Pops Mohamed is a fine example of the second class. For the last four decades, the acclaimed musician and producer has dedicated his life and musical capabilities to the preservation of indigenous African instruments and rhythms.
His home is filled with hand-made stringed instruments made from a variety of gadgets, some identifiable and others not. The innovation behind them is impressive. One realises how far technology has come but at the same time is saddened by the lack of ingenuity in today’s advanced world.
Showing immense respect for different cultures, Mohamed takes music from numerous African tribes and fuses it with Western sounds, such as layering chants over jazz or hip hop beats. That has laid the foundation for numerous creative projects and the multi award-winning artist has managed to spark people’s interest in ancient forms of music.
He says, “The youngsters of today are tired of Americanism. They want to identify with their roots and create their own unique sound in our modern day world.”
Being interested in the Kalahari Bushmen, Mohamed has travelled around Africa recording and restoring the San heritage.
He says, “These were the first people of the world. They’ve been around for thousands of years and they are still living the same lifestyles. You go there and you see men over 100 years old still telling stories and imparting wisdom. Then you have these people that come in and want to buy out their land and get rid of their cultures for tourism purposes. It’s really upsetting.”
Of sitting around the fire listening to these men and women sing and dance, he says, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Imagine climbing into a time machine and going back hundreds of years. And it’s more than just the music; it’s about getting together as a community.”
Mohamed goes on to describe how the melodies are always the same, but everything around it is dependent on their emotion. They sing according to how they feel that day and in that particular moment, making it extremely difficult to document in staff notations.
Chosen to be part of the 21 Icons project, Mohamed continues to work with young people in Platfontein, where he has set up a recording studio with state-of-the-art equipment, schooling the youth to produce and record their original works.
“You should listen to these kids rap in their language and they’re really good too. Some of them could give our guys a run for their money,” he says.
The 21 Icons project is a series of short films and photographic portraits documenting the stories of key figures in South Africa’s recent history.
Mohamed concludes, “I don’t feel like an icon, but I know I’ve done a lot for this country.”
> Pops Mohamed plays an array of instruments and is known for his wide range of musical styles which include kwela, pop, and soul.
> The 21 Icons show broadcasts every Sunday at 8:27pm on SABC3 until 21 December 2014.
> Mohamed has performed with and sits on the board of the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra Company.
> Visit 21icons.com.