Meet Mpho Nthangeni fondly known to those closest to him as COCO or Dee-Jay, why should you know this cat? Well… It’s for a number of reasons but this should top them all. He just made his mark in the local television and film history books as the first black and youngest SAFTA winner for ‘Best original score for a feature film’. If you still haven’t heard of or watched Thina Sobabili, do yourself a favour and get the hell out of that damn rock you’re living under. It is not only one of the best independent films to come out of Mzansi in the past year but also globally acclaimed. After winning multiple awards locally and abroad and being selected to be the official Oscar and Golden globe entry for South Africa for best foreign language film.
Whenever I watch a movie, it’s mostly for the visual stimulation, the adrenalin if it’s action packed, the humour in the comedy and the story telling in the drama… If there is one thing I can’t deny is that the music behind every flick, the soundtrack if you may. It lingers in your memory long after the pictures are gone. The melodies just stick with you.
Mpho Nthangeni is the skills guy responsible for such work in the film industry and we managed to kick it a bit with him to get an idea of what it meant to be a first on that stage and what it meant to his team to be validated by the SAFTAs. This is a big deal and he narrows it down for us.
Twiice: Mpho thank you for taking this interview on such short notice, I’ll jump right in… When did you know you wanted to make music?
Mpho: Cool, I’ve always liked and focused on the music from a young age from films like Jurassic Park, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and the music from Disney films, I would often find myself rewinding scenes on the vhs not to see the scenes but to listen to the music, my older sister Tshilidzi would even buy me soundtracks instead of artist cds because she noticed I would often play or hum that type of music, but after watching the film August Rush, this young orphan who would like to find his parents uses the power of music to find his parents, and used whatever musical tools to find them and after composing a song that was to be performed by a symphony orchestra they all find each other. And after the film I thought to myself if a young boy can use music to inspire people and also find what was missing in his life, why can’t I, so I enrolled at Afda and the rest is history.
Mpho: I first met Ernest while I was back at Afda in my first year and when I saw his 3 year experimental film Bree Street, I told myself I need to work with the best so I assisted his team on their next two projects, Men of the Number and In a time without love, when I left Afda and Joburg to recollect myself and get away from all the madness that Joburg sometimes comes with, and after 8 months in Welkom I came back and visited a few friends in Joburg, I met with an old friend of mine Mosibudi Pheeha and she told me what her and the Monarchy Group were up to, and I immediately said I’m all in, went back to Welkom, quit my job and moved back to Joburg and the rest is history.
Twiice: Are you a composer or producer or both?
Mpho: I’m a Composer first and always, but I’ve produced a few beats before, the thing about how I make my music is that I always leave a feeling or a story in the music that I feel that vocal artists sometimes don’t need to add their flavor to, not to say that I wont work with artists, all they need to know is if you work with me the story will always come first.
Twiice: Did you ever imagine film scoring in your process of making music?
Mpho: That I think was always the goal, when I was back Afda I would spend probably 80% of my time in the music room, I probably did 10 films in first year, and that doubled in 2nd year this when you are only supposed to do 1 film per term.
Twiice: WOW! How do you score a film and do the story justice?
Mpho: To be honest research is key, everyday I listen different genres of music, when a big film comes out, I make a point to listen to the music, I’m always researching what new sample libraries and software is out there, because of financial constraints all I can work with is my midi keyboard and music software Logic, but to bring some sort of authenticity you have to work with real instruments, that’s why for Thina Sobabili I used Bongeziwe Mabandla on the guitar and vocals. And to do the film justice that’s easy just stay true to the story.
Twiice: What elements or scenes did you have to sit with to better score the movie’s key points?
Mpho: Well if you have seen the film, I first scored the last scene and went from there, the whole movie is in one key and Bpm throughout the whole movie I would take different elements from the end and put them in different scenes, if it worked then it worked if it didn’t I would go back and either remove something or add something, but most of the time less is more.
Twiice: Outside of the filmmaking space, do you make music for commercial consumption?
Mpho: Not at the moment, but I’m very open to it. Just contact Sweetlife Management firstname.lastname@example.org (Put sweetlife contact if you want to)
Twiice: Tell us what it means to the team behind Thina Sobabili the movie to actually bring home a SAFTA?
Mpho: It really means a lot to the team they would keep telling me if we were to win anything it would always be for the score, but I will always feel that it’s my teams award even though I won it.
Twiice: Is this even a cause for celebration in the Monarchy camp?
Mpho: Yes it definitely is, even though we were sent to the Academy Awards and Golden Globes as South Africa’s entry to compete in 2016, winning an award at SAFTAS SA’s top film and television awards means that Thina Sobabili has left a legacy in the country where it came from,
Twiice: What does this award mean to you as the man behind the music of such a moving picture?
Mpho: This award means the most especially because I’m the first black person and youngest at 28 to win the Best original score for a feature film and for a year I can say I’m the best, I didn’t judge these awards my peers in the industry did, and out of all the films submitted and nominated I’m the one who came out on top, and that is pure recognition, all you need is the work ethic and the guts to finish, when I work on a project of any sorts I’m going to give it all that I have, people who have know me throughout my life from when I was at Capricorn High School and Damelin where I was known as the sound guy to Afda and where I am now, will know when I do something I would always strive for the best and finally I’ve been rewarded with that recognition.
My dude, thanks a lot for a much detailed account of your life and the great work that you do. We wish you nothing but success and many, many more awards. Big up for the a splendid job on Thina and being the first black and youngest to pick up a golden horn in that category.