogo. He knows people only see his string of recent successes but not the “truth” that is all the hard work that went behind it all. Soon after, the lady of the hour arrives – Elo walks in and greets everyone and we head to the studio to listen to her latest project. The music itself was ethereal and enthralling – she brings a unique sound that makes her hard to pin down, or compare. What was equally as fascinating however was listening to Tebogo explain all the love and passion that has gone into this project.
I was surprised, but also entirely understanding, that Tebogo was actively not pigeonholing himself as a stock standard filmmaker. He wants to illustrate his versatility and his vision for his career. He explains his approach to working with Elo, starting off by unashamedly stating he doesn’t know how the music industry works, but as a visual creator he likes to listen to the music and imagine what it looks like. You can imagine it was this approach he took when first tackling Spirit. He will make a formidable partner for Elo’s career.
Once the listening session is over, we get to talking about the film industry as a whole. Tebogo notes that local filmmakers are starting to learn they need to work together as opposed to looking at each other as competitors. He adds that if everybody is growing tougher, the industry as a whole wins.
We chat about how some people are too focused on competition and pushing their own brand instead of seeing the bigger picture. An example of this is the price wars that some people will engage in to secure work, but Tebogo feels at the end of the day, everyone loses. On the same vein, we talk about how Cape Town and Joburg have their differences in how those in the creative circles move. It seems creatives in Joburg are more likely to put each other on, an important trait in growing an industry. It’s also an observation many have made before about the scene in Cape Town – This view people have of the Mother City is not new.
In addition to the challenge of competitors and fellow filmmakers engaging in price wars, there’s the added complication of brands trying to play creatives against one another. Tebogo is optimistic about that however, as he talks about how local filmmakers are all in the same WhatsApp group, metaphorically speaking – brands can’t get away with it as easily nowadays. Everyone talks to one another and when they all share the same vision of pushing the industry further, it makes it easier to avoid any problematic behaviour from brands.
As the night progresses, we find ourselves talking about Spirit again and how the making of it occurred. Throughout the night, Tebogo has been telling me to speak to Thomas Revington (Guitarist for Shortstraw and DOP for Spirit) and Nota, noting that they both played a big role in the success of the video as well. It illustrates a lot of humility, but also respect for these two, that he keeps explaining the success of the music video was not his alone.
Together, the three of them paint the picture of how the music video came to be. One of the most surprising facts about the video is that it was all shot in 24 hours. Tommy talks about how he was in the shower at 3am that morning and once it was all over, he was back in the shower at 3am the following morning.
Everyone was under immense pressure to make the music video the most amazing visual experience possible. The team arrived on set knowing they all had to be on top of their game. In between takes, there was no smiling or laughing, everyone was just focused on the task at hand. The team knew and understood the significance of the music video and why they had to get it right first time.
Of course we all know the end result – an amazing music video that captured the hearts of so many and was widely praised. They state with pride how amazing the team behind Spirit was and how everyone played their roles perfectly. They go on to say how great Kwesta is to work with and how friendly and easy going he is – Much like Tebogo, he hasn’t let the fame get to his head. I suggest how all the pressure surrounding the making of Spirit could have played a huge role in it turning out as incredibly as it did and they all wholeheartedly agree. It all came together because the people working on it all shared the same vision and responsibility in making Spirit an iconic video.
Tebogo is a natural storyteller. From the tales he shared that night to how he wanted this interview to go, you can tell he is a man who always has a purpose when he speaks. He has a lot of passion for what he does and puts a lot of himself into everything he’s involved in – that much is easy to see from the way he talks about the projects he’s involved in, both past and future. When hearing him talk about the future projects he’s working on, its undeniable that his is a bright one, with a lot of amazing projects on the way, both locally and abroad.
His laid-back and friendly demeanour belies the fire and passion that drives him. When we first chatted about doing this interview, he told me he didn’t just want a Q&A style approach, that he wanted a bigger experience for me. Really, it’s the kind of sentiment you’d expect from a gifted storyteller.