“WILD” is the one word that sums up Lebo Mathosa, the 29-year-old South Africa kwaito singer who died in car crash on Monday.
Her driver apparently lost control of the Toyota Prado they were travelling in on the N3 highway on th
e East Rand. The vehicle overturned and hit a tree near the Heidelberg Road off-ramp in Germiston.
Known for her energetic dance moves, dyed blond hair and risque outfits, South Africans will always remember Mathosa’s performances as mesmerising.
“She just loved being on stage,” says DJ Oskido, who discovered Mathosa at 14 when he ran dance competitions at a club in Johannesburg in the early 1990s.
“I will remember Lebo as being super headstrong, but back then she was a young girl who just wanted to dance and have fun,” he told the BBC News website.
“I used to do a lot of DJ sets all over the country and when I played a new song she and her friends would just jump the dance floor and start dancing showing off all the latest dance skills. She’d create anything when it came to dance.”
It was DJ Oskido and his friends who launched Mathosa’s glittering career when they set up the record label Kalawa Jazmee.
They released the first recordings of Boom Shaka, with Mathosa as lead vocalist.
The kwaito group became enormously successful in the mid 1990s, but it was not an easy ride.
“We started selling the records from the boot of our cars. We used to go to a taxi rank, open the sound system and they would dance and we’d sell a few tapes here and there,” says DJ Oskido.
“After that it became big on the underground movement and so then the demand for the records started and that’s when the Boom Shaka thing started to grow.”
On stage she may have been kittenish and flirtatious, but off stage most of Mathosa’s colleagues describe her as stubborn.
“She wanted things to be done her way. Even if it was hurtful to you she would stick by her decision,” says DJ Oskido.
But it was a trait that people admired and brought her success when she launched her solo career: the album Dream won her three South African Music Awards for the best dance album, the best dance single and the best female vocalist.
For Lance Stehr of Ghetto Ruff Records, who signed Boom Shaka in the late 1990s and worked on Mathosa’s first solo release, she was “amazing” to be around.
“She was exciting, but like 95% of artists she was a pain,” he old the BBC News website.
It was in church where Mathosa discovered her love for singing in the gospel choir, which she said she wanted to lead when she was just seven years old.
What made Boom Shaka’s name was a fusion of these early influences and house, garage, hip-hop, funk and traditional rhythms.
In her second album, Drama Queen, released after a four-year break in 2004, Mathosa tried out different musical styles to break out of the house and kwaito mould.
“She was a soulful artist and many people compared her to Brenda Fassie,” says DJ Oskido.
Lance Stehr thinks such comparisons to the South Africa pop diva, who died two years ago, are unjust.
“It’s unfair to compare her to Brenda Fassie who had hundreds of hits over a long career — Lebo was just at the beginning.”
But it was a comparison that Mathosa found flattering.
“She (Brenda Fassie) inspired me to do what I do, how I do it,” she told Artmatters website two years ago.
“Growing up in a small town, Brenda was everything to me. It is an honour to be compared to her.”
Like Fassie, she also courted controversy and was openly bisexual, and the weekend before her death Stehr says she was discussing a new project with Brenda’s son, Bongani who is now a music producer.
To the end she showed determination and as DJ Oskido says: “She wanted to be a star, and that was what she was.”
* Meanwhile, President Thabo Mbeki has joined the country’s music lovers and arts community in paying tribute to singer Lebo.
Mbeki said Mathosa’s untimely death constituted a profound loss to the entire nation.
In a statement, he called upon young South Africans to draw inspiration from the positive contribution that Mathosa made to society.
He said Mathosa’s vibrant and positive spirit illustrated by her work was an example of how young people could and should use their diverse skills and abilities to contribute to the development of South Africa. — BBC News/All Africa.