African artist Mazambane neNqotho Zakhe has a new album titled June 16, 1976 (Umsakazo Records), featuring a inspiring tribute to the fallen of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.
With his ultra-baritone rasps, squeezed vocal phrases and distinguishing tribal marks, the great Mazambane carved out a significant place in history as one of South Africa’s most popular and recognizable vocal stars during the era of Mbaqanga township jive.
A familiar name to township audiences through the 1970s and well into the 1980s, he followed in the footsteps of Mahlathini, the first hugely successful ‘groaner’. Now in his 70s, Mazambane is the lone survivor of the era when groaners walked the African townships as heroes. But the changing times haven’t stopped him from creating excellent music.
Gito Baloi Gito Baloi has played and sung music for as long as he can remember. Surrounded by the traditional music of his extended family – Nyanja as well as Shangaan – he spent his earliest years exploring sounds with the aid of discarded paraffin tins, reeds and anything he could lay his hands on. His first public performances, playing on a borrowed bass guitar, helped to support his family in a war-torn Mozambique.
Gito was inspired by Mozambican musicians like Hortensia Langa, Fani Mfumo and Orchestra Marabenta, he traveled with a band called Afro 78, from Maputo to Nampula, Ilha de Mozambique to Beira and Angoche.
Gito’s turning point came in 1986 when traveling extensively throughout South Africa with the group Pongolo. After performing in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town with Pongolo, Gito performed with Mzwaki Mbuli during his resistance concerts which toured many outlying townships and ghettos. This led to the recording of 2 albums, “Change is Pain” in 1986 and “Unbroken Spirit” in 1989.
In 1987 Gito performed with Kenyan musician Simba Morri and this led to the recording of the album “Was sa Mata”. During 1988 Gito Baloi, Steve Newman and Ian Herman formed a collaboration which they named Tananas. This band made several live performances in Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique, France, Sweden and Japan. Out of Tananas’s brief four year history came four highly acclaimed albums: Tananas, Spiral, Time and Orchestra Mundo.
1992 saw Gito back in France, where he was invited to record and perform with renowned African musicians, Zairian Pablo and Malian Askia Modibo. In addition to extensive performances around the country, Gito co-ordinated the formation of two bands namely Skabenga and Somewhere Else. Continuing in this direction, 1993 and 1994 was spent on numerous performances and recording sessions with a variety of South African musicians, culminating in a tour as supporting artist to Sting.
In 1996, Gito as part of Tananas won the “Best Contemporary Jazz Band Award” at the prestigious South African FNB Awards. In the same year, in conjunction with the cream of South African talent, Gito released his first full solo album Ekaya. Locally the first single shot onto charts nation wide and achieved a top slot of #2 on Radio Metro. The Gito Baloi Band traveled to perform at many destinations around Southern Africa, including Gito’s home town of Maputo. Gito also continued to contribute to other musician’s work by playing on the albums of South African, Anton Goosen and Koffi from the Ivory Coast. After touring France with his own band, Gito toured Mozambique with Swiss musician Peter Giger and his project Family of Percussion.
In June of 1996 he produced Durban based Landscape Prayers’ second album Bush Telegraph. The Creative Arts Foundation funded a collaboration between Gito and Jason Armstrong to compose 6 works during August and September, this led to the two musicians recording and distributing Desert Voices independently. After supporting Tracy Chapman in October, Gito began working on his new album Na Ku Randza. It was released in conjunction with the Human Rights Day concert staged at the Mega Music Warehouse in March 1997.
In 1999, Gito created a collective named the African Gypsies, which performed at WOMAD in Australia. Back in South Africa, he joined his former bandmates at Tananas for a reunion. The result was Seed.
What started off as a one off gig at a very over crowded Bassline Club, resulted in a serious collaboration of international musicians. Steve Newman & Gito Baloi of Tananas joined forces with vocalist Wendy Oldfield. Korean/Canadian Violinist Julia entered the picture at WOMAD: Benoni 2000. She arrived with violin in case and asked Steve Newman if she could join his workshop. Steve having never seen Julia before welcomed the jam. Percussionist/rapper Elad Neeman had been coming in and out of South Africa. Based in Israel, he traveled the world to participate in world music projects. Together this 5-piece line up produced ambient world music. Mondetta released an album, It’s a Small World (Sheer Sound), on September 27th of 2001.
In October of 2001, Gito Baloi released his third solo album, Herbs and Roots, with Sheer Sound. In 2003 he collaborated with Nibs van der Spuy.
Gito Baloi was murdered. He was shot in the neck by two men who opened fire on him on Sunday, April 3rd, 2004. The attackers took his wallet. The 39-year-old musician was returning home after performing at the Lucit Candle Garden in Pretoria.
A posthumous album titled “Beyond” was released in 2008, with all of its proceeds benefiting the Gito Baloi Memorial Trust that was set up to support Baloi’s children.
On September 14, 2018 Soweto Gospel Choir will release its sixth Shanachie Entertainment recording, Freedom, a collection of freedom songs from South Africa and beyond, marking the Centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Soweto Gospel Choir Music Director Diniloxolo Ndlakuse said, “The significance of Nelson Mandela’s 100th commemoration to South Africans is, firstly and foremost a reminder of the role played by Nelson Mandela in moving South Africa from a position of being an undemocratic, oppressive society to one of a peaceful co-existence for all racial groups. Mandela represents love, peace, forgiveness and strength to the choir. He is a symbol of inspiration to the Choir.”
Soweto Gospel Choir sings in six of South Africa’s eleven official languages on Freedom but mostly in Zulu or Sotho, as well as English. The Choir’s first single is “Umbombela,” which means “train song,” is a composition that speaks of the travails experienced by black South Africans during the apartheid era, when migrant workers were forced to travel long distances away from their families in order to meet the harsh economic and political demands made by the government.
On October 4, 2018 Soweto Gospel Choir will start a US tour.
Iphupho is the new album by the talented female a cappella group A cappella. The 6-member South African act perform original songs in the style of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In a male-dominated musical field, Afrika Mamas demonstrate that they are a formidable force in Zulu isicathamiya music.
The current lineup includes band leader Ntombifuthi Lushaba on soprano vocals; lead singer Sibongile Nkosi on bass vocals; lead singer and tuner Fikile Busisiwe Mhlongo; Sister Zungu on bass vocals; Sindisiwe Khumalo on alto vocals; and Nonhlanhla NhloeDube on soprano vocals. Guests: Siyanda Pasgenik Makhathini on beatbox; Ayanda Ngcabo on percussion; and Patricia Bhe Shandu on alto vocals.
Iphupho is a highly-spirited a cappella album with a strong South African flavor.
South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a leading jazz and world music artist died today, January 23, 2018 in Johannesburg.
The Masekela family issued a press release: “It is with profound sorrow that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing. After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family.”
Born in Johannesburg in 1939, Hugh Masekela was widely considered both the father of African jazz and South Africa’s musical ambassador to the world. Masekela’s trumpet (introduced to him by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston) was an instrument of resistance, a call to freedom, and a celebration of the strength and resilience of people.
His powerful blend of jazz, funk, Afrobeat, and Latin rhythms first mourned the tragedy of apartheid and then celebrated its long-awaited demise. Over the span of his life-long career, he released dozens of albums, toured the world-over, and performed with renowned artists, including Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon (on the Graceland tour), Adrian Below, The Byrds, Miriam Makeba, Zimbabwean Dorothy Masuka, the Jazz Epistles, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hedzoleh Soundz, Francis Fuster, and Dudu Pukwana.
When Masekela went into exile during the 1960s, Harry Belafonte helped him settle in the United States, as a student in New York, where he recorded much music including his 1968 hit Grazing in the Grass.”
His 1987 hit “Bring Him Back Home” became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour following his release from prison in 1992. Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990.
In 2010, President Jacob Zuma presented Hugh Masekela the highest award in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga. In 2011, Masekela received a Lifetime Achievement award at the World Music Expo, WOMEX in Copenhagen.
”I was always singing. At school, after school. I was the laziest one in my family because I just didn’t have time, my time was for music, you know. Always I was being punished, but I knew whenever I was punished it was because it had something to do with some notes – whether it was a band, or just a man playing guitar – that I was following” – Busi Mhlongo
Born in Kwa Zulu, Natal, Busi Mhlongo grew up with a song on her lips. Despite being raised within her family’s Methodist tradition that sadly had little recourse to music, Busi sought out other religious denominations with musical services and remembers, ”even following people, maybe someone with a guitar, to find out where there was music.”
Haunted by melodies, she persisted in the face of adversity and begun singing from an early age with groups led by her older and more musically advanced brother. Around 1963, the success of a great South African stage musical called King Kong, caused a talent drought when many of the currently hot musicians left the country to tour the show internationally. So Gallo Records had a talent competition and Busi and her brother went to Johannesburg and won it.
“OK, the song we did was ‘My Boy Lollipop’,” said Busi Mhlongo. “I was a kid, really, and yes I was really rocking that My Boy Lollipop. It had been a hit for Milly in England – Island Records’ first hit – and I guess because of Apartheid and the way things were working, they sort of shut Milly out and My Boy Lollipop was moving. All this for me, it was for joy, not really knowing that I would be ripped off in the business.”
Busi took part in many theatrical productions throughout the 1960s, including the lead in Gibson Kente’s The Jazz Prophet and Liefa stage and film productions of Bertha Egnos’ Dingakaand Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz and African Follies. She worked with most of South Africa’s greatest jazz and mbaqanga stars at festivals and gigs too numerous to mention and so it was that she met her husband, Early Mabuza.
Early was a drummer who played with Dollar Brand, but was more widely known for his role in a cinema commercial for condensed milk. When he joined the cast of a show Busi was appearing in, as the guest artist, she was at first dismissive: ”To me he was a tall guy who drank condensed milk at the movies, so when I saw him I thought, ‘Well he’s not so tall…’ “I was never so much in awe of Early as the rest of the cast and then, one day we were practising and I was sitting pretty. I had this mini skirt on and when I moved to pick something up, my legs opened and he hit me with a drum mallet. I flipped out, like, what is happening? He said, ‘Sit like a lady.’ That’s how he proposed! He was a very quiet man, he couldn’t speak. But he was a good drummer.”
Busi and Early had a daughter, Mpumi, but when the music called her away to tour the Portuguese cabaret circuit, Busi left him holding the baby and taking the opportunity, left South Africa for Portugal, via Mozambique and Angola. Barely a couple of months into her tour the sad news of Early’s sudden death reached her. Trying to overcome the tragic death of her husband Busi then spent five years playing in Portuguese casinos, performing the popular hits of the day and always closing the show with her African songs: ”I always sing my African songs because they make me feel really free. You know, like when you’ve been really serious and somebody says OK, now you can put on your shorts!”
”I always moved because of music,” she said. ”Music has been my ticket.” She went to London briefly in 1972 and recorded with Dudu Pukwana, Julian Bahula, George Lee, and Lucky Ranku. She even worked with Osibisa as their lead singer.
It wasn’t music that lead Busi to America, however, but illness. She had developed cancer and had to be treated in hospital there. Fortunately, she recovered and completely healed. As soon as she was well enough, Busi accepted an invitation to join the cast of a stage comedy called Reefer Gladness in Toronto, Canada, in which she got to sing the songs made famous by Billy Holliday and Bessie Smith. Jackson Pollock, the abstract painter, was enchanted by her and his influence led to Busi being given her own starring vehicle, called Ship Of Fools.
It was a great relief for Busi to be performing again and she had a wonderful time playing gigs with her own band at St Lawrence Hall but, in 1979, after five years in Canada, she got the chance to return to Africa on a tour of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho.
She slipped into South Africa, a decade after she’d left but the Security Forces were quickly on her case so, after nine months, Busi was obliged to accept an invitation to return to Portugal to join a musical called Black Ground. Of course her agent called the minute he heard she was back, so Busi went around the casino circuit one more time, but she knew that this was just a passing moment and that she had to move on. One New Year’s Eve in Madeira, a Dutch family invited her to Holland. When they rang a few days later and repeated the offer, she accepted and quickly left.
Through her Dutch friends, Busi made contact first with a group of Senegalese musicians, and later with a Gambian group, Ifang Bondi and spent a couple of years based in Amsterdam, playing African music at major festivals and shows.
As one of the highlights of the Africa Roots Festival, she worked with many visiting African musicians and began to develop her own inimitable style. In the mid-eighties, Busi returned again to South Africa and formed the original Twasa band with the late “Doc” Mthalane. She played with Twasa and Winston Mankunku Ngozi to packed houses at The Blue Note in Durban before moving back to Holland in 1988. Her shows at the Melk Weg in Amsterdam drew rave reviews and led to a series of workshops which she ran at the club, then to a series of government-sponsored concerts in schools throughout Holland.
Billed alongside Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, Busi was the highlight of the African Music Festival in Delft in 1989. There, she met Brice Wassy who had been instrumental in the creation of the Urban Zulu album and worked as the musical director of her band. She then returned once again to South Africa to reform Twasa. After touring Holland and Belgium in 1993, she recorded her debut album with Twasa – the majority of which was composed by “Doc” Mthalane, before returning to Durban in 1994. As a part of a program to reconnect township youth with their roots, Busi ran workshops in Zulu singing and dancing in Clermont, Natal.
In 1995, Busi topped a popularity poll on Radio Metro, and appeared on the main stage of the Grahamstown Arts Festival with Sipho Gumede as well as taking part, with Madala Kunene and other M.E.L.T. 2000 (then B&W Music) artists in the Outernational Meltdown concert at the Limpopo Club of the Africa Centre in London. She appears on Sipho’s album, Ubuntu – Humanity and also on Madala Kunene’s Kon’ko Man.
Busi kicked off 1996 by appearing with Hugh Masekela at a concert in London to mark the end of the Africa ’95 festival and was subsequently invited to tour France and Germany. She has supported the world famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo and also collaborated with Max Lässer on the recording of his album, She also toured with Pops Mohammed and members of Amampondo.
Busi recorded two solo albums in Europe, Babhemu and Urban Zulu. The latter, produced by Will Mowat brought her international fame and recognition and was released on MELT in 1998. Drawing on a number of styles such mbaqanga, maskanda and marabi, Busi was inspired by The “Sxaxa Mbij” (“pulling together”) Peace project led by Khaba Mkhize in KwaZulu-Natal.
Urban Zulu is essentially Busi’s reinterpretation of maskanda – traditional Zulu music normally sung by Zulu working class men – for which she pulled in the expertise of Phuzekhemisi, a famed maskanda band. Two members of this group Themba Ngcobo and Mkhalelwa Ngwazi co-composed and co-wrote the entire album with Busi. In addition to the various Zulu musicians she worked with on this album, Brice Wassy –who has also worked with Salif Keita – contributed to the direction and production of the CD.
Holding the No.1 spot in the European world music charts for two months solid Busi’s position as one of the leading South African divas was firmly established. Touring internationally and bewitching audiences with her powerful stage presence and vocal prowess she rightfully took her seat in the musical arena as one of the most phenomenal and exciting musicians to have emerged from South Africa.
Busi scooped three awards at the FNB South African Music Awards, for Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (Africa), and Best African Pop Album. Ranked alongside Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and The Mahotella Queens, unique in becoming the first female to be spreading the maskanda style of vocals internationally, Busi was applauded by audiences the world over.
Busi’s lyrics carried universally powerful and poignant messages. Her songs concerned the empowerment and reconciliation of peoples who, though sharing the same citizenship, have very different political aspirations. Inanda – where she grew up, was the birthplace of African Nationalist leader John Duke, and the late prophet Isiah Shembe and largely shaped Busi, ”The spirit of these great sons have served as a source of inspiration for me and my music”, she explained. ”I am a bit traditional and it is because of them. They taught us unity, love and peace among the people. Their legacy should live on.”
”Hear the cock crow the alarm for a new dawning! Change is the only constant. Open the gates of mercy in your wall of fear and anger so the blossom of compassion can bloom, feeding from the roots of courage. In churches, keep preaching truth. In schools, keep instructing right knowledge. At home, keep persevering through crises. Leaders, sit and reason with the people and listen to their talk. So let us unite and proclaim your right, as the cock crows the alarm, claim your right to the family of mankind!”
Busi Mhlongo died June 15th of 2010 of breast cancer at Albert Luthuli Hospital in Cato Manor, Durban. She was 62.
Insingizi, Black Umfolosi, Iyasa, Afrika Mamas, Amadaduzo and Blessings Nqo – Best of African Mbube (Arc Music EUCD 2643, 2016)
In the seminal text, “Tristes Tropiques,” Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that the “savage” mind has the same structures as the “civilized” mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere. His thoughts have proven useful to anthropologists and sociologists for several decades now in dividing societies and communities into perspective-based subgroups for analysis. He is also a good ally for world music listeners, who require some interpretational basis that transcends unique cultures and different languages.
“Mbube” means “lion,” in Zulu. Zulu culture venerates hunting and fighting prowess, as opposed to agricultural skills. When 20th Century realities forced the sons and grandsons of revered warriors to seek livelihood in coal mines and industrial settings, they became strongly interested in retaining the core of their culture in song.
Poor men living in camps or semi-permanent hostels had few instrumental resources, but had one another’s voices, and so a musical form built on loud and powerful a cappella four part harmony, accompanied by dancing, evolved. When Solomon Linda improvised the first 15 notes of a song called “Mbube” during a 1939 recording session with the Evening Birds, the subgenre’s formal framework was defined.
Most listeners will not know exactly what the artists on “Best of African Mbube” are singing about on most of the release’s 20 selections, but will recognize that they are celebrating heroes and celebrating as heroes.
That upbeat attitude is something to seek, enjoy and share. This record and releases by the artists represented on it are very much worth adding to one’s music collection.
Canada-based South African singer and JUNO award-winning artist Lorraine Klaasen has a new album out titled Nouvelle Journée, or New Day, (Justin Time Records). It’s a collection of songs sung in Tsonga, Sotho, IsiZulu and Xhosa, as well as English and French, that have a slight political tone, infused with hip-shaking, toe-tapping rhythms.
Based in Montreal for more than 35 years, Klaasen creates an enticing mix of South African sounds, strongly seasoned with West Indian flavors.
The album features Congolese drummer Noel Mpiaza and Haitian musician Medad Ernest, who contributes his jazz and gospel groove on the accordion and keyboards. Local musicians completing the roster are Assane Seck, the most in-demand Senegalese artist in Montreal, brothers André and Ross Whitman (of the famed West Indian Soca band Jab Jab), as well as Quebec’s double-bassist master Cédric Dind-Lavoie, who has become a fixture on the local world music scene; and a trio of young backing vocalists: Anne Metellus, Melissa Gresseau, and Cynthia Binette.
Some still know him as Dollar Brand, others by his adopted moniker of Abdullah Ibrahim, which he began using in the late 1960s after his conversion to Islam. Either way, the piano styling of this remarkable South African musician have made their indelible mark in both the jazz and world genres for over half a century.
Ibrahim was born Adolphe Johannes Brand in Capetown in 1934, and quickly nicknamed ‘Dollar’. Learning the piano from the age of 7, he honed his early talent in the church. By the late 40?s he was already playing with local jazz big bands.
In the early 1960s alongside trumpeter Hugh Masekela, saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, he was a central figure in South Africa’s own progressive jazz movement which took its lead from the New York-based sounds being articulated at the time by John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk amongst others. His Jazz Epistles group, which included Masekela and Gwangwa, broke new musical ground, with a distinctive African influence added to the jazz improvisation.
He left South Africa in 1962 due to the worsening political situation and, in a now-legendary meeting, his new Dollar Brand Trio was ‘discovered’ by Duke Ellington while playing in Zurich, Switzerland club. Ellington quickly arranged a recording session with Reprise Records, and the Trio began playing the major American and European jazz festivals to enthusiastic acclaim. Brand/Ibrahim’s powerful tonal clusters, repeating African melodies, and creative improvisations were to become his trademarks.
He returned briefly to South Africa in the mid-70?s, but found the conditions so oppressive that he went back into exile in New York. He finally returned to live in Capetown in 1990.
His discography as both a leader and sideman lists well over a hundred album credits, including African Space Program, Ekaya, Tintinyana and Black Lightning. He composed the award-winning soundtrack for the 1988 French/African film Chocolat.