September '14

Heita hola! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection . . .

This month we check out Pat Shange's former band THE JUVENILES, something different from the IKEY GAMBA DANCE BAND and JOE MOSES, traditional grooves from SUKAZI MKHIZE and MAKAOTA AKALAME and the star-studded charity compilation LIVING LAND. Last month we brought you PATIENCE AFRICA, PRINCESS, NOVIDADE, ADZIAMBEYI BAND, The SOUL BROTHERS and SAKKIE.


BENJAMIN BALL - Come To Me / Hi Lite (1986)

Sound Of Soweto, 12XTWS(c)141
Producers: Cyril Mnculwane & Benjamin Ball
Engineers: David Moloele & Phil Audoire
Recorded at: Orange 338

Benjamin Ball emerged as one of the funkiest dudes around with his 1984 smash 'Flash A Flashlight' off the album Paulina, injecting his distinctive monotone voice and some reggae grooves into the bubblegum sound. Alongside producer/co-writer Cyril Mnculwane (of CJB) and manager Peter Snyman (who also handled Brenda Fassie), Ball went on to release albums like Kabadzeene (1988), In The Jungle (1990) and Take A Chance (1991), although he sadly never quite lived up to the potential of 'Flashlight' and later faded into obscurity. This is a hot 2-track album, with B-side 'Hi Lite' in particular showing off a slick dancefloor sensibility and bearing a close resemblance to his breakthrough hit:

"Everybody's on the move, in the golden city,
They're so busy, getting ready for the disco,
They wanna move, to a place where they can be happy,
It's called Hi-Lite, it's international boogie club...
Come on people get ready, I wanna see you get ready
There's no parking, on the dancing floor
People doing the best they can
Everybody's groovin', groovin' to the music,
Gotta keep them dancin', gotta keep them busy,
Gotta keep them movin', gotta keep them groovin'.
Gotta keep them boogyin', gotta get them dancin'...
DJ turn it on..."

JONATHAN BUTLER - Introducing Jonathan Butler (1985)

Jive/Zomba, HIP31
Producers: Barry Eastmond & Bryan 'Chuck' New
Engineers: Carl Beatty, Lincoln Clapp & Steve Goldman
Recorded at: Celestial, New York & Battery, London

In 1985 Butler has just moved to the UK, already a well-known act in Cape Town since childhood with Ronnie Joyce, Pacific Express and others. Under the guidance of fellow exiles Richard Jon Smith, Clive Calder and Ralph Simon, and all-star producer Barry Eastmond, his soulful jazz guitar style drew widespread acclaim. This, his international full-length album debut, includes favourites like '7th Avenue South' and 'Afrika'. It reached 101 on the US Hot 200 albums in May 1986. It also laid the foundation for his hugely successful eponymously titled second album, which earned two Grammy nominations in 1988 and established Butler's international career, which continues to thrive to date.

VA - Living Land (1985)

Cat, CAT4069
Producers: Emil Zoghby & Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse (exec: Dawn Lindberg)
Engineer: Ian Martin
Recorded at: EMI Studios

Despite heightening state repression at the time, pop musicians were able to put their weight behind the struggle via the relatively innocuous charity "Operation Hunger", the express aim of which was to fight malnutrition rather than apartheid, but in truth espoused a strong anti-apartheid message, most successfully at the landmark Concert in the Park in Johannesburg. That year the project also released this maxi single, written by Des Lindberg and Zane Cronje, and featuring a large cast of prominent black and white musicians - including The Angels, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Johnny Clegg, Brenda Fassie, Abigail Khubeka, Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse, 'Funky' Masike Mohapi (RIP), Thembi Mtshali, Neville Nash, Hotline's PJ Powers and Alistair Coakley, Barney Rachabane, Tata 'TNT' Sibeko and many others. Recorded in ballad and dance (arranged by Hotstix) versions, with each line sung by a different star, the lyrics predict peace "one day soon"...

"This is our song the hymn of our living land
come on and sing the song of our living land
no matter what colour
no matter what key
no matter what language, sing it with me
for our living land, our giving land
our loving and forgiving living land."

According to the liner notes, "Living Land is an expression of hope, and a gesture of musical solidarity in a time when many in South Africa are in despair. We have all pooled our capital - the only capital we have - our talents, our voices, our imagination, our ears, our energy, our time, and our skills, our minds and our hearts, to produce a statement about life and living in our land, South Africa. We are a microcosm of our society: child, adult, young, old, black, whie, brown, pink and everything in between. We are South Africa. Sing with us, please. It helps!"

THE JUVENILES - Push Before I Start (198?)

Roy B, RBM048
Producers: Pat Shange & Adrian Strydom (exec: Phil Hollis)
Engineer: Mark Holland
Recorded at: Syntrax

Before Pat Shange became a solo star in the mid-1980s with hits like 'Sweet Mama'. 'Casanova' and 'Undecided Divorce Case', he fronted a mbaqanga outfit known as The Juveniles. This two-track album catches Pat somewhere during this transition, probably shortly before he went solo. It's catchy, fun bubblegum, with the car theme reminiscent of Condry Ziqubu's timeless hit 'Skorokoro'. Featuring some input from another star of the Dephon stable, William Mthethwa.

INDOD'ENGAZIWA - Thembalami (1985)

Daylight Beat/CCP/EMI, DB(O)105
Producer: Simon Ngwenya
Engineer: Fab Grosso
Recorded at: EMI Studios

"The unknown man" was an alias of Simon Ngwenya, one of the most innovative producers in the mbaqanga genre with the prolific and longstanding Abakhwenyana, who experimented with synths and studio FX instead of traditional instruments like the accordian and guitar. Left to his own devices as a solo artist, he donned his long grey beard and put out some of the hottest tunes of the day, alongside the Madlala Brothers and the Soul Brothers.

SAKKIE - Linda / Comma Comma (1986)

Right Track, RTS647-12"
Producer: Sakkie Ndlovu
Engineer: Sam Wingate
Recorded at: RPM Studios

Funky stuff by one Sakkie Ndlovu. 'Comma Comma' was co-written by Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse and bears a close resemblance to one of his hits from the same year, 'Shikisha', with similarly potent synths and dancefloor rhythms. On the other side, 'Linda' drops all local influences and instead sounds like a slick power ballad, somewhere between Lionel Richie and Foreigner, complete with lyrics like "I feel like the first time...".

NOVIDADE - Voaria (1990)

Tusk, TUM700
Producer: Tata Sibeko
Engineer: Peter Pearlson
Recorded at: RPM

Very early South African house track, released as a single ahead of Novidade's six-track album of the same name in 1991. The group also released the album Fun Time in 1988 with Gallo. Produced by the late Tata 'TNT' Sibeko (Small, Shalom, Judi), 

PRINCESS - Let's Do It (1989)

Sounds of Soweto, SLH6012
Producer: Bushy Seatlholo
Engineers: K. Manas & S. McNamara
Recorded at: Hi-Tech

Bushy Seatlholo was one of the most influential keyboardists of the bubblegum era. He provided sizzling synths to bands like The Big Dudes, Spirits Rejoice, Joy and Theta and did session work for the likes of Hugh Masekela, Barney Rachabane, Caiphus Semenya, Neville Nash and many others. Following the demise of the Big Dudes, at the end of the 80s he took under his wing a young singer named Princess Mthembu, who had taken part in the popular talent search the Shell Road to Fame. Bushy's skills are all over this album, having composed and produced all six tracks. Add Princess's powerful vocals, reminiscent of Rebecca Malope and Brenda Fassie and the result is one high-quality album. Princess later worked with Masekela and apparently went through the rehabilitation programme of the organisation he founded, Musicians, Artists Assistance Programme of South Africa (MAAPSA). 

SOUL BROTHERS - Hluphekile (1991)

Soul Brothers, SBH1009
Producers: Moses Ngwenya, David Masondo & Maxwell Mngadi
Engineers: Fernando Perdigao & Neville Holmes
Recorded at: Powerhouse

The undisputed kings of mbaqanga arguably reached their peak in the 90s, with over a decade of experience and success under their belts, but still keeping old age at bay. Hluphekile is characerised by throbbing basslines and stinging synths courtesy of Black Moses Ngwenya. The title track (meaning 'troubled' or 'tormented') was released internationally on 'Jive Soweto', the fourth instalment of the popular 'Indestructible Beat of Soweto' compilation.

ADZIAMBEYI BAND - Volume 7: Putani Dzanu (1991)

Zim/Mpumelelo/Beat City/Tusk, QBH1141
Producer: S. Depete & A. Maphwanya
Engineer: Richard Austen
Composer: Elias Sirwali
Recorded at: RPM Studios

The Adziambeyi (usually spelt Adziambei) Band is a Tshivenda group founded in 1982 by Elias Maele Sirwali in the rural north-east of the country. He was later joined by his older brother Tshivhangwaho Raedani, Johannes Kwinda and Sarah Masindi. They released their first album, Midzimu ya Madimoni, in 1983 and remained popular into the 90s before disbanding, only to reunite in 2012 for the release of a new album, Shango lo Takala in 2012, followed by Mutula Gole in 2013. Sadly Raedani passed away in 2013.

PATIENCE AFRICA - Wozani La (1987)

Reamusic, RML(O)2011
Producer: Danny Antill
Engineer: Keith Forsyth

"Patience Africa was another tigress of South African music in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The second-born in a family of six, she started singing at the age of 11. After showing her talent as a student, she joined a Durban group known as Jazz Sledge. When she went to Johannesburg she joined the Hollywood Jazz Band. Upon her marriage in 1965 she took a break from music and became a housewife. When she later contact West Nkosi of Muvuthela Music Company for a comeback, the result was the recording of one of her best sellers 'Bhula Sangoma', became huge even in neighbouring states like Zimbabwe. She was most popular for her love songs, which included 'Sakatuku' and 'Basadi Mamelang'. Her albums include Ilanga Malishona (1977), Siyabonga (1979), Let's Groove Tonight (1980), Ebang Le Mohau (1982), Mabewena A Duduza (1983), Batho Ba Lesotho (1984), Sesi We... Life Is What You Make It (1986) and Wozani La (1987)" (Mojapelo, 2008:88).

LIONFIRE - Rip-Off (1988)

Lionfire/Bop/Tusk, LFH3
Producer: Taso Stephanou
Engineer: David Moloele
Recorded at: Orange 338

Early crossover project by Taso Stephanou, better known as the promoter behind the Lion Lager Roadshow, one of the biggest gigs of the 80s. In fact Mojapelo (2008:81) suggests that Lionfire was created just for the Roadshow itself. Stephanou had earlier worked in East Africa in the 1970s, writing songs for Afrobeat act Mokonde, and after moving to SA produced Steve Kekana's 1983 album 'Night Boot Patrol' before releasing 'Kookie' as Lionfire in 1984. In the early 90s he put on the the Coca Cola Full Blast Music Show, which helped launch kwaito stars like Arthur, and continued to make his mark as a music sponsorship guru. But as producer/musician, Stephanou did a great job with Lionfire, a slick crossover effort that still sounds funky today. Also contributing were Okie Mashiloane ("vocal assistance") and Pinkie on keyboards, and prolific soundman David Moloele. The title track is a synth-fuelled pantsula winner that tells the tale of a guy who confronts the tsotsis who robbed him:

So I'm walking back to town, 
and I see them in the yard.
I pretended not to see, 
then surprise them from the rear!
'Come on boys I'm one of you, 
I can dance pantsula too!
Let's be friends - give me my things, 
I'll forget just what you did.'
We are all just dancing now, 
dancing our pantsula style.
Hey I'm jiving just like you, 
jiving our pantsula style...