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.


BOMBA - Poor Man's Dance (1988)

Zub/Tusk, UBH004
Producer: Feduja Trio (exec: Alton Mashaba)
Engineer: Fabb Grosso
Recorded at: RPM Studios

Powerful disco grooves with a Shangaan twist. Backing vox by Felicia Marion, Thoko Ndlozi, Cecil Mitch and Ernest, synth brass by Joe Matsheka (Bayete, Pongolo), all other instruments by Gofe. Standout track is the instrumental 'Poor Man's Dance', which strikes the perfect balance groove traditional grooves and modern instrumentation. Little-known Bomba wrote all five tracks and provides lead vocals and deep English lyrics on tracks like 'One-sided Love', 'Release' and 'Victim of Time':

Here I am standing on the face of the planet
I'm a stranger, everything around me looks so strange
I don't know, I think I'm stuck...
I saw many people running up and down, in a rush,
I asked, what's going on, can somebody tell me please?
But no one ever bothered about me
They looked at me, and walked away...
I went to my father and said, 
'Father, help me, I want to know,
I'm seeing people running up and down,
Tell me, what's going on?
I wanna know, I need to know...'
My father said 'Son, ever since I was born,
I've been trying to find out what's going on.
Look at me now, I'm a wasted body, I'm an old man,
I'm a living soul, stuck in this dying body,
I'm a victim of time...'
If we can stop this time,
we can turn this world into a paradise forever.
The sun will rise, but never set.
We are living out of time, without no limitations,
where we'll never die,
where we'll live forever and ever."

NEW BLACK MONTANA - Vol. 1 (1987)

Teal, TEL2162
Producer: Tymon Mabaleka
Engineers: D. Scobie
Composers: P. Tembo & C. Mashoko
Recorded at: Shed Studios, Zimbabwe

Debut album from underrated Zimbabwean sungura act who later had hits with 'Night Shift' and 'Jekanyika'. Producer Tymon Mabaleka, nicknamed "The White Horse", was a top soccer play in the 70s before becoming one of Zimbabwe's most revered producers (working with acts like Oliver Mtukudzi, Lovemore Majaivana, Ilanga and John Chibadura) and later record label executives. He passed away in June 2014.

MARUMO - Modiehi (1982)

Spade/Mavuthela BL340
Producer: West Nkosi
Engineer: Owen Wolf

South Africa's blind musicians have a proud legacy, most famously in stars like Steve Kekana and Babsy Mlangeni. In 1982 producer West Nkosi (Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens) recorded a group of musicians from the Athlone School for the blind in Bellville near Cape Town - John Mothopeng, Munich Sibiya, Simon Falatsi and Marks Mbuthuma, who had previously played in bands like the  All Rounders, the Orations and the legendary Batsumi. The result is masterful display of virtuosity and versatility, from the classic Sotho soul of 'Re a Hlopheha' to the deep funk of 'Khomo Tsaka Deile Kae?', space-age synths on 'Toitoi' to touches of gospel ('O Mohau'), classical and jazz.

"Those who tend to think that blind people are living in their own microcosm simply because they are blind must give that idea up... As the Transvaal Association for Blind Black Adults is the dome, the foresight and the future of the blind, our four artists' roads crossed while involved in fund raising for the organisation. They then took a firm decision to combine and clique to form this new band Marumo. Their most solemn prayer is to see Marumo succeed to the most highest accessable peak. This should prove to you that Marumo has a wide variety of talent. Give them a 'Go' support them. They are not modest of their own microcosm: they are part of you and BELONG to you. All they need is your encouragement."

MANKA LE PHALLANG - Leseli (1984)

Reamusic, JUL(E)160
Producer: Clive Risko
Engineer: Martin

Deep Sotho accordion/Famo grooves by multiracial act Manka Le Phallang, who churned out a number of albums in the 80s and featured strongly on the 1988 international compilation 'Sheshwe: The Sound of the Mines'. Produced by former country crooner Clive Risko.

ROZALLA - Spirit of Africa (1989)

Tusk/Serengeti, WIH7047
Producers: Out of the Hat Productions, D. Morton & Trick Productions

Probably the most successful African singer in international dance music, Rozalla Miller was born in 1964 in Ndola, Zambia and began singing professionally as a child at special events and on kids' TV. At 18 she moved to Zimbabwe, where after fronting various R&B cover bands she launched her solo career, scoring numerous radio hits, including 'Party Time' in 1984. In 1988 she moved to London in search of international success. In 1989 she released Spirit of Africa, an album of slick R&B-pop (with minimal African influence except on the title track and 'King') that would soon be overshadowed. A few months later, working with Chris Sergeant of Unit Dance Records and the Band of Gypsies production duo, Rozalla landed club hits in 1990 with 'Born To Luv Ya' and in 1991 with 'Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)', a hit so massive it earned her the dubious title 'Queen of Rave' in the burgeoning electronic mainstream.

Following the success of her debut album Everybody's Free, in 1992 she opened for Michael Jackson on the European leg of his Dangerous tour. She continued to release lesser hits throughout the 90s and beyond, moving between dance music and R&B/soul. Her other albums include Look No Further (1995), Coming Home (1998) and Brand New Version (2009). 'Everybody's Free' enjoyed new life with remixes charting in the UK in 1996 and Australia in 2009. In 2010 she performed in Harare alongside the Rusike Brothers for the first time in many years. In 2014 she released two new singles, 'Can You Feel The Love' with David Anthony and 'If You Say It Again', which entered the Billboard Dance charts in the US. In 2015 she released 'Shaking Through the Night', a collaboration with Farhaan 'Kazz' Khan (of UK-based, Malawi-born, Zim-raised brothers Bkay n Kazz), produced by German producer Peter Schanz. During her 30-year career she has also enjoyed chart success in Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, France, Austria and New Zealand.

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".