Living his musical dream
Living his musical dream
In just a few months after he was discovered and signed to one of the biggest record labels in the world, Monyake Steven Liphoko, popularly known by his stage name ‘Semito’, has taken over the airwaves around the country.
His hit song Ungowami – a hit which distinctively matches famous compositions of music legends such as Ringo Madlingozi – has captivated Afro-soul lovers across the country, making him one of the country leading musical prospects and certainly a potential award-winning artist
Currently under the tutelage of Afro-soul prodigy Robbie Malinga, who has birthed big artists such as Kelly Khumalo and Musa of Mthande fame, Semito looks destined to walk down a similar path of success.
As ON POINT shines more light on Semito, the singing sensation from Botshabelo who has become a household name to music lover across the land, we also fully explore the magnificent story behind this young man who dared to dream.
THE PASTORS CHILD
Born into a Christian household back in 1991, Semito is the youngest of four sons and his father is a pastor who runs a local apostolic church with the support of his wife back in his hometown where he still resides.
It was through his mother that Semito found his love for music after she discovered that her youngest son had a unique singing talent. Being an ardent singer herself, particularly in her family’s church, she obliged that Semito joins the church choir.
“My mother is the one that pushed me to sing at church to lead the choir at church and so on. I remember myself by the age of eight I was already able to control my voice. Although I was the last born child in the family, I was the only one who was able to do so, while my siblings only began to learn how to control their voices at a later stage when they were older,” recalls Semito.
He adds: “Around that time as well, we used to have prayer sessions as a family every evening whereby my mother would lead us in singing all the different hymns and I would do backup vocals for her.
In recent years, Botshabelo became a town notorious for the spring of young ruthless gangs led by bloodthirsty teenagers who kill each other willy-nilly whilst terrorising their communities. It is within this sort of environment that Semito grew up, but being the pastor’s child, he had to tow a very strict line in terms of discipline.
This restricted his participation in the various recreational activities that have been widely accepted in youth culture for decades.
“Both my parents run a church, therefore I was always guided by them as to what I do and don’t do. I sometimes couldn’t go to all types of events or parties like other youngsters. For instance, I couldn’t attend New Year’s parties or even drink alcohol like the other kids were doing because I always had to be at church during that time, but I got use to it over time. So whenever I got exposed to these type of things, I was still able to restrain myself without my parent being there,” says Semito.
“When I was older it was still quite difficult at times when I had to tell my parents that I am going out to go perform at a local tavern for instance,” he adds.
It was at these tavern’s that he performed at that Semito enjoyed a lot of support and carved a fan base, albeit a minute local one. He also performed at various weddings and other events around the community.
EMBRACING THE MUSICAL GIFT
As already mentioned, Semito started to sing from a very young age under the auspices of his mother. But it was not until he was older that he took music seriously instead of just an imposed task at family prayer sessions.
“We are gifted musically back at home,” he declares “I grew up as a singer, but I mostly sang gospel music at church. I was a shy boy who had stage fright; performing in front of a crowed was difficult.
“I am a very emotional person, especially when it comes to music and performing. Other kids would just sing for the sake of singing. That is why at times it would be difficult for me to sing in front of people simply because I would get so touched and cry; and I wouldn’t want that to happen in front of girls especially,” says the singer.
At one point or another Semito would, however, have to rise above the coyness and join a local band which would give him further exposure.
“One time this other guy from a local band in Botshabelo invited me to join his band because he felt my talent could go further than just performing for the church band. I consequently joined them and they then gave the necessary exposure.
“I would mostly perform renditions of bigger and popular artists from around the country, because I hadn’t composed my own songs yet,” he adds.
Joining the band also helped build his confidence and push him to further explore his talent through novelty.
“I only started taking music seriously when I wrote my first song,” says Semito.
He continued: “I later started to write my own songs that I used to test with the band. I came up with songs such as Sebabatso, Thabisile and Azange; those were the three singles we came up with.”
PAVING THE ROAD TO FAME
As the leading vocalist of a local band Semito was soon able to show off his talent at more events. This earned him due popularity in and around Botshabelo and his songs singles started being played at local radio stations in Mangaung.
“So I decided create a demo of which the response was extremely positive from my fans. This pushed me to take my music more seriously again,” Semito tells ON POINT.
One day he received an unexpected call from one biggest radio show hosts in the country. It was none other than Lesedi FM’s Thuso Motaung, who subsequently helped pave Semito’s path to countrywide fame.
He narrated: “This one time, Thuso Motaung came to a ‘Matric Prayer’ event which was held in Botshabelo and Neo Kabi, who is a radio host on Botshabelo’s Mosupatsela FM, played one of my tracks Thabisile – which is now popularly known as Ungowami – at the event and then all the pupils liked it and sang along.”
This ultimately caught the attention of Thuso who then asked Neo whose song that was.
“Neo told him that the song belonged to one of the youngsters from Botshabelo who has become quite popular locally. Neo then linked him to another radio host from Mosupatsela FM who then gave Thuso Motaung my numbers.
“From there Thuso Motaung called and offered to be my manager. Due to the many pressing commitments that he had, including business, Thuso found it quite difficult to make time to manage me and therefore recommended that I work with someone who would also be able relate to my music,” Says Semito.
To Semito’s surprise Motaung, who has far-reaching connections in the radio and music industry, decided to link him with Malinga – a musical genius who has birthed man a musical sensation including the likes of Kelly Khumalo, Ntando and Zahara.
Ironically, Semito had always dreamt of working with Malinga ever since he was a young boy. This dream however faded at one point when he thought to himself that Malinga who was releasing superstar after superstar would somehow be unreachable, particularly for an ordinary boy from Botshabelo.
“I have always been a staunch fan and follower of Robbie as a producer, especially when he worked with the likes of Ntando, and I was always longing to work with him since back when I was in primary school.
“When he started working with Zahara and Musa my dream started to fade because I felt that he was going to be hard for me to reach him now, to a point where I wanted to give up on my music pursuit nationally and just focus on working with my band locally.
“When he (Motaung) mentioned Robbie Malinga, it immediately resuscitated my long time dream of working with Robbie. Thuso then called him on my behalf and set an appointment. All of this happened now in December 2016,” Semito revealed.
He subsequently left for to honour an appointment with Malinga as set up by Motaung.
“I met Robbie at the Universal Music Studios, where I played him my demo from my phone using an auxiliary cable connection. There was also a music engineer in there and we played Thabisile.”
Moments later Semito had been officially signed to Universal Music.
“The song didn’t even play for more than two minutes and subsequently signed me right there on the spot. And that is the story of how I met Robbie Malinga,” the singer tell ON POINT.
Semito subsequently wasted no time in getting into studio to create the marvel that his debut album Sebabatso is. This came just a few months after the signing.
With artists mandatorily taking several months and sometimes years to compile one single albums, it is quite baffling that Semito managed to release his album roughly three months after being signed. But the truth of this matter is that the album was never a rushed job; meaning Semito already compiled the album before signing to universal. However, the songs were not perfectly mastered as they are now after Malinga’s intervention.
“The album has always been here. I always had song on my phone, in my head, I had written some of the songs in scrap books, etc.
Semito admits he never received any formal teaching in music; further pointing to the natural talent that he is.
“I never attended any musical school,” he says “so I would have someone come correct the work that I have already done. I come from a church environment where there were no keyboards or instruments.”
ON BEING A VERSATILE VOCALIST
Semito’s hit song ungowami and a couple of others on the his debut album are written in isiXhosa. Coming from Botshabelo which comprises a predominantly Sesotho speaking population, Semito rendition of the songs have left many assuming he come from an isiXhosa background.
“I am not really fluent in isiXhosa, but as I am also an interpreter at church I can string up quite a number of words and phrases in the language. But I mostly write my songs in Sesotho.
Having sung in church for the most part of his life, Semito’s versatility has been defined by his ability to sing across the different genres.
“I used to sing gospel a lot and then I decided to take the Afro-soul path which I feel allows me to connect emotionally as it speaks to me.”
Semito is scheduled to perform at the 2017 edition of the annual Women of Note concert which will take place in Bloemfontein on August 12. He will be performing alongside Malinga and Friends, amongst many other leading artists that billed to wow Bloemfontein music lovers.
Building up to this massive event which kicks of the semester of activities in the Mangaung region, Semito’s story had to be told in a way it will inspire others who also dare to dream.
At times many people give up prematurely on their journey to success right on the cusp of reaching a certain pinnacle; not aware that a long journey still lies ahead. MAN