A plethora of new music

1996 was a big, exciting year for new South African music. Glynis O’Hara gives the run-down on some of the favourites

There certainly was a plethora of South African material released this year and the new trend, kwaito, was responsible for wagon loads of it. Kwaito is South Africa’s version of house — contemporary disco music using the street slang of township youth. From Boom Shaka to Arthur to Abashante to M’du, the urban kids couldn’t get enough of it.

Four record companies (Teal, CCP, Sony and BMG) between them had 107 new titles this year, excluding their traditional and gospel acts.

These included acts like Johannes Kerkorrel, NoaNoa, Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo, Springbok Nude Girls, Mzwakhe Mbuli. Peta Teanet (sadly shot and killed this year), Tsepho Tshola, Rebecca, Stimela, Pressure Cookies, Soweto String Quartet, Not the Midnight Mass, Sonja Herholdt, Anton Goosen, Urban Creep and, of course, QKumba Zoo, the group breaking into the charts in the United States.

But it’s impossible to choose “the best” of the year, not least because no single person in the country could possibly listen to and assess every single release. The variety of styles, languages and cultural groups is just too great. That’s why we’ve excluded traditional and gospel, not because we think acts like Thomas Chauke and Pure Magic are of less value, but because to include them presents a daunting task, to say the least. Maybe next year …

In the meantime, though, here’s one journalist’s utterly biased view of the year’s music, as well as 5fm DJ Michelle Constant’s choice, music writer Yvonne Fonteyn’s choice, and the sales chart from Look & Listen.

For 5fm DJ Michelle Constant the year has been an excellent one for South African music. We’ve seen it getting the media attention it deserves … like radio playlisting and growing support from record companies. Despite this though, the albums that have been released have not necessarily been all-out successes.

“In many cases the albums don’t give a full hand of great songs but the songs that are there bode extremely well for the future of South African rock and pop in 1997.”

For this writer there’s absolutely no question that Tananas’s Unamunacua (Gallo) is the landmark release of the year. The title’s unpronounceable, but believe me, the music’s food for the soul. With just one, beautiful vocal track from Vusi mahlasela, on this outing they bring in the talents of ethno-music specialist Robbie Jansen, violinist Noise Khanyile and piano accordion player Nico Carstens to build up an awesome palette of colour and texture. Check Nico out on I’ll be Waiting in the Lounge and be amazed.

This is an act that just sets out to make classy music, not self-consciously “crossover”, but coming from musicians who have lived on all sides of the fence and incorporated their discoveries with sophistication, sensitivity and grace. If there’s a local CD that deserves to be launched in the Big Overseas, then this is it.

Then there’s Be Like Water’s Un (Apula/Polygram) — or is it titled Lionel Bastos’s Be Like Water? It’s hard to tell from the CD cover. In any event, it’s also a recording that simply aims straight for the core of class, this time evoking something of the mood of Chris Rea.

Pulling in musicians like Louis Mhlanga on guitar, Kai Horsthemke on bass, Reuben Samuels on drums, John Hassan and Godfrey Ngcina on percussion, Bastos has put together an album of superb songs — wry, articulate takes on, well, that little old thing called love.

Pops Mohammed’s Ancestral Healing (B&W), is an album that reflects the calm, meditative nature of the man himself. Pops is quite a treasure, being a player of West African kora, the Australian didgeridoo, the African mbira, mouth bow and much more.

It’s the quickest sunset-in-the-bush transfusion you could hope to get, blending traditional instrumentation with electronic in a way that pays most respect to the older forms. Always warm, always a comfort, this is a pleasure to listen to.

Mzwakhe Mbuli’s KwaZulu-Natal (CCP) is also a goodie. His strong lyrics are set against the bright, bouncy background of modernised Fifties township pop (not surprising considering the producer is West Nkosi, who played pennywhistle on the streets in that era). The album abounds with good melodies and rhythm.

Soweto String Quartet’s Renaissance is pleasing, easy on the ear and the overstressed city psyche as it wends its way through tracks like Imbube, Pata Pata, Dvorak’s Songs my Mother Taught Me and Weeping (which has attained the status of a new South African classic through being covered twice this year, also by QKumba Zoo).

Pressure Cookies’ Swallow (Polygram) is intelligent, lean and moving. Vocalist and guitarist Tonia Selley at last gets to front her own band and sing of love, sex, safety belts, videos and radio within the broad sweep of rock. In live performance she employed the irony of sporting a waitress’ apron while delivering a blistering version of Sex.

Anton Goosen’s Bushrock (Gallo) brings out the deep connections between Afrikaans and black music, particularly through the piano accordion. Bob Dylan is obviously an influence too. It’s a far more successful blend of South African styles than many others out there. Check out what the composer of Waterblommetjies and Jantjie is doing now — largely in English.

Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s Township Child offers some good songs in a wide range of styles — kwaito to ballad to rumba to gospel to jazz to ethnic. Listen to Thaba Bosiu, Nelson Mandela, Township Child and Hotstix and All.

Tu Nokwe’s Iyakanyaka has some marvellous tracks, like Ubuntu and Haram, but doesn’t always pull it off.

Constant reckons that bands to watch out for next year include Plum, Landscape Prayers, Valiant Swart, Original Evergreen, Waddy, Dolly Rockers, Mud Ensemble and Brendan Jury’s Trance Sky project.

Jazz lover Shado Twala reckons there’s promise in upcoming albums from drummer Vusi Khumalo, pianist Moses Molelekwa, sax player McCoy Mrubatha and a collaboration between Masekela, Joe Nina and Ray Phiri.

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