Tananas was a trio of world class musicians from South Africa and Mozambique who got together in 1988. Their improvisational and rhythmic sensibility established them as one of the most original and compelling groups that emerged in South Africa in the late 20th century.
The individual band members were Gito Baloi (bass/vocals), Ian Herman (drums) & Steve Newman (guitar). Baloi, a Mozambican, had been playing with Pongola, and Herman had been drumming with Cape rockers The Genuines.
The first Tananas album was released in 1988. The group recorded two albums for a major label and ran into problems following the release of 1992’s Time, with artistic differences between the three members cited as the main reason for the decision to put the band on hiatus. Newman began working with guitarist Tony Cox, while Baloi launched a critically applauded solo career.
Herman and Newman relaunched Tananas in 1994, but with Baloi unwilling to rejoin his former colleagues the duo was forced to use additional musicians on the commercially driven Orchestra Mundo and Unamunacua. Baloi recorded two solo albums during that period.
Tananas used to be essentially an instrumental band allied to jazz but unmistakably African at heart. In the group’s latter stage the recordings have included more vocals by Mozambican singer and bass player, Gito Baloi, who sang in Shangaan, Tsonga and Portuguese.
Following another long separation, the original line-up of Tananas reunited in the late 90s, signed a new recording contract with Sony, and recorded Seed.
Long regarded as South Africa’s most gifted drummer, Herman took up an offer of work in the United States. In New York he worked with luminaries such as Paul Simon and George Duke, later settling in San Francisco. He returned only briefly, to record with Peter Sklair and Paul Hanmer’s band, Unofficial Language. In 2000 Herman got a call from from Newman and longtime Tananas manager Kerry Friedman, imploring him to come home and make a new start with Tananas. The trio joined the WOMAD tour and finally began to receive some international recognition.
Unfortunately, the annual reunions won’t take place anymore. Gito Baloi was shot dead while returning home from a performance in Johannesburg in April 2004, ending any chance of a band reunion.