Mabi Gabriel Thobejane SOUTH AFRICA

Master Drummer Mabi Gabriel Thobejane - from the roots of MALOMBO to MATRIX

Mabi Gabriel

Veteran master drummer Mabi was born in Mamelodi (Pretoria, South Africa) and at an early stage watched and learned the drumming of the Balobedu tribe gathering in his neighborhood - he learned not only how to hit the drum, but more importantly where. Mabi's mum tried to stop him from drumming by beating him constantly, as she believed he was destined to be a priest. Meanwhile Mabi fetched skins from the tannery and started making his own drums risking another beating from his mother when playing in front of the Kguludi's shebeen (local tavern). When his Uncle Phillip Tabane - one of the great African guitarists, discovered the talent in the family he asked Mabi to join him as the drummer to form what became one of the top bands in South Africa in the 70's - the Malombo Jazzmen. Since then Mabi was involved in some of the most exiting collaborations and for a decade touring with Juno Reactor.

"Possibly the best sonic cocktail on this Juno Reactor CD (Bible Of Dreams) is Conga Fury, where Watkins unleashes percussionist Mabi Thobejane to propel a breakneck conga beat beneath some deranged sampling and angelic female vocals. The electronics play something of a backseat until the last couple of minutes, when Thobejane locks horns with Watkins modulating sequencer, and it's a little hard to tell who's following whom. Electronics with sweat. Who would have thought?
"I love the way that one came out, but it was a nightmare to put together. Needless to say, Mabi wasn't playing in the same room or even at the same time. We had to fit the whole thing together afterward. It took hours and hours, but this is where this music has got to go - the conflict between acoustic and electronic instruments. There are sounds and textures that live playing produces that a machine just can't get. That's when it starts getting interesting for me."

David Kirby, Colorado Unity, 27.11.97


  1. Madiba

  2. TM Africa with Thabang Tabane

  3. Melodi with Dan Mampone

  4. Robert Doc Mthalane - Respect

Albums featured on:

  1. Juno Reactor - Shango

  2. Outernational Meltdown 1994

  3. Sipho Gumede - Ubuntu

  4. Sipho Gumede - Down Freedom Avenue

  5. Uxolo - Madala Kunene DVD

  6. Acoustic Africa with Madala Kunene DVD

  7. Amampondo DVD

  8. Amampondo Various CDs

  9.  Africa 2000 - live at Bagleys DVD

  10. Tribal Ethno Dance with Airto Moreira

  11. African Meltdown Volume ONE

  12. Music With No Name Vol 2   

  13. Music With No Name Vol 3

  14. Music With No Name Vol 4

  15. Outernational Meltdown Sessions - Hungry on Arrival   

  16. Barungwa - The Messengers   

  17. Castro B   

  18. Olombelo Ricky Randimbiarison  

  19. Madala Kunene - King of the Zulu Guitar 




Mabi toured with Malombo internationally, exposing himself to the many street sounds and rhythms of Harlem in New York. During their extended stay in the USA Mabi was blown out of his mind by the music of Miles Davis, whom he shared the stage with in San Francisco. After leaving the USA the Malombo men stayed over in Brixton, London where Mabi got a completely new vibe. Mabi returned to the repression and turmoil of the Soweto killings in 1976. In 1979 he joined Sipho Gumede and Khaya Mahlangu to form jazz fusion band Sakhile. Although Sakhile achieved great profile on "struggle" platforms, the music was not playlisted, and the two albums, whilst acclaimed, were not commercially successful. After two albums Sakhile dissolved and Mabi stayed on to recorded with ex - Sakhile members and made his name as a session artist. In the early 80's Mabi traveled to the United States with a musical. Sakhile re-formed in 1987 and for two years the group performed many anti-apartheid concerts in Europe and Russia. Exiled Caiphus Semenya, Mabi and other Sakhile members served as the backing band for the South African artists who performed at the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert in London's Wembley Stadium. 1991, when many of the exiled musicians returned, members of Sakhile again went different ways so Mabi did numerous session jobs during this time which included theatrical work with playwright/artist Matsemela Manyaka. His love for teaching the drum brought him to FUNDA where he started drumming classes. In 1994 Mabi joined a number of local artists when recording MELT 2000's "Outernational Meltdown" series. This project brought together artists including Airto Moreira, Pops Mohamed, Madala Kunene, Sipho Gumede, Byron Wallen, Jose Neto and Andrew Missingham.


 In 1995 Mabi and the Outernational Meltdown gang traveled to London to perform a unique show together with Busi Mhlongo and the meanwhile formed group BARUNGWA, formed by the late Moses Taiwa Molelekwa and Andrew Missingham. Later that year Mabi's musical career took another giant step when he met with Cuba's master of the conga - an instrument that Mabi had already integrated into his unique African style. The recording session became a gathering of some of the most highly regarded drummers and percussionist.Amampondo recorded MADOSINI with Cubans Changuito and bata player Mayito. In a studio down the corridor Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor who produced SKELETON took some time off to watch Mabi recording his debut album - "Madiba" (BW086).

This album has been described as "an intensely personal record chronicling his personal odyssey and struggle for self expression, ...and the realization of an ambition he has nurtured for more than twenty years and is testament to his perseverance and fighting spirit." Mabi started to be in demand as never before, making friends with trance star Ben Watkins(Juno Reactor) together creating music that changed the Techno /Trance scene completely with the track CONGA FURY. The track found its way onto the screens in movies like Mortal Comba and Animatrix (Matrix). From 1996 onwards Mabi started working with collaborators from all over the world including Airto Moreira, Juno Reactor, Barungwa and toured regularly with the Cape Town percussion group Amampondo and Juno Reactor. Juno Reactor started to extend its work with MABI THOBEJANE and included members of AMAMPONDO in 1997. A first combined performance at a one-off Blue Room/Melt showcase in London saw them performing the track 'AGAINST NATURE' a six minute percussion workout that left London's underground ravers stunned. A year later Ben, Mabi and Amampondo started a 5 week tour of the USA as support act to MOBY. Juno's live show switched from the standard dark, sombre set to a visually spectacular show with Ben providing the techno while Mabi and Amampondo, clad in body paint and full costume wowed the crowds with circus acrobatics, beating out their percussion rhythms. A genuine collision of diverse musical cultures feeding from each other to provide a unique live experience !


In between Mabi returned to the Zululand to work with Madala Kunene 



The next stepping stone was Japan where Mabi has become the hero of a generation of young and dedicated club and concertgoers. Back in the UK Mabi assisted Ben in creating a stunning album that is considered a milestone in combining the souls of Electronica and Africa - SHANGO (named after the Nigerian god of thunder). Mabi Thobejane's painted face on the album cover shows the group's deep involvement with South Africa. In December 2000 on a tour of Japan the group filmed a stunning performance in Tokyo which was later released on a DVD and went No.1 Music video in the land of the rising sun for 3 months.The DVD has since been re-released in the USA by Metropolis. In 2001 the band returned to Japan to perform in front of 40&rsquo000 young people at the most prestigious venue in the Far East - the FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL. "Hule Lam". A track from the album Shango was included on the TV series "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" In 2002 Mabi started to appear at rave parties all over the country and when discovered by the many Juno Reactor fans finally got the recognition of the local young crowd. A celebration and recognition that fans overseas have given South Africa's best drummer for a long time. Returning to his roots in Mamelodi 30 years later Mabi started to work with his cousin Thabang Tabane on a new recording. At the same time they started to give performances under the newly formed group PedXulu which includes Simpiwe Matole, Michael Ludonga and Mandla Lande of Amampondo, Dave Mxholise Mayakane (ex Barungwa) and Sibusiso Bernard Mdaweni known for his work with Madala Kunene and Busi Mhlongo. PedXulu first performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival and in August at the Arts Alive Festival in Johanesburg. A couple of stunning performances in the township of Langa resurrected the appetite for a new unique style of jazz and jive without a drum kit but with the hottest selection of traditional African drummers this country has to offer. In 2003 Mabi traveled to Hollywood with Ben Watkins to work on some sound tracks for the block buster film MATRIX - a collaboration that involved another MELT artist Deepak Ram. At the beginning of 2004 Mabi's ex band Sakhile went back to the studio to reunite for a series of live performances including a main stage appearance at the Cape Town North Sea Jazz Festival. In 2004 Mabi also joined YFM DJ Rudeboy Paul for a series of live performances following an emergence of more drum and percussion based dance music leading to recording an album with Thabang Tabane produced by Ben Amato in 2005. Mabi keeps beating the drum way into the 21st century - until South Africa wakes up to his beats!