His music melts the heart away and makes you wish you can fly away to be in paradise with that person close to your heart.
So soothing is Johnny Mokhali’s music that even those who might not be familiar with him find themselves tapping their feet while trying to sing along in the process. A renowned South African artist, Mokhali has also won the hearts of many including here in Botswana. Recently he was in the country rekindling the flames of his long time faithful fans. In between the three shows in Gaborone, Francistown and Maun, Joy Chikura caught up with him to learn more about the man behind the popular Setswana love songs.
Q. Your music is very popular here in Botswana, can you tell us a little bit who Johnny Mokhali is?
My real name is John Mokhali, am a Southern Sotho. I was born in the Free State, in a small town known as Hennenman. I am the second child in a family of three boys and one girl.
Q. When did you begin your music career and how did you find your way into the industry?
Hey! Its a long time ago, professionally I started singing in 1978, with a eight member band known as the Sound Bursts and these were talents scouts. The way I came into the music industry was more of a calling, being sent by the ancestors and the One above. In short I am God sent because what I sing is not of my own making, the lyrics and melody are all given to me.
Q. How so? Please elaborate
(Laughs) The ancestors through dreams gave me the lyrics and the music. Back then while sleeping I would see a little radio and a hand would switch it radio on. Then a voice would tell me to listen to the music very carefully. At the end of the dream, the voice would tell me to go and sing and I would do that.
Q. Has that changed?
No, though here and there I have written a few songs of my own, particularly the zestful ones. Otherwise everything I do in life I am guided by that same hand. It’s the same one which restrains me when it’s not safe to do something. It literally talks to me like a person.
Q. You seem to have a large following in Botswana, how did you manage to penetrate the local market?
For me really am at home when am in Botswana, its my second home! The person who made me what I am today and took my music to the people of this country is the late Moshotle Mokgangkgara He is the one who got through to Batswana’s mind and gave them a taste of my music. He played my music a lot on the national airwaves. I have also performed many times in different parts of Botswana.
Q. When was the last time you performed in the country and what is your mission this time around?
It’s been a while really. Am not sure, but it’s my second time around since after my divorce with my first wife of 22 years. It was a very painful experience and it affected me a lot that I even stopped performing for sometime. This time around my mission is to bring my music to those who listened to my music when they were young but never got to see me perform.
Q. Now that you have bounced back how have your fans responded? How were the shows?
They were hot! It was flames! It was like am starting all over. It feels so great, especially that am singing with my wife.
Q. Apart from singing what else do you do?
Nothing! Singing is all that I do. I don’t feel there is anything I can do except music.
Q. Really? So is it possible for one to make a decent living as a musician in this part of the world?
Yes! It all depends on the person and the kind of lifestyle you lead. If you get hooked on drugs and the like you will definitely die broke and down trodden. This is the main reason why I now don’t have a full time band, its because some people don’t believe you can go on stage, perform without taking something to cool the nerves. I would prefer to work with people of sober habits. Am a sober dude, and it has worked for me.
Q. With all the years that you have been singing and having releases plus or minus 25 albums are you now a millionaire?
(Bursts out in laughter and claps his hands.) What! No! I am an ordinary fellow, living a comfortable life with my wife and two kids.
Q. You are kidding right?
I swear. Lets step outside and let me show you the car I am driving, it’s a red toyota corolla 1995 model! I have had it for years but it gets me around. Nothing fancy! Look even the cell phone that I use simple a Nokia phone.
Q. Your music has stood the test of time. What is the magic and what message do your songs convey?
If you listen carefully these are love ballads. My wish is for all mankind irrespective of colour, status and race to live in harmony. To be able to love one another, help a brother in need, feel for each other. The other thing that you have to bear in mind is I do not dictate the music, this is why it has been the same all these years. I am simply a mouthpiece of those who have sent me?
Q. What is your opinion of today’s music?
(Whistles) Content wise it’s bad, it doesn’t teach anything, it’s empty and mainly insults. As a musician you have to live what you preach.
Q. We have heard so many stories of artists lamenting and pointing fingers at recording companies, accusing them of cheating musicians. Is this true? Enlighten us on the issue of royalties
Its good that you have brought this up. Most of the time it is us musicians who have a problem. All recording companies give musicians contract papers and advise us to read them through and to seek legal advise before we sign. Unfortunately we (artists) are in a big hurry and think that if we delay to close the deal recording companies will change their minds. As a result artists put pen on paper without fully understanding the offer they have been given. This is common particularly with upcoming artist who are so much in a rush to record.
Q. Do you have any artists you have groomed or grooming at the moment?
(Ummm) I have had a number of youngsters come up to me, but unfortunately most of them think I am harsh. You see I am a straight am, I just hit it on the chest, if you can’t sing I tell you straight that your job is to buy CDs and listen to them. As a result most of them are scared to ask for help.
Q. What have been the most memorable moments in your life so far?
(Without hesitation) It’s when my two children were born. I never thought I would have someone call me dad. Just the thought of my five year old and two year daughter brings me great joy. Mind you these are my only children; I don’t have any kids in any corners out there.
What should you fans expect from you in the future?
I am shooting a DVD of my old and new songs, which will be released later this year or in February next year.
Full Names: Johnny Mokhali
Date of Birth: 19 October 1960
Favourite Food: Setswana Cuisine
Car Driving : 1995 Model Toyota Corolla
Favourite Instrument: Bass Guitar
Last thing he does before sleeping: Prays