Zakes Bantwini, a Grammy Award-winning visionary with his sights set on the horizon

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Zakes Bantwini performing on stage.
Zakes Bantwini performing on stage.
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It’s almost a given that a royal welcome will await the music mogul and now Grammy Award winner Zakhele Madida - popularly known as Zakes Bantwini - after his glorious achievement at the 65th annual Grammy Awards ceremony.

Alongside Nomcebo Zikode and Wouter Kellerman, their smash hit Bayethe took home the award for Best Global Music Performance.

With a crowd of supporters swarming OR Tambo International Airport welcoming the stars home from Los Angeles, Zakes’ reaction to the loving crowd cemented the unbelievable feeling of his historic first Grammy win.

“Coming to South Africa and seeing all this – everybody’s just here for us – it’s just an amazing moment, man. I wish this for each and every musician. I know how much I wanted this and to have such a reception is so emotional”, says Zakes, as he divulges what it felt like for him to witness the sheer amount of unwavering support from locals as he landed on South African soil.

“Having a hero’s reception – it encourages you, man, to really do more, you know. I think that feeling makes you want to do more, and really bringing people together just [makes] sure that you are the difference that you’d like South Africa to have.”

Zakes’ partner and wife of more than six years Nandi Madida couldn’t contain her excitement for the Grammy Award-winning artist, as she described this as a moment South Africa needed. “[I’m feeling] absolutely elated. I’m so proud, the nation’s proud. We needed this positive news; it’s not just for them, it’s for South Africa and Africa as a whole. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Zakes Bantwini, a Grammy Award-winning visionary w
Grammy Award-winning musician Zakes Bantwini

Hailing from the township of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, the 41-year-old musician and businessman solidified his spot in the entertainment industry as a prolific singer, songwriter, and music producer since the early 2000s, as he is often credited with helping establish the Durban Kwaito Music (DKM) scene, a genre famous for its hypnotic house beats that introduced a blend of kwaito lyrics, which was almost unheard of at the time.

Zakes’ unique contributions to South Africa’s music industry can be traced back to his educational background, as he holds certifications in Light Music and a Diploma in Jazz and Music Performance from Durban University of Technology – formerly known as Natal Technikon – and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, respectively.

His formative years in university also saw the creation of his record label and talent management agency Mayonie Productions in 2004, a feat almost unheard of for a music student to undertake. This decision, however, firmly put Zakes into the category of a businessman well on his way to becoming the music mogul South Africa has come to know.

The agency boasts a catalogue of talented musicians under its wing such as BlaQRhythm, Kususa, Argento Dust, Nana Atta, and many others.

READ MORE | Zakes Bantwini’s first SAMA, Riky Rick tribute and more - 5 highlights from SAMAs

This past year has arguably been one of Zakes’ most incredible years for the Osama hitmaker’s storied career, as he has been noted as one of the most nominated artists for the South African Music Awards.

Even more life-changing news came with his Grammy Award nomination in 2022 and the relaunch of his Cape Town rooftop venue Studio in December. Located in the world-famous luxury hotel, The Rockefeller, the high-end lifestyle venue saw a star-studded launch fit enough to double as a celebration for the announcement of Zakes’ Grammy Award nomination.

As this Grammy nomination and win were his firsts, Zakes took the mere announcement of his nomination last year as a huge achievement. The Recording Academy sees millions of nomination submissions every year, and Zakes emphasises the importance this win is for Africa as a whole.

“We had Indian artists which submitted, we had music which was coming from outside of Africa which was submitted to be considered, you know, so the Grammy would’ve went on to a different continent, but it came here, you know, in Africa… and I think we needed to make sure that we say – I say this so that everybody in Africa understands there’s no better artist than the other. Every artist is unique in his or her way. We all are unique and everybody who was nominated [for] a Grammy, they all deserve to win,” explains Zakes.

Touching on comments made regarding Bayethe’s win over Burna Boy’s Last Last, Zakes urges the continent to embody unity.

“We need each other as [Africans], and we don’t have to divide each other. This Grammy should be celebrated by Nigerians. It cannot be now Nigerians versus South Africans because a South African won… We should try make sure we unite ourselves around this particular win. This award is for everyone.”

READ MORE | Zakes Bantwini on bringing the African flair to The Bridgerton Affair through music

The platinum-selling hitmaker is no stranger to the international stage, where his electrifying dance hits and chart-topping collaborations set dance floors alight with critically acclaimed albums like Love, Light and Music and Ghetto King, which saw Zakes performing on stages throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Zakes’ achievements and upcoming projects are a further testament to his sentiment on how he, as well as artists throughout Africa, has been propelled to the global stage, where people all over the world are getting the opportunity to witness the unique and soulful artistry Africa is known for.

Speaking on his upcoming projects, Zakes explains that he is currently working on new music that his fans can look forward to, revealing that his next album will be his last.

“[The album] will be my final offering. And then I’m working on my show in Cape Town, Abantu, we want to have 25 000 people jamming and having fun and celebrating and just having fun. My album is called Abantu, my concert is called Abantu, so that’s what I’m looking forward to”, explains Zakes.

Talking about what’s coming next for the music mogul after the release of his final album, fans and artists can look forward to the growth of Zakes’ new agency Independent Media Group Africa, which he aims to build as one of the biggest agencies in Africa that represents some of Africa’s biggest talent, managing artists and entertainers alike.

Zakes’ mission for his agency is to propel their talent across international borders, where the focus is on putting the talent at the centre of the brand and cultivating the artists’ value and independence. Zakes describes Independent Media Group Africa as an agency responsible for scouting, representing and scaling their talents to the global stage, something he is very passionate about.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest of international agencies coming to South Africa and signing our artists and, to us, it’s kind of like an insult to us in saying why would our artists not be represented by us? Why should our artists be represented by anybody else? Why should our musicians be represented by anybody else when they want to be global? Aren’t we good enough to represent a global brand? So, our agency seeks to do that”, Zakes explains.

Independent Media Group Africa represents some of the biggest talents in the country, including award-winning musician and entrepreneur Boity. Co-representing artists like Nomcebo Zikode and himself officially puts Zakes’ agency as one of the few agencies on the continent that represents two Grammy Award-winning artists, an incredible achievement putting the agency at the forefront of African talent.

Zakes’ has also been on his way to officially becoming a Harvard-educated businessman, as he has been working towards completing his qualification in the business of entertainment, music and sports at the Harvard Business School since his acceptance into the programme in 2020.

The platinum-selling Clap Your Hands musician explained the disbelief he felt when he received his acceptance email, saying “For me, it’s one of those particular dreams, man, I’ve always wanted to go to that university to study [from] the best people in the industry.”

Gushing about her husband, Nandi explains just how much Zakes is adored. “That’s what we all love about him, the Ghetto King! He’s always so humble, I mean, he’s been A&R of Sony [Music Africa], he’s discovered talents like L’vovo, he’s made songs as a solo artist, graduated music – he’s going to Harvard for sports and entertainment this year, winning this Grammy as well. So, with all these accolades he just still remains humble, to me that’s the biggest accolade that someone is always so grounded and that’s why I love him.”

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