Famous Face

The Way of Us visits Andile Mbete – one of the coolest kids on a block full of cool kids

Words: Phumlani Pikoli | Photography: Andile Phewa

The best part about being asked to interview your best friend is that you're interviewing your best friend!

So here's the question? What happens when two of the most magnanimous people come together and decide to create super souls? You get two of the most beautiful people. Sithembile Mbete and her little brother Andile, the subject of this interview.

“My parents are part of a generation who sacrificed a very normal (by apartheid standards, which aren't real standards at all) life for a cause and a better future for their kids. Despite not really understanding 80% of the world that my sister and I grew up in they were completely open to supporting our development and off-kilter career and lifestyle choices. Also the amount of rap music I subjected my mother must have been a painful experience, I literally used to play Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) so many times she stole the CD and hid it a week after she bought it for me.”

Andile is one of those people that's so easy to love that my friends and I were able to start a blog in homage to his face, which gained us popularity and access to some of greatest heroes of all time. No seriously, as Andile's Bored Company we got to interview Atmosphere's Slug, Kool A.D. and even Young Fathers (obvs before the Mercury prize). So when I was hit up to do this interview it was a no brainer that I'd put in some shameless self promotion.

Andile Mbete is currently the Promotion Specialist for Columbia Records, which is a division of Sony Music Africa. This means that he’s the guy who makes sure artists get the right exposure and works on everything from editorial pieces to making the right songs get spun on the radio and ensuring artists' profiles present well on media across the board.

“I work as a promotions specialist for Sony Music Entertainment Africa representing Columbia/Epic records locally. The core of my job I guess is marketing our repertoire through exposure to both our artists and the music. Pretty straightforward but working in a dynamic shifting industry is really exciting.”

Andile’s also probably the most-loved face within the South African middle-class alternative art scene. A beautiful mess of a man. Seriously though, white people love Andile so much that they complain that white people love him too much. Some white dude once complained about this to me outside Hell's Kitchen in Melville. Andile also has a tattoo of The Smiths' Morrissey on his arm. I'm gonna let you guys marinate in that one.

Like every other yuppie in the city, this dude has a flat in Maboneng and complains about gentrification to his middle-class black friends who're doing the exact same thing we hate. There's a huge mural of Jan van Riebeeck across the road from where he lives that's somehow supposed to be an ironic reminder of the fact that Jeppe's town is a hotbed for gentrification. LOL. Anyway the flat itself is a bachelor pad full of records and books, the mark of every classic bohemian upstart.

Dudes and I have these conversations all the time, as I rag him about the fact that we started a blog to get him laid, which never panned out. We speak about how the SA industry has never really had a culture for curated editorial music guidance and how somehow, what's always made sense for us was word of mouth. Or maybe if we wanna be wanky about it, the idea that as Africans we still have a better-ingrained sense of oral history and our musical culture was a reflection of that. I challenge him about trying to monetise music when we grew up as pirates.

“Places that do have a bootlegging culture like South Africa, like Africa, are in an exciting phase for music. Cause they skipped a few blocks compared to places like... Damn I hate to use terms like this, but more developed economies? Cause we went from physical copies to digital... But you'll be surprised that streaming works in South Africa and it works pretty well. I mean it's still new, it's still niche, but like an exposure thing to streaming services. Like show people how to stream and then they're down.”

When it comes to cultural relevance I could shut up and listen to Andile all day. His historical knowledge of all-things pop culture is so ridiculous that I sincerely believe he must be some kind of savant. There's no point arguing with him because he has to give you a history lesson before schooling you on the absurd argument you're trying to make.

At dinner parties, we often regale guests with stories of our arrests and the police brutality we endured when we lived in Cape Town. How we were exploited by the music scene without realising it. And of our favourite musicians and artists. African Dope obviously shines through, the Groundworks pop up, and then we discuss what a cool human Waddy used to be and laugh about the time he got killed so hard in a rap battle by Krooked The Warmonger that he stopped rapping in public for like two years.

Andile went from working in call centres and pawning everything in his house in order to have a good weekend, to being a youth culture specialist that oversaw brands trying to be in touch with young people. This guy went from an internet pirate to becoming a specialist at one of the biggest labels in the world that brought us the bands and musicians we love so much. What’s cooler than being cool? 

“My time in the youth culture space was essential to my personal and professional development. Importantly I’m truly blessed with an incredible network of friends and associates who are invaluable to the person I am today, sounds corny, but it's true. In my opinion, these spaces are still very new and many times brands' intentions and the youth culture space don't always align. It's a tricky space to navigate and challenges are unique especially in the South African landscape. Ultimately until brands engage more directly with the youth and become more representative of the market, youth agencies will always be valuable, and having been a part of that world was incredible. With such a big skew to the youth market, I don't think working in the mainstream music industry is a big shift in terms of my career trajectory. I don't really ever want to leave the youth culture space entirely (even though I'm almost 30) so music marketing is just a new place for learning and growth.”

Andile's couch is uncomfortable and I know this cause I slept on it once and swore never to do it again. That's the most I can say about his apartment. But it's dope to know that South Africa's number one hugger finally has a girlfriend and in the eternal words of Kendrick, that means:

"We gon' be alright".