Ishmael ‘Ish’ Morabe (41) opens up about drugs, his relationship with the late American singer Puff Johnson, and his comeback as a solo artist.
Growing up my mother liked throwing parties, so there was always music playing at our shack in Delareyville, North West. I guess that’s when I started loving music. At school I was always involved with any event music related like concerts; I was also part of the school band. I left Delareyville in Grade 10, in the late 90s, to pursue a music career in Joburg. Fortunately, I could stay a few months with a friend’s relative in Hillbrow while I found my feet. Through another friend I met with the legendary producer and singer, Chicco Twala who introduced me to music producers Mandla Spikiri and Mdu Masilela. They needed a singer and I joined the gang. That’s how I got my break into the music industry.
Since then I’ve been in groups like Prophets of the City and Skeem. After being with Mdu and Mandla, I joined Ghetto Ruff Records, but things didn’t go my way, so I moved to 999 Records. My career picked up there; I had hits like Roba Li theka, but as time went by I decided to leave 999 for personal reasons. I returned to Ghetto Ruff where I got introduced to Bongani Fassie, Da Les and Crazy Lu and Jozi was formed in 2007.
In the mid-90s I found myself homeless for a year. I was in my early 20s and living on the streets of Hillbrow. My career didn’t really take off and I wasn’t making money. I worked in clubs and garages as a cleaner and I did any odd job that needed to be done for food and money. As depressing as this period was in my life, I was clean – I didn’t do drugs. When my career picked up a year later, things took a turn for the worst and I got introduced to drugs. I was living in Sunninghill, a leafy suburb in the north of Joburg and Jozi just started out. We were getting plenty of gigs and the money was flowing in.
I was at my happiest when I got introduced to drugs and started my cocaine addiction. It’s ironic, right? I needed nothing, I had everything I wanted but somehow I had dug a hole for myself. I clearly remember taking my first line of cocaine – I watched a friend do it when we went clubbing one night and when he offered me, I took it. Curiosity made me do it. I knew the dangers of drugs, but something inside me said ‘take it’ and I did. It’s true what they say about drugs: You feel like you’re on top of the world! I loved that feeling, and with cocaine one hit is enough to get you hooked… and I was hooked. Drugs became a monthly treat and were ‘fun’ to do. The monthly treat quickly became a weekly treat and eventually I did it every day. I never went out to find the drugs; they were always readily available through friends. I was a celebrity, adored by many people who would do anything for me. Cocaine took over my soul, life and everything else, and without it I was lost. I would spend R2 000 a week on cocaine and up to R10 000 a weekend. Life was a party! I was surrounded by ‘friends’, some whose names I didn’t even know and getting drunk and high with these people was the norm. If I could go back and change things I would, but I don’t regret any of it because everything happens for a reason. I had to go through all that to become the better person I am today. Nothing in particular happened to make me stop the drugs. After a while they left me feeling hollow and hating myself, so I decided to stop. I wasn’t successful obviously, I’d go off them, but I missed the ‘great’ feeling they gave me and when I was stressed I’d use again. After using drugs on and off for 10 years, I checked myself into rehab in June 2011 and I’ve been clean since then.
Puff was ‘the one’. I looked at her and saw my future wife and the mother of my kids. We met in studio while she was here in SA to work under the Ghetto Ruff record label five years ago. I also had a studio at my place, so at times she would come and record with me. We started spending a lot of time together and we decided to date. I was attracted to her humbleness. She was an American artist, but she didn’t think she was better than us. She was an amazing person and my best friend. We had been dating for almost two years when she had problems with her Visa and she couldn’t stay in the country anymore. With her in America, our relationship suffered, I was devastated, we’d been talking marriage and suddenly she had to go. Puff made me so happy, she was in a good place and so was I, our relationship worked… I was a boy and she was a girl and we were in love.
She’d come visit sometimes but long distance relationships don’t really work out, we didn’t break up but the distance put strain on our relationship even though we tried to make it work. It wasn’t too long when she found out she had cervical cancer and she started to get sick. Six months before she died, we were still trying to work things out and we were making an effort to see each other and not let distance affect us. I had hoped our relationship would survive, but things took a turn for the worst. On 24 June last year, I woke up to twitter trend that Puff had died. I didn’t believe it at first, so many people had ‘died’ on social media and I thought it was a prank. I knew she’d been sick, but I refused to believe she’d died. Reality struck when a friend of hers called and confirmed her death. That phone call left me so confused and sad; death had taken my ‘one’ away just when we were about to make things work. When Puff told me she had cancer, I didn’t think she would die so soon. She was an amazing person; I loved her, she was the first woman who had nothing to gain from me but still stuck with me. Puff showed me my value, she made me feel whole; she didn’t care about fame or money. I regret not fixing things with her earlier. I haven’t dated anyone since her move back to the US. I miss her fun personality most. She didn’t intimidate anyone with her fame; she was humble and so loving.
MY COME BACK
I am working on my solo album now. I feel I haven’t done ‘Ishmael’ in a while and I’ve been in groups far too long. I was humbled to find out people still wanted to hear more from me and that’s what inspired me to do this album. Watch out for it, it comes out this month.