The Sound Of Movies

Nosipho Mngoma of the 2013 Talent Press Durban interviews Zethu Mashika, film score composer of ZAMA ZAMA which premiered last year at the DIFF.

Composer Zethu Mashika during a recording session.

Emotional engineering. That is how film score composer Zethu Mashika describes what he does. So when he studied engineering after high school, he was not too far off from his passion, creating the "feel" of films with music, complementing what one sees on screen.

The 29-year-old is self-taught. He is the youngest and first black person to score and produce music for a feature film solo, ZAMA ZAMA (2012), which premiered at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) last year to much acclaim. The action drama, directed by Vikus Strijdom, explores the world of mines in South Africa and the tension between illegal miners and the law. "Vikus took a leap of faith and entrusted me with scoring his film." After hearing a sample of the score for the first reel, Strijdom gave Mashika carte blanche. "It took 12 weeks. Composing is a lonely process which is emotionally demanding because you do it with the intention of making someone feel something, something more. Adding depth without lyrics."

The notes start coming together in his mind as he reads the script ultimately leading to a harmonious marriage between what the viewer sees on screen and the feelings evoked. "I went with classical music for ZAMA ZAMA because I wanted to achieve something big. Classical music is flexible and fun to play with. It's an ocean of emotion," says Mashika. But he was careful not to try too hard and make the sound feel forced, "I was excited and hungry, so everything just fell into place." He won a nomination for the SA Film and Television Best Film Score award for his efforts, outshining naysayers.

Mashika is a composer by talent and instinct, not by training. "I had to teach myself the skills to share the music I was making in my head for years. My mother not allowing me to study music was a blessing in disguise because no one moulded me towards a certain direction."The only son and youngest of four children to a teacher mother, Mashika grew up in Benoni, east of South Africa’s entertainment hub, Johannesburg. He moved to the city of gold five years ago, continuing a decade-long career of making music including for some of South Africa’s best-known musicians. He went through different phases in music, falling in love with different genres. "I never got over them. I draw on them which is why I am able to make music in any genre." In 2007 he scored a short film, followed by a feature film, SKYF THE MOVIE in 2011. Mashika also composes music for television series title sequences and adverts, but says film composition is his first love.

"Film is a powerful and important form of communication. It creates a window into the imagination." This is why he has created a self-documentary called COMPOSED, to market himself as he looks forward to work on more films. "When I get a chance to pitch, I don't talk until the directors and producers have heard my music." He aspires to direct, which is why he is taking part in DIFF’s Talent Campus Durban 2013. "What I do now is the closest interpretation of the director’s vision. But if I am both the director and the composer I can create something insane."

Mashika is driven, passionate and talented. There is no doubt that he will be able to achieve his dream of engineering emotions in films as the "go-to guy for film scores in Africa and have an impact on internationally."