He shaped the careers of some of the most important artists this country has seen. Sadly, Robbie Malinga lost his life to pancreatic cancer on Christmas Day last year, leaving behind his wife Ann, two children and a stellar legacy as an artist, music producer and songwriter. A recipient of the 2014 Metro FM Music Awards lifetime achievement award, Malinga has been heralded as one of the most formidable forces in the music industry.
Malinga hailed from Meadowlands in Soweto and began his career in the 90s playing keyboards for Freddie Gwala of Amadamara fame and the group Platform One. He was one of the pioneers of kwaito with his group Vardos, based in the East Rand. His solo offering, Insimbi, placed him in the top league of the genre.
In 1999, he teamed up with Doc Shebeleza to start RoboDoc, producing hits like Ebumnandini and Skumfete. Malinga’s rise to fame coincided with the increasing popularity of kwaito. Seeking to evolve as an artist, he later crossed over smoothly to other genres, making a clear mark in Afro-pop.
“Many musicians owe their success to his magic touch as a producer, composer, arranger and vocalist. He was one of the most sought-after hitmakers in this country,” says Nhlanhla Sibisi, chief executive of the Recording Industry of SA.
Malinga has been called a father figure and mentor to many artists whose careers he nurtured over the years. These include the likes of Ntando, Nhlanhla Nciza, Kabelo Mabalane, Brown Dash, Zahara and Mzekezeke, to name but a few.
Malinga helped discover Malaika, worked with Lebo M to remix Lion King to Umhlaba Wabantu for local audiences and produced music for the current highest rated show on television, SABC1’s Uzalo.
Here are some of Malinga’s notable collaborations and influences over the past couple of years:
The winner of Idols 2013, Sukwene was the first artist signed to the Robbie Malinga Entertainment label. Last year, he and Malinga won a Metro FM Music Award for best duo for their feature track, Mthande.
Mthande, off Sukwene’s album Mr Serious, encourages men to love, honour, compliment and respect the women in their lives. “We didn’t even want this song to be the first single,” Malinga said in an interview at the time, adding that its success on iTunes, at retail stores and with radio audiences prompted the pair to keep pace with it.
“The song is becoming bigger than our plans.”
“We were inspiring people,” Zahara says about creating some of her biggest hits with Malinga, including Loliwe, Bendirongo and Phendula.
“I lived with this man most of my life. He was not just a producer – he was like a father to me,” she told eNCA. After Zahara performed for Malinga for the first time, they spent a year refining her music so she could define her path like US singing-songwriting sensation Tracy Chapman did.
“It has always been my dream to set trends, not follow others. When we came with Loliwe things were bad and music was not selling. House music was banging and when you brought out Afro-pop … Loliwe sold 400 000 units,” said Malinga during a radio interview last year.
Malinga admitted he was initially not convinced that Khumalo was the right artist to record the 2012 duet
with, but was blown away during their recording session. He and Khumalo went on to collaborate on her hit single, Baby Please, and several other projects. “[The late music promoter] Prosper Mkwaiwa came to my studio,” said Malinga.
“He wanted me to write something for Kelly. I wasn’t sure because of Qinisela. She walked in and in one take, Sobabili was recorded. When she walked in I thought: ‘There goes my song.’ After she sang it, I wanted to work with her. She is on all my albums except the latest one.”