May '15

Hola mpinji! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection!

This month we serve up new old music by OZIAS NTSELE, PETER MARINGA, MICHAEL LEBESE & THE AFRICAN VIBES, blind soulmen MARUMO and Sotho accordian grooves by MANKA LE PHALLANG, as well as Zimbabwean legends ROZALLA and NEW BLACK MONTANA.

Last month we bought you classics by PETER M, VIVA, THE VIBES, LOMBARD EXPRESS, something jazzy by MANFRED MANN'S PLAINS MUSIC and JONATHAN BUTLER, and traditional grooves from THE NEW PROMISE and THE PEACE BROTHERS.


OZIAS NTSELE - Uthando (1985)

Vulindlela/Jumbo, VUL6003
Producers: Greg Cutler & Sipho Gumede
Engineers: Greg Cutler & David Segal
Recorded at: RPM Studios

Produced by the late great Sipho Gumede (Sakhile, The Boogie Man), Ozias Ntsele's Uthando (love) serves up traditional Zulu grooves, at times venturing into jazzier territory, with some smooth organ melodies that would have appealed to slightly more conservative tastes.

JONATHAN BUTLER - Heal Our Land (1990)

Jive/Zomba, JIVET258
Producers: Loris Holland, Barry Eastmond & Wayne Braithwaite
Engineer: John Palmer & Tom Vercillo
Recorded at: Battery Studios, New York & London

By 1990 Jonathan Butler had reached his commerical peak, firmly established in the US and UK and with two Grammy nominations under his belt and still under the age of 30. As South Africa teetered on the brink of civil war, he put out 'Heal Our Land', a powerful call for peace and democracy in the country. The song was co-written by British artist Labi Siffre, who had his biggest hit with the international anti-apartheid anthem '(Something Inside) So Strong' a few years earlier. Following the passing of Nelson Mandela in December 2013, Butler brought the song back into his live show in tribute. The song was the title track of Butler's 1990 follow-up to 1988's More Than Friends. This single also features a 12" version of his 1987 breakout hit 'Lies', which reached number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and is said to have inspired Beyonce's 2011 hit 'Love On Top') and 'Gugulethu' from another Butler album from 1990, Deliverance.

"The boy became a grown-up man,
the moment that they said you never can.
They said, you may be very good,
but down below you know it's understood.
They say its wrong to judge the fate of a man,
by whether fate has made him pale or tan.
I do believe in order that truth can be real,
we must heal our land..."

THE VIBES - I Still Want My Love Back (1985)

RPM/Drum Rock, DRS21-12"
Producer: West Nkosi
Engineer: David Segal

While always synonymous with mbaqanga acts like Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens, the late great producer West Nkosi has tried his hand on bubblegum, particulary in the middle of the decade before the sound became more electronic, with bands like Volcano and The Vibes. Unfortunately, both tracks here, 'I Still Want My Love Back' (co-written by Walter Dlamini of Walter & The Beggars, Hotshot, Taxi) and 'Celebrate my Love' are built on a near identical groove with minimal variations, leading to a overly repetitive, predictable result.

THE PEACE BROTHERS - Umshado 'Uyisibusiso' (1982)

Rainbow/WEA, CGH5003
Producer: Maxwell Mngadi
Engineer: Graham Handley

Not to be confused with the pioneering kwaito crew Brothers of Peace, The Peace Brothers put out slick uptempo mbaqanga produced by guitar maestro Maxwell Mngadi (Soul Brothers, The Super Tens, Soul Fire, Imitshotshovu). The title track and album cover make the questionable assertion: "marriage is a blessing".

LOMBARD EXPRESS - Thela (1986)

Reamusic RMJ(C)30
Producer: Enoch Nondala
Engineer: Paul Hughes (mixed by Mark Holland)

Vintage mid-80s bubblegum by S. Mpangase and A. Ngwenya, produced by Enoch Nondala (Makwerhu, Percy Kay, Prince & The Buffaloes) on the Reamusic label. Two killer tracks featuring a barrage of smooth synth sounds and powerful, distinctive vocals. The title track 'Thela' ('pour') and the album cover dwell on the South African man's right to spend his money on beer ("I say I spend my money, I use it the way I like. Please don't give me funny names, I'm not a sucker"), while the B-side 'Heartbreaker' covers more universal subject matter:

"I thought you were my best friend, 
till I saw you with my lady.
Kissing and touching, holding her tight,
I thought you were my best friend...
Every time I see you together,
my heart is breaking.
Every time I see you two,
my heart is aching...
You're a heartbreaker..."

THE NEW PROMISE - Afrika Borwa (1991)

Tiger/Tusk, TGH1006
Producer: Enos Aphane
Engineer: Jan Breet, Jr.
Recorded at: J&J Studios

Tswana grooves composed and produced by Enos Aphane (who recently resurfaced to release the digital albums Johan 14 Verse 2 and 3), arranged by Jan Breet Jnr, with instruments by Ben Mphuti and Faxa Dube (more recently producer of Limpopo gospel acts Makgarebe a Bochabela, Mphoza and Winnie Mashaba) and backing vocals by Marriam, Sonti, Ntombi and Ponie. The New Promises fan club was based in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria in the puppet state of Bophuthatswana.

A review in The Namibian of 20 July 1991 reads: "This ethnic sensation can truly be described as a 'New Promise' for the lovers of traditional ethnic music. After performing for some time, the group has decided to record this masterpiece by public demand. This album promises to be that something special the public has been waiting for, so don' t miss it."

VIVA - Ooh-chi-ah (1984)

Righttrack, RTS615-12"
Producer: W. Ndlovu
Engineer: W. Ndlovu
Recorded at: Emcee Studios

Probably unrelated to the act of the same name that recorded 'Don't Turn Your Love Away' in Durban in 1985, Viva's 'Ooh-chi-ah' is a long-forgotten disco gem featuring an array of synths and electronic sounds, with lyrics taking a leaf out of Kool & The Gang's book, urging listeners to "Get your back up off the wall".


Original Sounds/Petbrook/PVB, PVBC13
Producer: Manfred Mann
Engineers: Stuart Barry, Ian Tompson & Daryl
Recorded at: Workhouse, London & RPM, Johannesburg

Johannesburg-born Manfred Lubowitz began his recording career in 1959 with The Vikings, one of the country's first rock bands. He left South Africa for London in 1961 and as a jazz critic assumed the name Manfred Mann. In a series of bands bearing this name - Manfred Mann, Manfred Mann Chapter Three and Manfred Mann's Earth Band - he became a central figure in British jazz and prog-rock scenes as a keyboardist and bandleader. 

In 1991 he took time out from the Earth Band to record this solo album under the name Manfred Mann's Plains Music. According to the artist on his website, "This album is called Plains Music, as it consists mainly of the melodies of the North American Plains Indians. We do not pretend that it is in any sense representative of the original ethnic music which was its source material. I tried to make a simple album of plain music, using as few notes as possible and keeping the tracks short and to the point." 

The album is also significant because it marked Mann's return to his homeland to record tracks like 'Sikelele' I and II, supposedly based on traditional Xhosa stick fighting songs but also of course referencing South Africa's struggle anthem. The end result is a mostly instrumental album of mellow meditations bordering on ambient and at worst treading into 'new age' territory.

PETER M. - Get Up And Dance (1985)

Atlantic/WEA, ATH4060
Producer: Thokoza Memela
Engineer: Dave Segal
Recorded at: RPM Studios

Fantastic mid-80s disco-soul driven by synth melodies and funky basslines. Typical of the early bubblegum years, songs contain escapist English lyrics ('Get Up And Dance', 'Shake Your Body', 'Let's Go Dancing') and the influences are all American. Produced by Thokoza Memela (Fani S'Khosana, Bibi Msomi) and released on the Atlantic imprint, rare in SA for local releases ahead of the subsequent rise of WEA (Warner Elektra Atlantic), later renamed Tusk.  

JENNIFER - Can't Believe (1989)

Gallo GRC, SBBL0001
Producer: Whiskey
Engineer: Fred Woods
Recorded at: Cottage Sound

Sweet bubblegum grooves that by 1989 were wearing a little thin, although this didn't stop some labels from imitating tried-and-tested pop products like Brenda, Yvonne, Rebecca, Mercy Pakela, Ntombi Ndaba, Winnie Khumalo and countless others. Includes a 'dance mix' dub of the title track.

PEOPLE LIKE US - Deliverance (1987)

EMI, EMCJ(L)4051781
Producers: Paul Crossley & Hilton Rosenthal (exec: Terry Owen)

Far removed from the bubblegum scene, Hi-NRG act People Like Us' 1986 hit 'Deliverance' made them famous in clubs in Europe and all over the world, although people didn't at first know that they were a South African act, something their UK-based record label Passion were reluctant to acknowledge. In South Africa 'Deliverance' was also popular, although albums were only available through import and people only found out that they were South African at the height of the song’s popularity. The song became the title track of their debut album, featuring other tracks including 'Hiroshima', 'Fighting for our Lives' and 'Reincarnation'. 

Frontman and producer Paul Crossley seemed destined for big things before dying of Aids in August 1989. He wrote the following message for partner in crime, former Shiraz bandmate and lyricist Terry Owen: "Terry, special thanks for your innovative lyrics which have equally inspired me to produce world-wide number one dance hits." Vocals by Cindy Dickenson. Other names associated with People Like Us include Hilton Rosenthal (Juluka, Savuka), Robin Hogarth (who later won a Grammy with the Soweto Gospel Choir) and Bobby Summerfield.

KATI ELIMNYAMA - Yini Mhlaba? (1984)

Chocolate City/Rainbow Records, CNH2037
Producer: Alton Ngubane
Engineer: Graham Handley

Not to be confused with the local action movie of the same name starring Simon Sabela and musical contemporary Kati Eliclean, Kati Elimnyama ('The Black Cat') was a notable figure in the mid-80s Zulu traditional scene. In 1984 he released Yini Mhlaba? (What is the world?), produced by Alton Ngubane (The Special Five, Madlala Brothers, Umphahleka noNgqi, Thikasiza ne-Zikoshi). That year he also contributed a song 'eGoli' to the compilation Soweto Street Music: The Definitive Collection, released in the UK.