5 minutes with music composer Zethu Mashika

Zethu Mashika

Zethu Mashika (34) is an award-winning music composer and film scorer. He shares how his love for creating things led to him stumbling into his career. By Kwanele Mathebula Pictures Peter Whitfield

My creativity was sparked from spending time by myself. I was born and raised in Benoni, East of Johannesburg. My home was always filled with music and I used to watch my sisters singing in the school choir. I spent most of the time by myself listening to music. That’s when I realised that I could hear when someone was singing off-key and would correct them. I loved that music allowed me to create my own world. So, when I found out that being an electromechanical engineer allowed me to do the same, I then decided to pursue it.

I discovered film scoring much later. In 2003, during my first year at Tshwane University of Technology, a friend gave me a copy of a music making programme called AFI Studio (Fruity Loops). It quickly took over my life; I would attend school during the day, and go back to res to make music until the early hours of the morning. The more I made music, the less I became interested in school. So, I quit to pursue it full time. I then moved back home and got a job at a retail store, and continued making music. I also taught myself web and graphic design to make extra money for a few years. In 2008, I decided to move to Melville in search of music opportunities. The following year, a friend of mine asked me to score his graduation film. At this point, I realised that this was what I wanted to do. I then started researching the film industry to understand how it worked.

My time studying the film industry led to numerous realisations. One being that many of the film scorers were old and white. Another thing was that if you were black, you were considered a music producer. With this information, I came up with a strategy that would set me apart. I started downloading movie trailers, removing their original music and scored them with my own. I then used the trailers as my portfolio, which I took with me when looking for work. I also put all my work on my website, and occasionally shared some of it on social media. I then changed my appearance; cut my afro, grew a beard and wore spectacles to appear older which worked well for me. Finally, after seeing that the existing film scorers had built strong networks that allowed them to work consistently, I did the same. I identified directors who were as passionate and hardworking as I was and built networks with them.

My career has grown in leaps and bounds. In 2011, I scored the film Skyf which was a great learning curve for me. It was my first feature film, and I realised that I needed to learn more about music rights when it came to film scoring. The following year, I worked on the film Zama Zama which earned a Best Original Score nomination at the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs). Since then, I’ve worked on movies such as The Forgiven, Last Ones Out, and KIFF award-winning and SAFTA nominated film, Hear Me Move. I’ve also worked on television shows such as The Housekeepers and the current season of the Mzansi Magic drama, The Herd. I also dabble in television adverts with some of the biggest brands in the country. And, have a few upcoming feature films that I am excited about.

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