Our Interview with Ijay Swanepoel aka Stephen Gawking, the inspirational Musician who suffers from Progressive Neuromuscular Disease, SMA Type 1. Rather than being discouraged by his disabilities and challenges, Ijay uses his music under the Artist Name Stephen Gawking. Also known as The Nuclear Lyricist, he aims to be a symbol of hope. An inspiration to those who are disabled, different, bullied, oppressed, and everyone in-between.
Paying tribute to his late sister Andria, who passed in 1994 from Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1, Ijay collaborated with other artists. Namely, Eduan, Kat and Kulax, to release his latest song, ‘Andria The Angelic’.
The song is a reflection of the impact that her death had on him and his family. It is also a message of hope and resilience. A reminder that even in the face of tragedy, there is always beauty to be found.
Stephen Gawking shares that “the message behind the song is that even though we may lose loved ones, they will always be in our hearts. It serves as a reminder that love is eternal. That it can help us overcome any obstacle. It was inspired by me and my parents longing for my sister. Andria was a special person. Her death had a profound impact on us as a family.
The song is a way for me to express my feelings of survivor’s guilt and growing up without my sister. It’s an honoring her memory. The song is also a way for me to share my story with others. To offer hope and inspiration to those who are facing similar challenges.
The song is universally relatable because it speaks to the human experience of loss and grief. It is a reminder that we are all connected. That we all share the same pain when we lose someone we love. And, even in the darkest of times, there is always hope.
Andria’s story is a testament to the power of the human spirit. She never let her illness define her. She lived her life with love, joy, and compassion. I hope that this song will offer hope and inspiration to those who are facing similar challenges.”
He further adds, “August was SMA Awareness and Pride month. It’s been part of our family since 1989, when my sister Andria was born. Having pride in it was something I struggled with growing up, even to this day. I have come to accept it more now. Finding pride in this being my cross to carry, without ever giving up. However, it’s not easy, and some days it gets me down, but never out.
My SMA is type 2. Not as progressive as type 1 which my sister Andria had, but still progressive. That means I will keep getting weaker as I get older. That is the worst and scariest part of it.
I cannot speak for others living with similar disabilities. For me the number one method for coping has always been my imagination. TV, films, and music have always been my therapy. I for instance relate so much to the X-Men. The ‘Mutant’ gene does not discriminate, no matter colour or creed, anyone can have it.
The ‘Mutants’ are a minority in society, and seen as different, or not normal. Every ‘Mutant’ can go one of two ways. The way of Magneto, which is a bitter and hateful path. Or, be like Professor X. This is the way of understanding, or at least trying. Professor X understands the key to treating ignorance is education. On who and what the minority is, and vice versa.”
Question: As an artist with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), how did you decide to become a musician? Please add insight into your journey. The challenges towards making music and making your dream a reality, whilst living with a disease.
Stephen Gawking: Well, I always played around with words in terms of writing poems / rhymes, etc. In a separate capacity, I played around with music as a hobby. One day I just realized that maybe I should try to combine the two into one project. With the aim to motivate and inspire other people that feel trapped in life. As one living with a progressive neuromuscular disorder, I know all about that.
Deciding to pursue this dream / project is not just an outlet. It has also given me a sense of purpose. Therefore, the challenges that come with my disability, in terms of making music is nothing. Living in the technological era of today makes everything possible, even for severely disabled people.
Question: In just this past year alone, you managed to release two powerful songs with top collaborating artists. ‘Cheslin Kolbe In An Office Cubicle’ featuring Loufi, Gazelle, HemelBesem & Vicus Visser. Now, ‘Andria The Angelic’ featuring Eduan, Kat and Kulax. Is your strategy to release fast-succession singles, or is an EP or Album on the horizon?
Stephen Gawking: Yeah, for now our release strategy is single by single. I think it’s the best way to do it in these times. Staying active in terms of your presence with your content, and growing, almost like a snowball effect.
Stream ‘Cheslin Kolbe In An Office Cubicle’ Here
Question: You recently released your latest single ‘Andria The Angelic’ featuring artists Eduan, Kat and Kulax. What was the inspiration? How did you get these amazing artists to collaborate?
Stephen Gawking: The song “Andria The Angelic” is a tribute to my sister, Andria. She passed in 1994 at the age of 5 from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1. A more progressive type than the one I have.
The song is a reflection on the impact that her death had on us as a family. It is also a message of hope and resilience. A reminder that even in the face of tragedy, there is always beauty to be found.
Even though we may lose loved ones, they will always be with us in our hearts. This is universally relatable because it speaks to the human experience of loss and grief.
All of the featured artists came onboard with the help of Bobby Johnson (Co-Producer) and Devo Oosthuizen (PR Manager). After hearing the pitch and meaning behind the song, they brought everything together beautifully.
Stream ‘Andria The Angelic’ (featuring Eduan, Kat and Kulax) Here
Question: Given how much has changed in the music industry, how have such changes helped you? In regard to becoming a better independent artist, able to release your music with impact and reach, and getting your positive message heard?
Stephen Gawking: Yeah, living in the technological era of today makes things way easier, but also a few things are more difficult. Getting your music on all the platforms is easy. Getting people to listen to it is where it gets difficult.
This is for most independent artists in an oversaturated industry. I feel like the ones that do it for the right reasons who are fully committed will ultimately make it given time. That is very difficult for an instant gratification generation.
Question: Given the evolution of digital in the Music Industry, what has been most beneficial to you? Towards getting your message and music out, what has been detrimental? Also, looking at technology, like AI and its impact on music, what do you feel the next wave of such flux may hold for artists?
Stephen Gawking: Yeah, it’s a very paradoxical time for creatives in general. What I mean by that is we live in probably the most content rich time ever. Yet, the majority of content creators are struggling to make a living. Those that are making a living are not sure if it is sustainable. Especially with the AI threat looming on job security for creatives.
I don’t know what the future holds, but we can only keep trying, staying positive and adapt to the times.
Question: One of the artists you collaborated with, multi-instrumentalist, looper & international musician Kat. An artist who fuses Blues, Rock, Pop, Jazz and Electronic in a unique way. Has performed live globally in UK, Hong Kong, and Japan. How did you and her meet, and what sparked this collaboration?
Stephen Gawking: I heard Kat’s ‘Halloween’ on a radio show of Duzzy Clayton who is a friend of mine. I immediately felt she is something special. Exactly what was needed for “Andria The Angelic”. It turned out that we have the same PR Manager, Devo Oosthuizen, who then got us in contact.
Stream ‘Tokyo’ from Kat featuring Mark Haze Here
Watch the Music Video for ‘Tokyo’ Here
Question: What does your immediate-to-long term future entail? Insofar as upcoming releases and collaborations, that seasoned and novel fans can look forward to? Are there more songs forthcoming from you or collabs you can give some early teasers on?
Stephen Gawking: Yeah, we are currently working on few other singles that are in different phases of production. The next one released will most probably be a collaboration with Aewon Wolf, titled “Demons & Disorders”
Question: Where can you be found online where new fans can follow you?
Question: Thank you for your time, Ijay. We wish you all the best and appreciate the time you’ve given to speak to us. In closing, do you have any special mentions or shoutouts you want to make?
Stephen Gawking: No problem, thank you so much Summer for the opportunity and support from SA Music & Entertainment Magazine. Also a special shoutout to Bobby Johnson, Devo at Devographic Music Agency, and Duzzy Clayton.
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