October '14

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

This month we check out The Invaders' JOE MOSES, disco funk from SPECIAL CANE MAHLELEBE and MINEBELT, gospel pop by KATIE PENNINGTON, and traditional grooves from THE CHALLENGERS, SUKAZI MKHIZE, LINGANISA NABAFANA BEJUBANE and MAKAOTA AKALAME.

he IKEY GAMBA DANCE BAND and the star-studded charity compilation LIVING LAND.


SUKAZI MKHIZE - Sukazi Mkhize Namadube (1991)

Gaza/Sounds of Soweto GAZA(K)005
Producer: Buss Ngcobo
Engineers: Nevil Fox/Dean Haskins
Recorded at: The Note Factory

Deep maskandi grooves by one Elliot Sukazi Mkhize, in the mould of Ihashi Elimhlophe, Phuzekhemisi and many others. Inspired in part by the zebra, as the cover art and title ('and the zebras') suggest.

MAKAOTA AKALAME - Tau Ea Thaba No. 2 (1987)

CCP/EMI, RG(O)4051981
Producer: SM Khoza
Engineer: Graham Handley

Vintage Sotho grooves driven by upbeat rhythms, frantic accordian melodies and soaring vocals, still the hallmarks today of the Mountain Kingdom's perenially popular famo sound.

THE CHALLENGERS - Lendawo Ingcwele (198?)

Midnight Beat/Dephon, MBT208
Producer: Simon Ngwenya
Engineer: Phil Audoire
Recorded at: Orange 338

The Challengers were a popular Zulu gospel group not afraid of a synth or two, as the cover of this album (translated at "this holy place") suggests - partly no doubt due to the influence of producer and co-arranger Simon Ngwenya (Indod'engaziwa, Abakhwenyana). Altogether The Challengers released some 20 albums over the years. The key figure behind the group was Thokoza Msomi, who later established groups like iThemba Lama Khatholika (since 2001) and oMama be Nqaba yamaKhatholika. 

BYRON - Byron (1990)

David Gresham, DGR1167
Producer: John Capek

Byron (aka Jean-Michel Byron, aka Byron du Plessis) is a singer from East London who miraculously found himself fronting US rock band Toto in 1990 for their 'Past To Present' compilation, including four new songs for which he shared song-writing credit. In his brief stint with the band he gained notoriety for "diva-like" behaviour, infuriating the band's founding members and fans alike. He was quickly booted from the band and in an effort to redeem himself recorded this solo six-track album, retaining his only moderate hit with Toto, the power ballad 'Love Has The Power', as well as the original version's producer, John Capek. Byron shows his African roots on two other tracks, 'Sangoma' and 'Plaything', which go a long way to redeeming his image and this album. Interestingly the experience inspired Capek enough to record his debut solo album 'Indaba' in South Africa, released in 1991. Byron remains based in Los Angeles and in mid-2014 began recording a new album in Italy.

According to the accompanying press release from David Gresham Records, "Byron combines the best of pop, rock and ethnic elements creating an album of classy sophistication. 'Byron' is a superb local offering... a clear indication of the talent in South Africa."

KATIE PENNINGTON - Look What God Is Doing (1989)

Maranatha, MAR048
Producers: Danny Antill & Lukie Carelson
Engineer: Andre Groenewold
Recorded at: Maranatha

An American-born gospel singer who made an impact on the pop scene with her powerful vocals, most famously by featuring on the Stimela hit 'Where Did We Go Wrong', Pennington as a solo artist here delivers sugary gospel pop, with synths by Danny Antill (Sunset, Patience Africa, Liz Pass, Billy Paulson). "Although I was born, raised and educated in the United States, I have had a mission call to Africa since the day I asked Jesus into my life at age five. It has been my privilege to live and minister along with my husband Leif in this country of OURS for the last five years. Africa my home too!"

MINEBELT - Jealous (1988)

Teal Trutone, KVL5081
Producer: Peter Moticoe
Engineer: Humphrey Mabote

Funky disco grooves produced and composed by the prolific Peter 'Hitman' Moticoe (The Ghetto, Tom Dollar, Joy White, William Mthethwa, Brenda Fassie). Featuring lead guitarist Benjamin Nhassavele (later became part of the sucessful stage musical Umoja), drummer Godfrey Mgcina (Ymage, Hugh Masekela), keyboardist Joey Mabe (Mahlathini & Mahotella Queens) and backing vocals by the likes of Khanyisile Sibiya (Sweet Desire) and Ntombifuthi Mabaso (Hot Soul Singers).

SPECIAL CANE MAHLELEBE - Something On My Mind (1985)

Hope, HOPE(E)112
Producers: Koloi Lebona, Monty Bogatsu & Japie Lebona
Engineer: Fabrizio Grosso

"Also produced by Sabata (Lebona) was former deejay, Special Cane Mahlelebe from the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The young man had earned the nickname 'Special Cane' or 'Speshu' from his flexibility in breakdancing, a craze that swept the country (originally from the slums of Bronx and Harem in the States). Unfortunately, in 1986 a car accident on the way from Roma University cut short young Speshu's life at age of 24 before he reaped the benefits of his first album cut in 1985." (Mojapelo, 2008:17).

JOE MOSES - Remembers The Invaders (198?)

Roy B/Dephon, RBL139
Producer: Al Etto
Engineer: Stephen McNamara
Recorded at: Platinum Studio

The Invaders were a groundbreaking rock group from the Eastern Cape established in the early 1960s and initially inspired by Cliff Richard & the Shadows following their visit to Port Elizabeth in 1961. Joe Moses was the lead guitarist of the band, which also launched the career of vocalist Lionel Peterson. Here he revisits some of the Invaders hits from 20 years earlier, like 'Shock Waves' and 'Ice Cream & Suckers', with the late great Al Etto giving the instrumentals a modern, synth-infused twist. More about the Invaders here.

TRIBE AFTER TRIBE - Tribe After Tribe (1991)

Megaforce/Atlantic/Tusk, ATC9907

Charismatic frontman Robbi Robb cut his teeth with the seminal punk band The Asylum Kids in the late 70s, best known for the banned anthem 'Fight It With Your Mind'. Upon the band's demise, Robb formed Tribe After Tribe in Johannesburg in 1984. Like The Asylum Kids, the band was a thorn in the side of apartheid authorities with their outspoken political lyrics and live performances. In 1985 they released their debut album, Power, featuring the hit 'As I Went Out One Morning (Damsel)'. Robb and the band soon moved to the US, settling in Los Angeles, and in the late 80s made a solo contribution to the soundtrack of 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'. Not long after that they released this, their second album. With hard-rocking 'Afro-Acid Rock' tracks like 'White Boys in the Jungle' and 'Build A Subway', it helped the band earn a following on the grunge scene, opening for Pearl Jam in the early 90s before Robb and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament formed a side project, Three Fish, recording two albums later in the decade. Tribe After Tribe was followed by Love Under Will (1993), Pearls Before Swine (1997), Enchanted Entrance (2002) and MOAB (2009). Today Robb and his Tribe are still going strong (website here), with Robb a revered guitarist, lyricist and 'rock mystic'. Check out this interview and live performance on South African TV from the mid-80s...

THE IKEY GAMBA DANCE BAND - Strike Up The Band (1989)

Tusk, TUSB3009
Producer: Ikey Gamba Jr.
Engineer: Murray Anderson

An institution of the Cape "langarm" sound, the Ikey Gamba Dance Band (aka Orchestra) formed as early as 1951 and incredibly are still around today, a family band of three generations of Gamba's and friends. Their 1989 album Strike Up The Band is classy ballroom jazz with a bossanova influence. The band 11-piece ensemble sees Ikey Snr on electric piano lead a horn section of six, rhythm section of two, with two vocalists. Titles include 'I Go To Rio', 'Manhattan', 'Rainbow Connection' and 'In The Mood'.

Writes Ikey Snr in the liner notes: "Started 38 years ago my myself, my late father and mother and friends. From the start-up till today, this is still a family band. Athough this album is dedicated to me, tribute must be given to all the members of the group..... Lastly my two sons Andre and Ikey (Jnr), who I hope will carry on when I retire, which will be in the near future."

In the 2013 book Sounding The Cape, Denis-Constant Martin writes: "The repertoire of Ikey Gamba's langarm band is extremely diversified, and has absorbed kwela, boeremusiek, Indian music, as well as Brazilian samba." (Martin, 2013:346).

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.