After 30 years in the Afrikaans music industry, the singer Ruhan du Toit compares this industry to a wheel that is constantly turning: then you are at the top and then you are at the bottom again. Over the years, however, two rules have remained almost non-negotiable for him: to stay true to himself as an artist regardless of the latest fads, and to never lose his humanity.
His latest album, simply titled Ruhan du Toitis both a continuation and celebration of this.
“After so many years in the industry, I can say with reasonable certainty that I know who I am, both as a person and as an artist, and that I have learned to read my audiences well. You can be the best singer and actor out there, but audiences can tell if you don’t believe in yourself or are sincere,” he says in RNews’s studio.
Not that the “Monumental” singer doesn’t have enormous respect for more so-called “party music”, or even considered putting an extra “doef-doef” in his own songs.
In his days as one half of the singing duo Touch of Class, he and his singing partner, Deon van der Merwe, delighted audiences with local hits such as “Ek en my meissie” and “Stukkie van der Merwe”.
“It’s challenging at times, because the market sometimes pushes you in a certain direction, but artists like Theuns Jordaan could captivate audiences even though he didn’t sing that type of style. He stuck to his guns, and that’s what I also decided to do. I wanted to stay true to who I am as a person and do what I know works for me as an artist.”
Ruhan has always been at home on stage
From childhood it was clear that music ran through Ruhan’s veins.
Thanks to his parents, Johan, aka “Twakkies”, and Zelda du Toit, who is also at home behind the microphone, he was able to live out his dream from a young age. His younger brother, Jeanré, is also a keen singer.
In 1994 at the age of 11, a small blonde Ruhan’s first album, Heaven is, saw the light. The Du Toits also often performed together as a family at church bazaars, fairs, nursing homes and school halls.
“I did learn from a young age that a singing career requires sacrifice. I grew up on a prison site and always had to go home earlier than my peers at night when it was cold to protect my voice. Rugby matches were also given up for performances on many Saturdays.”
Still, Ruhan believes his parents tried to maintain a healthy balance.
“They didn’t want everything to go too far too fast. They wanted me to remain a schoolboy, and that makes a lot of sense to me now. Few child stars follow their careers to the end, because it is only normal as a child to choose a different direction for yourself if you are forced too hard into a certain one. For me there was never another path. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
He and his brother performed as a duo for ten years during which they released two duet albums together and in addition the top 20 of the then kykNET talent competition, Singreached
After his matriculation at the Higher Technical School Newton in Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) Ruhan got his trade qualification as an electrician. That made his 2022 recording of Sol-Tech Vocational Training College’s campus anthem all the more appropriate.
At 21, one of the many “great graces” as he refers to them, came on his career path when his uncle and aunt opened their house in Pretoria to him and Jeanré. This gave the brothers a chance to tackle their music career full time.
Here, however, he became acquainted with the obstacles that are linked to an artist’s life: endless bar performances, debit deductions that did not want to go through, and an album that did not reach major charts.
“It was a rough time and maybe the one single phase of my life where I almost threw in the towel. At the same time it was like a type of university for me. That’s where I learned how to read people and audiences.
“One gets off the stage one night, realizes anew why you do what you do. I can’t really put it into words, it’s something magical that gives you a new injection.”
Touch of Class charms
In 2012, a second “great grace” befell him in the form of Touch of Class’s Deon van der Merwe.
The duo made a name for themselves with their version of Simon & Garfunkel’s hit, “The Sound of Silence”, a song he also recorded with his brother on their debut album in 2000.
Ruhan and Deon’s live performance of this in 2016 had audiences of both Classics and Afrikaans is Groot on their feet. To date, their music video for “The Sound of Silence” has received over 11 million hits on YouTube.
Now teasing that he will never be able to shake off this song.
According to Ruhan, the duo’s seven years together have been full of successes, but not without personal obstacles.
“At one stage we were doing 28 shows a month. You sleep four hours if you are happy and try to make time for the studio in between. I’ve been through so many towns in South Africa, but don’t ask me what they look like. I was just in and out,” he jokes.
His first marriage also suffered from his busy schedule. “Family life is difficult for anyone in this industry and I take my hat off to those who make it work. You spend so much time apart and can easily live past each other.”
That’s why he decided to do things differently when he later found love again.
His wife of six years, Marinda, is the director of Ruhan du Toit Music and together they make a formidable team. “I don’t want to tour without her. She is an integral part of my career and it helps that we pursue the same goal together.”
He confesses that at times they struggle to turn off the “work switch”, but quick getaways to Dullstroom and Magoebaskloof help the couple to recharge.
This year, the singer’s eleven-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother in the Eastern Cape, also accompanied her father on the road for the first time. “We always kept her away from my work, but she is growing up nicely now. She even helped sell stock at some of the shows; it was very cute to see.”
Solo career a monumental success
His decision to part ways with Deon in 2019 was one he wrestled with for three years. According to Ruhan, the duo’s different life phases had been the biggest determining factor.
“Deon is more than 20 years my senior and I knew there would come a time when he would have to start thinking about downsizing, where my daughter was seven years old at the time and I still had a big responsibility. Downsizing was not an option.”
Ruhan’s daring was rewarded with the release of his album, Monumentalwhose title track particularly captivated and the music video was awarded an Aitsa award in 2021.
“‘Monumental’ was recorded in the pandemic and was absolutely the hopeful backbone of the album. I also think it was the type of song that people especially needed at that time.”
His love for melody and storytelling in music has always taken the lead and is especially now reflected in his latest album, which he describes as a summary of the past 30 years of work.
“Success changes everything. It changes how you think, how you deal with people, how you manage your finances. You think you are made then, but your humanity and integrity are only then tested, because now the real work begins. Surround yourself with the right people and learn from everyone.”
According to Ruhan, drive, discipline and patience are also important pillars to achieve and maintain success. His faith also kept him anchored through the difficult seasons.
“If you want to become a singer for money, you are making a mistake. If you’re doing it for fame, you know it’s going to blow over, but if you’re truly born to do it, then you can’t live without it. You can’t shake it off and have to make that feeling your driving force.”
Ruhan du Toit shares his favorite songs with RNews. Check here: