Dusty & Stones Interview

Interview with Africa’s Country Duet Dusty & Stones

By Ismaila M.S. Naban, Banjul The Gambia, for Country Music News International Magazine

Country music on the Africa continent is not many artists’ forte in the face of Salsa, Amapiano, African hip-hop, Afrobeats, and Reggae music, and even Ndaaga and Kora (a 21-string musical instrument) music-predominantly found in the West African region.

With inadequate popularization and supports given to this genre of music in sub-Saharan Africa by Djs, promoters and governments, majority of the continent’s artists, especially the youth folk, choose other types of music in order to easily catapult themselves into fame and make fortune in the industry.

Even Eswatini’s country icons, Dusty and Stones, admit they later discovered that country music is not an easy music genre to pursue, with all the technicalities of playing instruments and making the music sound “Country”. But, as the country duet indicated to this reporter, ‘the passion for music helped us soldier on’.

But despite the challenges associated with this field of music, the continent can still be proud of great names who are carrying the torch and striving to sustain Africa’s country music and bequeath it to the younger generations and those yet unborn. These notable country stars  include Messrs. Gazi “Dusty” Simelane (born on 22 March, 1982) and Linda “Stones” Msibi (born 23 December 1983)–a country music duet from Eswatini who are winners of best country music Artists/group awards-; Sir Elvis- Elvis Otieno– a popular Kenyan musician who is credited for his huge contribution to Country Music in his native East Africa nation; and Kenya’s female country star Mrs. Esther Konkara; Mr.Ogak Jay Oke-Nigerian country singer; Ivorian duo- Jess Sah Bi and Peter One; Mr. Emma Ogosi–one of the pioneers of country music in Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria; and Mr. Poor Charley Akka.

The MTNSWAMA awards for the Best Country Music Artists/Group Award in the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), the SACMAF awards (South African country music artist Foundation) for international artist of year award, and SWAZ Eswatini’s prestigious NACA awards, formerly Tihlabani, for the best country music are some of noteworthy initiatives geared towards mushrooming country music on the continent.

In this scintillating interview, the Eswatini-country music cousins delved into interesting issues surrounding their childhood, successful musical journey, the trip to Texas Sounds Music awards, and their award-winning documentary film produced by an American film producer, former DJ, Jesse Rudoy, and the great support they continue to receive from people of the continent, inter alia. They used the interview to enjoin upcoming artists of the continent to be “be authentic and original” in their songs, stressing “that will set them apart from the rest”.

Read on:

 

CMNI: First of all, we want to thank you both for accepting our request for this interview. Please take us through your backgrounds: place of birth, family ties, childhood and education.

Thank you for having us. It’s such an honor for us. We are from Mooihoek, in the Shiselweni region of the Kingdom of Eswatini. That is where we grew up from. We are cousins, Stones father comes after Dusty’s mother. We spent most of our childhood home in Mooihoeks, heading our family’s cattle and working on the fields.

Dusty attended school at Velebantfu High School, which is where he did his high school education, while Stones had a ‘nomadic’ school life, attending Ngwane Practising School for his primary education, Franson Christian High for his secondary education, and Ngwane Central High for his high school education.

Dusty did his tertiary at the University of Eswatini and is now a Teacher by profession. Stones did his tertiary education at the Eswatini College of Technology for his Quantity Surveying and later furthered his education at the Institute of Commercial Management, qualifying as a project manager.

CMNI: How did it all start with the two of you as far as music is concerned?

We grew up around music, all thanks to Dusty’s brother Sicelo, who kept a collection of country music. We’re sort of related with the stories told in the songs, songs about God, love, family and basically life in the countryside and its landscape. Dusty made guitars out of old oil cans to try and imitate the music we heard play on the radio. But it was not until Dusty’s time at varsity when him and Sicelo were invited to join the Eswatini Country Music Association’s event, where Dusty met fellow country musicians. They taught him how to play and {he} was later given a guitar by the then association’s president Mr. Zombodze Dlamini. During schools break, Dusty came home with the guitar and he shared the lessons with Stones….and the rest was history.

CMNI: Sticking together to the end, in the field of music, is not always easy for artists who started the journey together, as some will break away and go solo–Bob Marley and the wailers come to mind– how were you able to maintain your relationship this far to the admiration of many?

We, being cousins, has made it easy {for us}. Maybe, we and the Bellamy Brothers have that in common hence they themselves are together to date. So, we believe being a family has made it easier for us to maintain our “friendship” up to this far. That also has helped us in being unique in that we work together, share ideas even when they differ, since we have our different styles of playing and music approach. When we bring it all together, we sound unique, satisfying a wider audience.

CMNI: How was the beginning like for you?

It hasn’t been easy. The music industry here in Eswatini is not that vibrant and one cannot make a living solely out of it. Having day jobs has helped us a lot in chasing our childhood dreams. We’ve had music shows which did not pull a much and audience we would have wished for. But the passion for music helped us soldier on. Moreover, we later discovered that country music is not an easy music genre to pursue, with all the technicalities of playing instruments and making the music sound “Country”.

So we had to learn from the music we were listening to so as to match the sounds we heard in terms of the level of playing the instruments to their arrangements in a song. To think that we never got formal lessons for that, yet our music has been compared to that of the US, is fulfilling. It hasn’t been easy though. Hard work coupled with determination and the passion for the music helped us through.

CMNI: Why did you choose country music?

Well, as we have already mentioned, we grew up in the country, so we found we related more to country music that with any other music genre. The stories about family, the love for God, the country life…life in the farms, mountains…. that’s the environment we grew up on. Further to that we were fascinated about the level of skill by the musicians playing on the records. Thanks to Alan Jackson’s music we got introduced to players like Brent Mason. As we got to know more about Brent a whole new world of chicken picker was opened to us. The likes of James Burton, John Jorgensen, and also singer-song writers who were great guitarist themselves like Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner to name but a few. Past the guitar greats we admired fiddlers like Mark O’Connor, Stuart Ian Duncan, Jimmy Mattingly (who plays in our songs), we can go on and on about the Nashville Cats…Paul Franklin, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Paul Franklin, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Buck Trent, Earl Scruggs…the list is endless. These are the things we found unique with country music and boy we sure loved it.

CMNI: What kind of instruments do you use?

We play all the guitars, acoustic, electric and bass. Dusty also plays fiddle and mandolin while Stones plays banjo and harmonica.

CMNI: Do you have your own band, manager, and where do you record your songs?

We do have a band; we call it The Buck Horns Band. It is comprised of local players; Vusani Simelane on bass guitar. He is also the oldest member of the band, starting out as a keyboard player. Mdumseni Vilakati is our current keyboard player, who can also play drums. Our drummer player is Sinenkhosi Mamba, who happens to be the youngest band member. Now and again we have legendary pedal steel guitar player, Sez Adamson, join the band for bigger events. He is based in South Africa. At the moment, most of the management stuff is handled by Jesse Rudoy, who is based in the US.  Jesse is the film director of our feature film Dusty & Stones. Our first album, ‘Mooihoek Country Fever’ was recoded here in Eswatini. The album has our hit songs “Home”, “Ride with Me” and “Yolanda Wami”.

We also recorded our single “Mbali Lenhle” in Eswatini, but had Sez and Jimmy Mattingly, Garth Brook fiddler, play in the single. Our latest singles, The River, This Time and The Common Guy were recorded in Nashville at Jimie Tates’ Rukkus Room Recording Studio. The best of Nashville session musicians played in the record. All these songs are available from all digital platform like Spotify, You Tube, iTunes, Bandcamp, to name but a few.

CMNI: Collaboration is crucial in the musical industry; do you have collaborations with other artists, especially outside of the African continent and, if so, how did that help you in your career as duet?

We have collaborated with a Mexican group we met at the Texas Awards in Jefferson. The name of the group is Country Rio. This was an amazing experience and it has helped us a lot in introducing us and our music to a wider audience.

CMNI:  What kind of messages do you espouse in your songs?

Our songs are more about real life experiences, love, God, having a good time and more importantly, about our home town, Mooihoek, which we are so proud of. We enjoy it when we see our fans line dancing on the dance floor.

CMNI: How many albums have you released, so far? Can you briefly tell us something about them, and your popular songs?

We have one album, which was released in 2009. The name of the album is Mooihoek Country Fever. Since our music approach was that we want to change the misconception that country music was all about sad songs and that one can’t dance to it. This misconception was very strong here in Eswatini when we started. We had so many songs to dance with hits like “Ride with Me’, Yolanda Wami.

The biggest hit from the album was “Home” which enjoyed a massive viewership on YouTube and from which so many people have got to know us. These are Jesse Rudoy, who later documented our music journey. We do have other personal songs like “Make Wami” a song Dusty wrote about her mother, and also “Mkhulu Wetfu” a song Stones wrote about our grandpa. It took us long to release our new singles, with hit song “Mbali Lenhle” released in 2019.

We were fortunate enough to have Garth Brooks fiddler, Jimmy Mattingly play in the record. We had met Jimmy at the Rukkus Room in Nashville, during our trip to the Texas Sounds Music awards. South African legendary steel guitar player also played in that song. During our said trip to the Texas awards, we went via Nashville where we recorded our newest singles ‘The River, This Time’ and ‘The Common Guy’. What is special about these three songs is that the best of Nashville’s finest played on the recording. Legendary music producer Robert Ellis Orrall, who worked with Taylor Swift on her earlier records, was our music producer. Award winning music engineer Jamie Tate, who worked with country music greats like Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, etc., was the music engineers of the three singles. Worth mentioning is that we write and perform our own songs. This makes you authentic.

CMNI: What are your major career successes, awards?

Here in Eating we have won 3 Tihlabani awards for best country music duo/artist, which were national awards. We also won an MTN Music award for Best Country Music Duo /Artist. We have also won two international awards for best country, one in the SACMAF Music Awards 2017 in South Africa and the other in the 2017 edition Texas Sounds International Awards held in Jefferson, Texas.

However, our major career success was playing at the grandest stage of all-country music stage, the Grand Ole Opry. This was this year in September 29th. This was a dream come true for us, something we’ve always dreamt about ever since we started this music journey.

We have also had numerous performances on amazing music events like the prestigious MTN Bush Fire, Standard Bank Luju Festival and Country music Festival, all these taking place here in Eswatini. Our most memorable event that we performed in was the Treefort Music Festival in Boise, Idaho. This was a weeklong event in which we had three amazing performances on different stages. It was awesome.

CMNI: Music can foster peace and stability and social cohesion since it (music) has no frontiers. How do you think artists like you with many followers across the board, can help bring about greater peace to this world, especially in Africa- a continent faced with lots of violence, hunger and substance abuse, and other negative vices?

Music is a universal language that sees neither color nor race. This is a language, more like sports, that ever human race is always ready to listen to and take the message passed through. As country music artists, any message we feel must be passed across, it will be through a song. Music, as with sports, has the power to unite all human kind regardless of social belonging, race and / or political beliefs. Through our music we can help educate, sensitize and help spread the message of love for one another; a love that sees no colour, race nor social or political belonging. Country music always addresses real life issues and we are of no difference. We do have a song we recorded for Lusweti, a Non-Governmental organization indigenous to Eswatini, dedicated to the creation and provision of innovative social behavior change communication program.

CMNI: Country music is yet to make much impact across the continent compare to rap, reggae and Mbalax (found in Senegambia region of west Africa) and Kora (popular in West Africa), what do you think should be done by the DJs, promoters, producers and even African governments to help Africa’s Country artists penetrate the industry and have greater value for their efforts?

It all start with us country music artists by producing content that is so appealing and meaningful to the audience such that every DJ, promoter, corporate and government feel a strong need to associate with or have country music in their events. As artists, we need to prove that country music can pull out an equal crowd as the other music genres then we can start requesting or lobbying for equal participation. Numbers or statistics (followership) are very key for music promoter and event’s organizers in determining if they must add a particular artist in their events lineup.

CMNI: Financial support is paramount in an artist’s career; do you face challenges in that regard?

Yeah, we do a lot. As mentioned earlier, the music industry here in Eswatini is not that vibrant and can’t sustain one to make a living out of. Our music relies a lot on live instrument for recordings and performances. These music instruments and equipment do not come cheap. We relied a lot on salaries from our day jobs to help sustain this dire need.

CMNI: What age brackets are your songs appealing to?

Looking at some stats from our digital platforms, most of our followers across the globe are between the teenage stage right up to the 60+ year olds. We are happy about this since it actually informs us that our music has no age barrier.

CMNI: Do Dusty and Stones perform in the western parts of Africa? And are there any plans for your fans in West Africa?

We haven’t yet performed outside Eswatini, South Africa and The United States. However, we so much wish to tap into that market since we have since garnered a huge following across the African continent.

CMNI: Your maiden Documentary Film, tell us something about it: what motivated the both of you to produce it; and how is the public reception trend to it like?

Actually the documentary was produced by American film producer, former DJ, Jesse Rudoy. He lives in New York.  He was surfing the internet with the question in his mind, “Are there other country music artist outside of the United States?”  It was through our “Home” music video on YouTube that he found us. Jesse reached out to us via Skype, sharing his interest in documenting our music life and journey. Coincidentally, during the time of the filming we were invited and nominated for Texas Sounds International Music Award and so it all started. The documentary chronicles our first trip to the home of country music, our first stop being Nashville where we recorded three of our original songs at the Rukkus Room in Nashville. It goes on capturing our experience in Texas, us winning an award at The Texas Sounds, and lastly capturing moments when we returned home. The reaction, so as to catapult African country music to higher heights, has been amazing; the film has won nine awards to date.

The feedback we’ve been getting from all those who’ve watched it has been amazing, everyone enjoyed the film. Through the film our fans base has increased tremendously. Something worth mentioning is that, as Jesse said, what attracted him into working with us is that he found us authentic. We write our own music, and in our mother language too. We do not try to sound like the American country music artist and that we are proud of who we are and us being Emaswati from Mooihoek. If that has worked for us it surely can work for every country music artist in Africa. The world is not looking for another Don Williams, Dolly Parton or Alan Jackson. The world wants something new and authentic. Thanks to the documentary and us remaining true and authentic, our all-time dream of playing our songs at the grandest stage of country music, The Grand Ole Opry, was fulfilled when we made our Opry debut on September 30, 2023.

CMNI: Africa is a continent most of the American and Asian artists don’t focus on much. Do you have any plans of collaborating with western and Asia artists so as to catapult African country music to higher heights?

Most definitely. Collaborations are a must not only for that but to also maximize on generating new fans as one introduces themselves to the other artist’s fans. We’ve already collaborated with Country Rio we met in Texas; we have plans of collaborating with two other country music artists we met in Boise at the Treefort Music Festival. We are also looking at fostering relations with one legendary country music duo that we can’t name at the moment. They have been to Africa twice if we got that right. We will continue availing ourselves with any music artist we believe align to our ideas and values so as to catapult African country music to higher heights. We’d also love to collaborate with our fellow Africans.

CMNI: New-year is fast approaching, what should the fans, admirers and well-wishers expect from Dusty and Stones, come 2024?

We have a lot coming up. Firstly, we are back in the studio recording songs that we wrote. We hope to release these early in 2024. Also, with our last trip to the United States for our Opry debut, we met a couple of industry players who are helping us secure a couple of tours in the US beginning of their summer. So, we are hopeful that all goes well and we have all those plans come to fruition.

CMNI: Any special message to African artists, and especially those upcoming ones who are aspiring to become future country stars like yourselves?

Our message would be that they must be sure they want this; their hunger for success must be huge and that they must be passionate enough. Passion for music will help overcome the so many challenges and will help stay focused and resolute. We’d also like to encourage them to be authentic and original. That will set them apart from the rest. They must write their own songs and tell their own stories. Also, they must learn to play as much music instruments as they can and really dive in deep on mastering at least one or two instruments.

CMNI: Do you have anything to add to what had been said?

We’d love to thank all our fans for the love and support they have shown us all the years; a love they keep showing us since we started. It was so humbling to see the whole African continent rallying behind us when we were invited for the Opry debut. That kind of love and support was really felt and we can’t thank them enough. We love you all and appreciate you. We will keep on raising the Mooihoek flag, The Eswatini flag, the African continent and most of all we will KEEP ON KEEPING IT COUNTRY, forever!!

CMNI: Thank you Messrs. Dusty and Stones for your time?

Thank you so much for having us and for you time. It has been a pleasure!

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