September '15

Heita-da! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection.
This month we bring you pre-kwaito disco grooves by SPIRRO and SANKATANA, slow jams with SHADES, pan-African sounds by SIMBA MORRI and homegrown traditional synths by THE NEW BROTHERS and FRISCO SHIKUNDU, plus more...

SANKATANA - Mahlalela (1989)

Produced by: DPMC

Four tracks of tight, band-driven disco on a label more commonly associated with pre-kwaito electronic sounds (Syndicate Sisters, Phil Your Promise, Philip Mathole). The rock art motif and the shirtless look on the cover of Mahlalela (lazy bones) hint at a roots aesthetic, balanced with some tasteful synths and danceable grooves. Best track 'Prisoner on the Street' deals with issues of poverty and dislocation -

"Walking down the street, looking for a dollar bill,
Since I was a boy, I never ever lived so nice…"

WILLIAM 'MR EVERYTHING' MTHETHWA - Tribute to Sophie Mathibela (1988)

Roy B/Dephon, RBL146
Producer: William Mthethwa
Recorded at:  Sweet Sixteen

Mpho and Mphonyana Mathibela made headlines across South Africa when they were born joined at the head in Johannesburg on 7 December 1986. A decision was made for them to be separated, which happened in 1988. The story prompted support from musicians William Mthethwa and Yvonne Chaka Chaka (and Ali Katt, who also released a song for the twins in 1988).

"This album is dedicated to Sophie Mathibela, the mother of Mpho le Mphonyana, in honor of her supreme courage and total devotion to her two babies. All proceeds for the Mpho le Mphonyana track will be donated to Sophie to help in the upbringing of the twins. This track was recorded solely for this purporse. We love you Mpho le Mphonyana." - Yvonne and William.

The album also contains other social messages such as 'We Cry For Peace in Africa', 'Help The Children', 'We Don't need a Party' (all co-written by Al Etto and Mthethwa's frequent collaborator Dimakatso Moletsane) and 'We Miss You',  as well as the more upbeat 'Matjitji' and 'Hoza 2000'.

Sadly Mphonyana died of pneumonia a year after the twins were separated. Mpho, now in her late 20’s, is still alive today. 

SHADES - One More Night (1990)

Hit City, HC002
Producers: John Galanakis & Ziggy Adolph
Engineers: RF Gumbi & John Galanakis
Recored at: Platinum

Shades were a duo of Ziggy Adolph and Paul Green, formerly members of the group Zipp (alongside Patrick Titus), who put out Communication Breakdown in 1986 and also featured on releases by Hit City stablemates Banjo and Vusi Shange. As Shades they put out a heavily Wham-inspired selection of Euro-influenced synth-pop, primarily slow jams. In the liner notes the duo give thanks to "John, Paul, George, Ringo, Michael and Stevie, whose music inspired us to become musicians in the first place". Ziggy Adolph wrote most of the tracks and co-produced the album, "the fruition of a lifelong dream". Adolph remains active in the music industry today as a producer.


Roi/CTV/ETL, ETL(E)5004
Producer: Tom Maseko
Engineer: Jan Smit

Tsonga music (closely related and at times used interchangeably with 'Shangaan') relying heavily on interesting new synth sounds and drum machine beats that would soon develop into the 'Shangaan disco' of Penny Penny and more recently the 'Shangaan electro' of Nozinja, both now enjoying international attention.

SIMBA MORRI - Celebrating Life / Mwanza Nyanza (1990)

3rd Ear, TEAG3310
Producers: Simba Moriri & Phil Audoire (exec: David Marks)
Engineer: Phil Audoire
Recorded at: 3rd Ear Music, Durban

Simba Morri (aka Morri Natti) was born in Kenya and came to South Africa to study Anthropology at Wits University in Johannesburg before turning full time to music. A regular performer at political gatherings, he joined the band Mapantsula, who first released on Shifty Records' anti-conscription Forces Favourites compilation. Part of South Africa's multiracial 'alternative' scene in the 80s, his music added a rare pan-African element at a time when South Africa was isolated from the rest of the world.

In 1986 Morri recorded his debut album Wasamata on Shifty, the following year contributing guitars and vocals to Mzwakhe Mbuli's iconic debut Change is Pain. In 1990 he released Mwanza Nzanza (Celebrating Life) on Durban-based 3rd Ear Music. A regular on the club scene, he also taught at the Funda Centre in Soweto. In 1994 he was invited to perform at the African Arts festival in South Korea. In the mid-90s two songs from this album, 'Unity' and 'Celebrating Life' were used by the SABC to encourage voting. 1996 saw him supporting Crosby Stills & Nash in Johannesburg, and in 1997 he performed in Nantes, France.

"Simba calls his music Mashariki Muziki, a blend of rhythms and styles that embraces the Swahili Hi-Life music of Kenya (his home), the Socca and Afro music of Central Africa, he Chimurenga music of Zimbabwe and the Mbaqanga and Township Jive of South Africa and Mozambique. His influences range across the continent, from Nairobi to Durban, and his songs express ideas and emotions that are vibrantly African, with an infectious beat that is universally danceable."

THE NEW BROTHERS - Emakhuneni (1990)

CTV/Roi/Music Team, CT(T)86
Producers: Dumisani Ngcobo & Felani Gumbi
Engineers: Felani Gumbi & Peter Pearlson
Recorded at: RPM Studios

New-school mbaqanga packed full of interesting synth sounds and vocal melodies, fusing traditional grooves with modern instrumentation, and also mixing it up by drawing influence from gospel (on 'Masibambhane'). Produced by Dumisani Ngcobo (Izinkunzi, Abakhokheli).

SPIRRO - Speed Trap (1989)

Roi/Music Team, YPC(C) 10007
Producers: F. Gumbi & E. Ndlela / FJF Locomotion
Engineer: Terry Meredith
Composer: Bethuel Maseko
Recored at: Sound Studio

Chicco-inspired disco with slick synths over electronic beats and half-sung, half-spoken vocals that preempt kwaito, most obviously on 'Do It'. Mostly English lyrics avoid the frivolous in favor of socially relevant topics like road safety ('Speed Trap'), booze ('Drunken Women') and politics ('Who Killed Bingo' and 'Unification'): 

"Blacks, whites, Indians, coloureds… 
Let's be united. 
If we can unite, we can build a better future...
Unification is the only solution"

STILETTO - Say I'm Your Number One (198?)

David Gresham, DGX412
Producers: Dennis East & Clive Goodwill
Engineer: Fernando Perdigao

The mid-80s saw a trend in local producers releasing near-identical covers of international hits, probably in reaction to some tracks not being released here due to the cultural boycott. These include Margino's cover of the Madonna hit 'Holiday', Amadoda's cover of the Pointer Sisters' 'Automatic', and this, written by Stock Aitken & Waterman and a hit for British singer Princess in 1985. Co-producers Clive Goodwill and Dennis East, both originally from Durban, are still active in the industry. B-Side 'Sweet Jam' is a smooth instrumental groove composed by East and Goodwill. 

TREVOR NASSER - Speak Softly Love (1990)

RPM, RPM1271
Producer: Kevin Kruger
Engineer: Darryl Heilbrunn
Arranged by: Dan Hill
Recorded at: RPM

Something different from classical guitarist Trevor Nasser, best known for his fancy fingers on the theme song of the popular mid-80s TV show Vyfster (five star). His 1990 album Speak Softly Love contains 16 tracks, a mix of international and Afrikaans standards, including themes from The Godfather, Dr Zhivago and Deer Hunter, produced by keyboard fiend Dan Hill. Today he's still going strong, releasing albums like Somewhere Out There (2009), Classical Memories (2012) and The Classical (2015).

OSHOMI - Saphela Isizwe (1990)

Roi/Music Team, CT(T)89
Producer: Tom Mkhize
Engineer: Humphrey Mabona, Felani Gumbi & Tom Mkhize

One of the biggest figures in Zulu maskandi music, Bhekumuzi Luthuli started out in a mbaqanga band named Oshomi in Durban's Umlazi township in the late 70s. Tom Mkhize of CTV Music invited him and Oshimi to Johannesburg for mbaqanga music recording, and after two albums Bhekumuzi went solo and switched to maskandi, soon becoming one of the genre's top-selling artists.

Saphela Isizwe is dedicated to the band's bass player Joe Mzobe, who passed away soon after its recording: "We regret that you were not spared to hear the final mix, of which your bass played such an important part." Guest musos included Stimela members Isaac 'Mnca' Mtshali and Ntokozo Zungu, sax man Teaspoon Ndelu, pennywhistle legend 'Big Voice' Jack Lerole, another maskandi star in Bheki Ngcobo (Ihashi Elimhlophe), and prolific producer and session man Felani Gumbi. 

Luthuli passed away in 2010, aged 48 and still at the height of his powers, after releasing an album per year for the past 20 years. He was nominated posthumously at the SAMAs for Male Artist of the Year and Best Traditional Music Album for his final album Isipho (gift).

PHILLIP MATHOLE - Birthday Party (1991)

Producers: Abie Sibiya, Dave Booth, Marshall H.
Engineers: Dave Booth & Marshall H.
Recorded at: Real Time

Upbeat bubblegum grooves with a new school touch like MarcAlex. Produced by Abie Sibiya, formerly the keyboardist  for crossover acts Zia and Wozani, and later chairman for the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO). Titles include 'Godgiven Lover', 'You're My Sunshine' and the more political 'Pledge of Peace', 'In The Ghetto' and 'Anginandawo Mina' (I don't have a home) about being forcibly evicted.

PRAYER FOR S.A. - Prayer For S.A. (1991)

African Gospel Music, AGM105
Producer: Pastor Victor Phume
Engineer: Sam Loy (Greenville, TX)
Recorded at: Victor Phume Recording Studios, JHB

Synth-heavy gospel in the name of peace in South Africa at a time when violence threatened to derail the struggle for democracy. The brainchild of one Pastor Victor Phume, who also recorded with a band called The Syndicate. One track, 'King of Kings', was recorded at Lazer Productions in Texas, USA.

"The ever-increasing number of lives being lost in our country through a variety of causes necessitated the outcry for a concerted prayer from the gospel music artists in South Africa. 'Prayer For SA' is a contribution from the gospel music ministry denoting a plea for peace through prayer. This album is dedicated to all those who lost their beloved ones; and those who may wish to join in our prayer to tranquilize our beloved country."

In recent times Phume has written a book, titled 'Is God a White Man', and since 2007 has run the School of Prophets in Soweto.