The metropolitan that is Gaborone was a launch pad for one of the most creative recording artist, DJ, record producer and businessman namely Oscar Bonginkosi Mdlongwa popularly known as Oskido. Long before he became one of the most sought after and highly successful creative that he is today, he used to practice his craft in the streets of Gaborone. Last Friday, he shared with an audience at the Yarona FM Music Awards workshop held at Masa Hotel his humble beginnings in the music industry, and his journey in this cut throat industry.
According to Oskido, his love for music dates back to the eighties. For him, he says that it was about passion and unlike some artists, it was not for reasons such as scoring points with girls, and other reasons. He narrates that in the late 80’s, he watched the Beat Street movie, and it was then that he told himself that he would like to emulate the characters in the movie; to one day go into boardrooms, striking deals.In 1989, his life changed when he came upon house music. The music was not easily available, but was popular in taverns. A friend came up with this idea that they needed to come to Botswana, and that the music would be a hit this side. That is how his career started. He shares that they would hire equipment, and started playing the music in places such as Gaborone and Francistown.
“Botswana became the forefront of the movement of house music,” he explains. It was about that when he met with Skizo. They would play in Gaborone and travel to Francistown. He notes that at one of the gigs in Francistown, a young boy came over with 4 or 5 records, and he started to touch their turntables. This young fascinated boy was later given a chance, and it turned out that it was none other than DJ Fresh. At that time, they were playing songs by artists such as Maxi Priest, Aaliyah, and Shabba Ranks. The public was hungry for this type of music, and they wanted access to it but it was not easily available. While working at Razzmatazz club, he started reproducing the music for one record label.
Soon, he realised that the people who were selling the music were just like him, DJ’s. His cassettes were also big, and back then he was trading under the name Oscar the Big O, and was later called Oscar wa rona. The company later changed names to Kalawa Jazmee when (it joined hands with Trompies label, Jazmee). Always curious, he notes that an encounter with Don Laka changed his fortunes. Laka had a studio at home, and they decided to establish Kalawa Records, one of the record labels that has produced the most successful South African artists. The name Kalawa comes from the last two letters of their surnames. At the time Oskido often used Warona. The other founder of Kalawa is DJ Christos Katsaitis, who left the company in 1995. One of their first projects was Boom Shaka. The musical outfit released Its about time in 1993.
“This was during the era of bubble gum music,” he explains, noting that it was not easy breaking through in the music industry. One of the record companies that they knocked on was EMI. After waiting for five hours, they were informed that their music would not work. “They told us that we should throw away the music. But we believed in it,” he says. He also notes that him, and Christos had already tested the music, and they had seen how the audience responded to it. “We were playing it in the underground scene, and we knew that it was working,” he explains. And so they decided that they would press the cassettes themselves. Despite threats from those who were controlling the music industry, he says that they soldiered on. The next step was to approach the Indian business people who were willing to sell the cassettes on their behalf. As for marketing the music, they ventured into university campuses, as well as taxi ranks. Soon their fortunes started to change, and the demand for their music grew.
In 1994, the musical landscape started changing, and they were already working on the next artist. Prior to this, EMI called them for a meeting. Instead of giving them the middle finger, they decided to attend the meeting. Arriving at the meeting, they found a director of the company from abroad who wanted to sign them. They flatly refused the deal, which entailed royalties, marketing, and packaging. This, he says was something that they had been doing themselves, and it was nothing new for them. “We told them to take out marketing as we had been doing that without radio. Royalties, we knew how to calculate them, and we didn’t want that,” he says.
He also says as a team they realised that because their demand was high, they were eating into their profits when it came to distribution. For example, they would send a driver to come and deliver music to Botswana, and this would reduce their profits. That is how they became the first company in South Africa to sign a distribution deal with EMI. “ËMI got 20% and we got 80%,” says Oskido. He also shared with the audience that in life when one door closes, they are opening a bigger door for you. He further advised that those who have a strong belief in something, should go for it.
Quizzed on how he has remained relevant through the years, he says that he has mastered the ability to change. While working on one project, he says that the company was already thinking about their next project. For example, when Boom Shaka was riding high, they were picked up by Bongo Maffin, followed by Mafikizolo. “You always have to be thinking about Plan B,” says Oskido. He further says that they signed Black Motion, Maphorisa, Dr Malinga, and Uhuru as a combo, and started grooming them.
With all this success, he explains that he strongly believes that the more one gives, the more God gives them. One of the people that he mentored, and showed him the ropes was none other Dj Tira. Today, Tira is trending, and his creation Gqom is setting ablaze clubs everywhere.
“Success must be measured by how people you have picked or helped are doing,” he explains. Others that he has helped include Dj Black Coffee. The DJ who is one of the most successful DJ in the region playing at top venues across the world started off by always bothering Oskido. He went as far as following Oskido to his house, and the rest is history.