Portrait – Selaelo Selota, Musician

Portrait – Selaelo Selota, Musician 

At 17 years old, Selaelo Selota, set to work toiling under the earth risaking his life for $500 a month  at the Deelkraal Gold Mining Company in Carletonville, west of Johannesburg.

“I started earning about R25 ($2.50) a week and later R320 ($32) a month… The di­fference is a loaf of bread was 50 cents then and to catch a bus from Carletonville to Johannesburg was R1.20 ($0.12),” he says.

That was the pay for eight hours of digging in the dark by the light on your helmet. All around are toxins that can kill you. In the darkness you listen for falling rocks that can crush you.

“You learn many things underground, like when you see a snake, you run after it because when it’s running away, the mine is collapsing,” he says.

Here Selota took a great interest in the theater. Through it all, he learned the vibrant music and dances from the many men of the mines.

“There was this old man, I liked the way he was always so well dressed because he was from the city… He took me to Johannesburg where I sat in a few theory classes at the African music and drama association.”

Selota registered for music lessons at the Federal Union for Black Arts (FUBA). Back at the mines the talk of strikes and wage negotiations was a distraction from music that would force him from the mines. During the rise of the National Union of Mineworkers, under Cyril Ramaphosa, they went on strike but were overpowered by soldiers in 1987.

“After a long day of being exhausted with tear gas fumes and waking up from the ground my head became sober. I was like ‘What am I doing here? I’m still young… and I paid money in Johannesburg to study music and I have never been to the music school.”

The next morning Selota took the first train to the city to start classes at FUBA. By day he was a music student; by night he was a miner. He wanted to leave mining to concentrate on his music, but it was not easy.

“I told the manager that I had decided to go to school to study mining mythology so I could come back to work at the mine.”

Johannesburg may have been an escape but the streets of the City of Gold were far from paved with it. Selota spent his first few nights on the floor of the FUBA dance school where he used a curtain as a blanket. For a while he struggled to sleep as all he could feel was the blood pounding in his swollen arms from the years of laboring underground. Playing music came naturally to Selota and before he knew it he was playing at gigs and earning money. After the course he took on a few other small jobs, which led him to the University of Cape Town where he studied Jazz Composition.

Photography – Jay Caboz

Location – Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street, formerly Sauer Street, South Africa

Selota’s career began in the mines and Johannesburg. Located in the hert of Johannesburg, close to the Chmaber of mines there is a mine shaft stautue that we though would best reflect the journey this musician has gone through. For the shoot we asked Selota to bring his guitar and suit and he kindly broke out a few chords. I lit him with a portable off camera flash using a wireless trigger, making him pop in the photo. Luckily the weather was overcast which agve me some nice flat even light.  Selota’s shirt and guitar really stood out in the bland facebrick background.

Publication – Forbes Life Africa Magazine

Selaelo Selothe

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