Clarity of vision in spite of a damaged eye

June 6, 2008

He is founder and co-owner of TS Records, one of SAs most successful independent record labels, and Yfms latest breakfast DJ. Sbu Leope tells DAVID GEMMELL how he stays fit for the airwaves

You do the breakfast drive show (on Yfm), so I assume your day starts quite early?

Yes. I get up at 3.30am and after I wake up, I train. I do cardio. I get on the treadmill and I run for 40 minutes.

Where do you do that?

I do it at home. Sometimes I train at the gym, like on weekends, but during the week its too early for a gym. I also have a personal trainer.
Have you always been an early bird?

Now Im used to it, because Ive been doing breakfast shows for two years. I did breakfast at Ukhozi FM (the biggest station in SA) last year until March. Prior to that I did an evening drive show so didnt have to wake up early. But I have become this early morning person and because I train, its not so difficult to get up.

What do you do for breakfast?

I grab a cereal which I take in a Tupperware to work; I dont eat at home. I have to be at work an hour before my show just to do the final preps. At the end of the show, we prep for the following day, but something could have happened overnight, so we just do the final bits and pieces in the morning. We look at the morning papers, and with whatever is in the paper we record skits. We do comic skits on the air, like audio cartoons, a Zapiro type thing, but on the air.

Im sorry, I dont listen to your show; what type of show is it?

Yeah, I understand, you dont look the type (laughs). Its an entertainment show. Its not a talk show. The station is 80% music, though we do talk about politics, current affairs, and social and topical issues. Its more music driven.

Sixteen to 35, predominantly black, but we do get the younger white and coloured kids. Im turning 29 this year, so Im talking to my age group.

How did you get into the music and entertainment business?

I was kind of talkative when we were growing up. I was the kid who would paint you a picture of the movie you didnt watch. And you would think you had seen it when I was finished. And I suppose I have a distinctive voice. Then there was a radio station on campus I was at Wits Tech so I got involved in that. Various people encouraged me so I just kept pursuing it.

Apparently you have quite an interesting deal with Yfm?

Yes. The deal I have with Yfm is that we went in there with an interest in buying shares in the station. I would eventually like to have ownership of the station because it inspired me when I was younger. I feel part of the DNA of the station. It speaks to my people in the townships in Gauteng and I am from the townships. So I wont only be a DJ, but also a partner in the business.

Which one?

Im from Thembisa.
Growing up in townships, did you have a health-conscious childhood?

Not really, no. I was just a normal township kid who grew up on junk food and whatever was available. Sometimes there was bread, sometimes there wasnt. We were poor, but we werent unusually poor. Actually we were like all the other homes, so we werent different. So you got to eat what was there. At school every other kid would be without shoes, or with torn shirts or something missing; but we were all the same, so no one would notice what you didnt have.

What depresses you?

All the negativity in the media about SA. But also the bad stuff about little kids getting abused. That sort of stuff. And the crime guys shooting people.

How do you deal with getting down?

I talk to my business partner, TK Nciza. He is like a brother four years older than me. Weve been in business for the past seven years. He used to manage my career, but now we are partners. We own businesses together and he always comes through. He is married with children. He is a very responsible man, whos been through a lot more than me. I talk to him or my mother.

You mention other businesses a company called TS Records.

Yes. Operationally it started in 2002, with only one artist, Mzekezeke, on our books. Currently our turnover is about R11m. We have artists like Afro-pop diva Nhlanhla Nciza; Kwaito star Izinyoka and hip-hop dynamo Pro and Lungelo. Im sure you know all of them (laughs). Our inhouse producer is the renowned Robbie Malinga. TS Records is the only independent label that controls its own CD production.

Tell me about the speeding incident that got you into all the papers?

It shocked a lot of people. Im generally known as a responsible role model, because of the work I do in my community. I was wrong and I apologised and promised it wouldnt happen again. I even said I would work with the transport department to discourage speeding. The problem was kids in townships, some drag-racing guys and rich guys in their sportscars, thought I was a hero like it was cool that I was speeding. So it wasnt a good thing. I think they even sold a few more TTs because of it. They pushed a lot of units for the wrong reasons.

Back to health, how carefully do you watch your diet?

Very carefully. When I started doing well in entertainment and business, I kind of relaxed. I used to work hard, but I didnt work out. I started gaining weight. The most Ive been is 117kg. Thats when I had enough. But that day, about a year ago, I made a decision that I had to get rid of the weight. I went on my TV show and committed. I told them what I was going to do and that it might seem like a joke because I was such a big guy, but I told them I was serious, and to watch how I turned out after a year. Now Im 91kg.

Thats pretty good. What would your death row meal be?

I would order samp and malamogodu we call it stamp in my language. I dont have it that often, but Im a big fan of it. But you dont get it like my mother used to make.

What do you do for holidays?

I travel, read, swim and fish.
Have you had any health scares that influenced your behaviour?

When I was young, I damaged my eye. We were playing bows and arrows and one went into my left eye. I can just see blue, and I can just see orange. I have a problem if I close my good eye.

If you could be stranded in any place in the world, where would it be?

Knysna, on the Garden Route.

And who in the whole of history would you most like to sit next to on a long flight?

Im sure he has been chosen before, but he means so much to us: Nelson Mandela.

Funnily enough, you are the first to choose him. Apart from working out, what other sport do you do?

Tennis. I used to play professionally when I was young. My parents got me away from all the nonsense in the townships and sent me to boarding school. In the afternoons after school I was bored, so I used to play tennis. But I played it seriously. I won tournaments and I have a few trophies and medals. I played from age nine. I still play a bit, but for fitness and fun not seriously.

Tell me something about you that no one else knows?

Nobody knows that I snore. And Ive already told you about my eye. No one knows I cant see out of my left eye. People dont know that when Im on stage or television, that this guy is looking at them with one eye.

BUSINESS DAY 28 MAY 2008

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