Jazzman’s journey took him from mines to fame
Selota says destiny carried him from a life of poverty to acclaim
Before he became a force on the jazz music scene, celebrated guitarist Selaelo Selota worked as a miner, bar cleaner and postman. He says that was part of his destiny.
"I do not believe in luck. Well, if there is such a thing as luck, it has been eluding me the whole of my life," he says.
"Rather I believe in destiny, that which is meant to be.
"When I joined a group of job seekers on the West Rand, looking for work as an unskilled mine worker coming from the former homeland of Lebowakgomo, it was part of my life journey," he says.
"I got myself into an environment that was culturally enriching, a melting pot that enriched my musical aspirations.
"We were migrant workers, a lot of us from the homelands — Xhosas, Bapedi, Zulus, Basotho, Tswanas — who found ourselves living and working together," Selota says
"On weekends, we had music performances, singing and dancing. That was the beginning of my musical journey. I found myself learning from fellow mine workers."
He received his first formal music lessons at the Fuba School of Dramatic and Visual Arts based in Newtown, Johannesburg. The school offered an education in the arts to black students who were at the time excluded from getting a formal education at universities.
He later studied music at the University of Cape Town and majored in jazz studies.
He had to leave the mines to be able to attend classes at Fuba and faced severe challenges after registering, including extreme poverty. At one stage, he lived on the streets of Johannesburg after he became homeless. That experience, he says, made him strong in character and determined to succeed.
As fate, or in his terms "destiny", would have it, he landed a job at Kippies Jazz Club as a bar cleaner.
"I was getting R94 a week. The money was not great, but at least it meant that I had shelter and could have a meal.
"These are important stories to tell, which until now I have not told," he says.
"It is important for those who become famous to tell the stories of how they struggled before becoming household names. The famous Selaelo that everyone now knows, it used not to be like this."
During his time at Fuba, he also worked as a postman, delivering mail in Johannesburg. That gave him the chance to become familiar with the streets of the city.
"With this job, I was paid R75 a shift. That was cool money at the time, considering where I came from," he says.
"But something good also happened during that time.
"I met good people, including one of my lecturers, who motivated for me to be enrolled at the University of Cape Town where I got to study music formally.
"But there was one thing that almost derailed my dream of studying music. I needed about R200 to apply. I went to the late musician George Lee, who gave me R120 and the rest was given by Nick Carter.
"While I was at the University of Cape Town, I got noticed as a performer. They used to call me Timmy at that time, as this is one of my names. But I dropped it later and stuck to Selaelo."
During his student days, Selota got the opportunity to perform at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 1999. That was a big break for him, boosting his confidence and his standing on the South African music scene.
Since then, he has featured at almost every important jazz festival in the country.
He has also received invitations to deliver papers at universities on cultural matters — such as in 2015, when he delivered a well-received paper at Unisa entitled Culture: The true frontline of the colonial warfare — a personal perspective.
His emotionally potent argument reportedly brought some in the audience, including academics, to tears.
"It was interesting," he recalls. "I took a personal experience and delivered it to an audience that included people who have doctorates, while I do not have one. I think my personal story touched a raw nerve."
Selota promises music fans "fireworks" at the Nubian Festival on December 16 in the North West. "With this coming gig, they will witness a different Selota," he says.
"It will feel like climaxing musically on that stage. I have visited the place, like I always do before I perform at a festival, and I like the venue and the inspirational environment there."
The two-time South African Music Awards winner is part of a line-up of top musicians who will perform on Reconciliation Day at the picturesque Eagle Waters Wildlife Resort at Hartbeespoort Dam.
The performers include Southern African music scene giants Tsepo Tshola, Caiphus Semenya and Bhudaza.
The occasion will be a celebration of T-Musicman, the company behind the annual musical showpiece Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival, which is marking 30 years of existence and has lined up a series of events starting this summer.
The festival will also feature timeless romantic Ringo, sultry Afro-soul songbird Wanda Baloyi; sassy and elegant Brenda Mtambo and Nigerian Afrobeat star Femi Koya.
"What makes it a special festival is how we will be playing at the feet of Mother Nature with the scenic Hartbeespoort Dam and the Magaliesberg mountain range adding to the ambience of what promises to be a musical delight," enthuses T-Musicman founder and CEO Peter Tladi.
"It promises to be a truly fun and memorable day for the entire family."
Tickets are R300 at Computicket and R1,750 for VIP access. Entry is free for children under the age of 12.
Cooler boxes and picnic baskets allowed at R50 per person. No bottles allowed.