Although his career was inextricably linked to music, the recently departed Bob Mabena’s musical adventures are secondary to his stature as a DJ, radio and television personality.
In a career that spans about half-a-dozen albums, the one song South Africans gravitated towards most — by a long shot — was Get Funky, a remake of the Positive Force’s We’ve Got The Funk that featured a football legend in his prime, Doctor Khumalo.
Speaking to Radio Metro in the wake of Mabena’s death, music executive Lindelani Mkhize (with Universal at the time) said the song was recorded in the early nineties (probably 1994) when the music industry in South Africa was struggling to shift units. “I had this crazy idea of bringing two icons together to try and help to push [the] music,” he said.
“[At that stage], Bob was crazy about hip-hop. He had introduced me to Tupac and I’d become a fan. I said, ‘Hey baba, how about doing something as a concept.’ I wasn’t even sure that he was going to buy into [the idea]. He had just started at Metro and was doing very well … I said ‘How about ngikuhlanganise noDoctor senze something that hasn’t been done as a concept.’
“He really took to it. But we were worried about what we can do. because it had to be a rap project, but it had to be a song that people can buy into. So writing new songs might have been a bit dangerous. We approached uDoctor who, if you know uDoctor, he’s just a fun, happy person. He laughed at us, thinking it was just a joke.”
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian by phone, Khumalo, friends with Mabena since Radio Bop days, recalls the day Mdu Masilela, a co-producer of the song, came to his apartment with Mabena and Mkhize to take him on a surprise trip to the studio. “I’m not too sure about the day, but I was from training [with Kaizer Chiefs]. It was late afternoon. Bob was coming from Metro FM after doing the afternoon drive. The guys said, ‘No man, awuthi siphume kanje, we are coming back’.”
Khumalo suspected he was being lured to a recording when they got to the studio and Doctor Victor and singer Wendy Mseleku were already there. Khumalo says an initial recording, based on Fat Larry’s Band Act Like You Know, was scrapped after Masilela and Mkhize were disappointed with the results.
Food and drinks flowed while Masilela fiddled with the keyboard, laying down a beat. “It was playing nicely in the background,” Khumalo remembers. “The next thing Bob walks into the booth, puts on the headset and does his part. Wendy does the same. Then Lindelani says, ‘It’s your turn?’
‘My turn to do what?’
‘No, you must say something.’
‘Something like what? Something to who? Lindelani awuyeke ukudlala man. Mina ngiright ngamashibobo, corner kicks, and streaking passes. Music. What are you talking about?’”
After further coercion by Masilela, Khumalo put on the headphones and figured it out from there.
With references to “gin and juice”, “chikiddy check”-ing and “a whole new era”, the session finds his compadre, Mabena, under the heavy influence of g-funk, drawing phrases from Snoop’s Doggystyle and Warren G’s Regulate… G Funk Era.
As for Khumalo, he just randomly ad libbed the first phrases that came to inhis head, which turned out to be, “Get, get, get, get, get with the groove yo. Get, get, get, get, get, get funky, get funky …” When you listen carefully, you can hear someone beneath Khumalo’s vocals, egging him on.
In a sense, it is Mseleku who does the heavy lifting here, patching the session together into a song by weaving Positive Force’s lyrics around the gaps. Masilela left the basic groove of We’ve Got the Funk almost untouched, complete with atmospheric sounds, but something about the bassline has that extra bump now fully associated with kwaito.
We’ve Got The Funk
“All the tracks in the Get Funky album were about having fun in the studio,” says Khumalo, as if teleported back in time. “We were laughing… It was all about life. There’s another song we did, called Akesoyibone. With Mdu being the creative producer that he is, he made a song out of our conversations. Fortunately enough, Get Funky was the more celebrated one. It was a singalong and it had more voices. The way that song mesmerised a lot of people was a shock.”
“Get Funky became like an anthem of sorts,” said Mabena in an online interview on DJ Sbu’s The Hustlers’ Corner. “There was no… ‘It had to be lyrically this…’ none of that.” The song not only altered the life and routine of a soccer star in his prime, turning him into a touring artist (to the near detriment of his football game), it also netted a South African Music Award nomination, signalling the birth of a bankable recording artist in Mabena.
Thankfully, like Benni McCarthy after him (who did Shibobo a football-themed song with TKZee), Doctor Khumalo learned to stay in his lane. But, like him, we’ll never forget the years of comic relief. “To be honest, my part, whenever we were on stage, I never used to sing it,” remembers Khumalo. “The crowd sang it. Loud. Hai, I’m telling you. The whole stadium would rock. Like yessus.”