Veteran musician, singer and producer Joe Shirimani is a multi-award-winning artist who has so far stood the test of time.
Many of the artists who entered the music industry at the same time that he did are nowhere to be seen. Shirimani remains among a few who are still pushing hard to be heard, he remains stable and relevant to the music industry.
Shirimani was born in Pretoria in 1968 and his formative years were crucial to what he was later to become in music. He remembers that there were various linguistic influences, especially in his Soshanguve hometown where there were strong Setswana and isiNdebele populations. “I started music at the tender age of eight when my father bought a guitar that he used to play in the evening to entertain us at home. After learning to play the guitar by using my father’s, I bought my own guitar,” he recalls.
Shirimani learnt to compose his own songs and not only play other people’s music. This convinced him to attempt a career in the music business. “I decided to buy my own guitar to practice my own songs. I formed a youth band. We called ourselves Kimayos (short for ‘kind masters of youth sound’). The band was famous in our village and used to play at weddings, halls and at school concerts. People loved what we were doing,” he said.
In 1992, Shirimani released a solo album, titled “Black is Beautiful”. The album was released by BMB Records. It kick-started his music career as a solo artist, introducing him to the Xitsonga market with his Tsonga Disco. Record companies started to recognise and follow his musical abilities as an artist and producer. In 1994, he discovered and produced Esta M’s album, “Sakamela”, which sold in excess of 50 000 copies (platinum sales status) back then. In the same year, he discovered and produced Penny Penny’s album “Shaka Bundu”, which sold in excess of 250 000 copies (multi platinum). That was the beginning of Joe Shirimani’s true success in the music industry – what a way to begin! After the success of the other albums under his wing, he then went on to release “Hambanini”, which had a hit track, “Notshi” in 1997. The album also managed to sell more than 50 000 units. Who can forget “Xinengani xa n’wa-mpfundla” by Hasani which was also produced by Joe Shirimani.
After massive success in his production; problems and demands often come along with success. Joe Shirimani left the music business to answer to his ancestral calling to become a traditional healer. He took a complete break from the industry for several years.
After the completion of his training, he planned a comeback and formed a group call Bangoni Bandawu with Marhoya Chauke, Prince Rhangani and Benny Mayengani. One of Joe Shirimani’s album after his comeback, “Ka Tika”, is currently number 1 in the Xitsonga Traditional music in term of sales, radio play/charts. He scooped the best Xitsonga Album in 2014 at the South African Traditional Music Awards (Satma), and the Dr Thomas Chauke Artist of the Year at the Munghana Lonene FM awards ceremony. Few days after the night, he pocketed R60000 for scooping two accolades, including the Best Xitsonga Duo-Group award. He admits that though he is the king in this genre, he went to the awards not knowing what to expect.
“There were strong contenders but I had confidence that I would win. It was a challenge to stick to my traditions. There was a perception that Tsonga people are inferior and should always behave small. But I realised, and this was emphasized at home, that the best thing I could do was to be myself,” Shirimani remembers.
At home he grew up with two sisters and a brother. One of the sisters and the brother are members of his new group Joe Shirimani Na Vana Va Ndoda. The group worked together from his Ndzhumba albums, starting from Banana, Colour Block, Ka Tika, Hash Tag, Chukuta Boom Boom, Pengula, Team Shirimani’s Ngura-Ngura and Bangoni Bandawu’s Nyimpi ya nghena among others. He explains his music as a crossover between traditional music and contemporary sounds, spiced with rich Xitsonga lyrics and a neo-rhythmic disco base. This is due to Shirimani’s N’wamitwa (Tzaneen) extended family roots that his Xitsonga and message driven-approach has remained strong.
What worries musicians these days is the effect of piracy on their bread. Even for Team Shirimani’s stable which boasts artists such as Joe Shirimani Na Vana Va Ndoda, Khombo Shirimani, Mhani Madya-Kubomba, Sayichology, Mr Post, Mapele Nghunghunyani, Mafamba Salute, Dj General-K, Mafosi and Mambawulele; piracy has been detrimental.
“Penny-Penny used to sell 250000 copies. We used to sell platinum. None of our records sold less than 25000 copies. Today even if you strike it you know someone is making more money off your music than you. Sales are a disaster and we make most money from performances,” Shirimani says.
He believes that apartheid had such a big effect on SABC radio presenters (except for Munghana Lonene FM) that they only play isiZulu and isiXhosa traditional music because they still believe in tribal superiority.
“Vatsonga need to stand up and work harder. We must stop expecting people to do things for us.” He concludes
Other artists which were produced by the Legendary Disco King Joe Shirimani includes: the like of Esta M, Penny Penny, Hasani, Prince Rhangani, Benny Mayengani, Zoro Magoveni, JK Khazamula, Mapele Nghunghunyani, Khombo Shirimani, Mhani Madya-Kubomba, Sayichology, Mr Post, Mafamba Salute, Dj General-K, Mafosi and Mambawulele among others.