Veteran kwaito artist The Dogg tells Managing Editor Toivo Ndjebela about his journey, and how he survived the temptations to become a legend in his own right. He also shares views about his relationship with the ruling party and his music rival Gazza.
New Era (NE): You have been in the music business for a number of years, when so many of your peers are essentially gone and forgotten. What has been the secret to your perseverance?
The Dogg (TD): I have people that have guided me. At first I didn’t take them seriously until a stage where things were not going well for me. The corporate world was not talking to me, I wasn’t getting booked for shows – so that’s when I started listening to people around me. I have seen a lot of artists using drugs like cocaine, and luckily for me I have never tasted any of that. Obviously when I go on stage my attitude changes and people said I was too energetic and some thought I might be on drugs.
NE: Who are these people that you credit for being a guiding force in your life and career?
TD: It’s people like my sister, Helena. She’s still advising me on what to invest my money in and stuff like that. Another person was Meme Hilda Basson-Namundjebo – she came into my life and was a like a mother to me. She urged me to stop drinking and advised me on the kind of people I should align myself with. She did it persistently until I started listening. And then there was Lazarus Jacobs whom I call my big brother. I called him while he was in London and introduced myself. He told me he would call me once he’s back in the country and he truly did. He gave me a lot of ideas and advice – which is rare among successful people. He opened doors for me. Another person is Uncle [John] Savva. I call him my father because he calls me his son. He gave me life. When I wanted to publish my book it took me five years to find a sponsor. When I asked him, he gave me more than I asked for. He picks up my calls every time, no matter how busy he is. I want to make him proud because if I fail I’ll be ashamed to face him. After all I’m a family man now, so I need to make my family proud.
NE: Speaking of family, you and your wife have been in each other’s life for so long. What role did she play in shaping your life and – in your own words – who is she?
TD: She’s a loving person and my soulmate. She gave me two awards [daughters] that are bigger than any other award I’ve ever won. She understands me and I don’t see myself with somebody else other than her. I know I put her through hell when I was a playboy. I had dragged her into media reports in which she was innocently caught up. We have been together for 11 years and she has always urged me to try this or that idea.
NE: As a very famous person, how did you manage to keep one woman for 11 years in a sea of so many other beautiful women who probably admire you a lot…?
TD: You control yourself. Showbizz is a game of so many temptations – drugs, women, you mention it. But you have to protect yourself from unnecessary distractions. I was a playboy and I’m not shy to say that because I was fairly young. But I had good people who guided me and advised me to stick to one woman. I’m also a shy person, but people think I’m arrogant – so that kept many people away from me.
NE: You have publicly stated that you lost both your parents to HIV/AIDS. Has this helped you control how you indulge in sexual and related activities?
TD: I’m not shy to admit I lost my parents and my younger sibling to AIDS. It made me stronger – like I stated in my book. That information was kept away from me, because I was told they died from other aliments like malaria. I only found out the truth when I was in Grade 8. I didn’t feel like this was the end of the world. So many people went through similar situations – losing their parents at an early age, whether it’s to AIDS or not. But the reality is that the world would not feel pity for you. Some of these things happen to test our character, so we have to remain strong. A lot of people grew up with everything but failed in life. Some of them are ministers’ children who were too spoiled and never made it in life.
NE: How would you describe Namibian music as a business industry?
TD: It is getting there. For example, I am doing the Smart Cut campaign, while other people are with other brands. In the past the corporate world didn’t believe in us. Yet in truth, artists have even a bigger influence than the president especially when it comes to young people who are the future. Obviously many artists come in this industry for the fame. That’s not me. My first pay cheque as a musician was N$800 and I built on that. Of course we are battling piracy – which would come to an end soon because the world is going digital. Music opens a lot of doors. In my case I have Mshasho and Pakamish clothing lines. If it wasn’t for music such brands would not have materialised. If you are business-minded you can make it.
NE: Oh, which is the greater source of a musician’s income? Is it CD sales, stage performances or endorsements?
TD: CD sales only last for about three months when the album is a hit. Shows are the biggest source of income – they don’t die. If you don’t have a hit album then you are in trouble. But events and shows are the main source. In my case I also do motivational speeches, which brings in income too.
NE: How does a musician like you secure a future, knowing that at some stage you’d get old and be unable to sing anymore?
TD: It’s really just like in any career where you need to save money. Also, invest somewhere else. I invest in clothes. If there’s any month that I have no shows, the clothes will still bring in some income. My clothes sell as fast as Nike, Adidas and Jordan. I am lucky in that respect because people welcome my brands. Also, your image must be clean. You also need to invest in talented upcoming artists who are ready to share their income.
NE: You and Gazza seem to have buried the so-called beef that existed between you – to the extent that you even worked together on a Swapo election song. How did that come about?
TD: The beef ended long time ago. These days when people see me at Coco Lounge [Gazza’s drinking spot] they would have their eyes pop out. Back then we were probably just kids and we allowed a lot of stuff to come between us. Everything happens for a reason, so maybe that is why the music industry is today where it is. The beef wasn’t 100 percent bad – it had its positives too. But we grew out of it. He’s married and I’m married and we wouldn’t want our kids being mocked by others at school about what their fathers are doing. This could affect their education.
NE: Tell us about your relationship with Swapo.
TD: I grew up knowing Swapo. My mother and her siblings were in exile fighting for this country on a Swapo ticket. I was born in exile and came to Namibia as a kid. I am Swapo and I don’t think I’d be able to change. I am Arsenal in soccer, Mshasho in music and Swapo in politics – it’s the choices I have made. I have campaigned for Swapo presidents because they are candidates from my party and if I hurt someone with this, I’m sorry – you just have to join me [laughing].
NE: What should we look out for from Mshasho? What projects are you embarking on currently?
TD: Mshasho has artists who include me, Young T – who is not 100 percent under Mshasho but is part of us as we do marketing for him; we’ve got Chester and also Magogos. Everybody knows them. Young T is on fire and giving me a tough time [laughing]. It’s good working with these talented people who, when they were growing up, looked up to me. So working with me is a dream come true and it’s also a dream for me to work with such talented individuals. They bring something new to the table and they advise me too. Otherwise the future for Mshasho is really bright. I want this label, and my clothing brands, to live on even after I’m gone. I want to meet people in Johannesburg or New York wearing my brands. Gladly, my clothes are also being sold in Street House now, which took us about six years to pull off.
NE: Government is currently working on the Retail Charter, which would compel all retailers in the country to have a section for Namibian products. Would this come in handy for people like you who are struggling to have your products in bigger clothing shops?
TD: It will help a great deal. These companies are big and are everywhere. If this can happen it would help our companies which are comparatively very small. If we are able to sell our products in bulk to these clothing retailers it would help us grow. If government can pull that off, we’d be very glad. President Geingob, please look into it.