Dec '14 - Jan '15

Vukani mawethu! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection . . .

This festive season we bring you LAPPASIDE, JOYCE, the legendary RICHARD JON SMITH, SHADIII, AFRICAN IMAGE, Zulu grooves from LINGANISA NABAFANE BEJUBANE and THISA, xmas synths by BONNY, something different from THE SOFT SHOES, a 1985 tribute album to DESMOND TUTU and a synth-packed gospel compilation.

Last month we checked out LORRAINE STAPLE, RUFARO, RONNIE MARTIN, HARRY MOYAGA, THE YOUNG STARS, and UMSALOFU NAMAVIZITHA.

Bless up!

RICHARD JON SMITH - Shangrila (1980)

Bullet/CCP/EMI Brigadiers, BU(L)571
Producer: Robert Schroder
Engineer: Ian Martin


Smith was an influential and popular figure since the 1970s with albums such as Sweet Mama (1973), Superstar Smith (1974) and Michael Row The Boat (1979), featuring one of his most popular hits, 'Michael Row The Boat Ashore'. Born in Cape Town, Smith scored seven top 20 hits in South Africa between 1973 and 1980, earning the nickname 'Mr Knockout'. With the guidance of producer Clive Calder and Ralph Simon he led the way for other 'coloured' stars, such as Jonathan Butler, Ronnie Joyce and others. In the early 1980s Smith left South Africa to join Calder and Simon in exile in the UK, during the earliest days of their Jive/Zomba empire. He provided backing vocals to Tight Fit's chart-topping 1982 version of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' and reached number 63 on the UK charts with the disco-funk hit 'She's the Master of the Game' from his eponymous 1983 album. 

Despite being overshadowed by his former protege, Butler, Smith continued to release albums to some international acclaim, such as You And Me (1984) and Africa (1988). Though much of his early work sounds decidedly unfunky these days, Smith was a notable musical pioneer, one of the first to fuse conscious, politically relevant lyrics to American-inspired disco sounds and even reggae. For example on Shangrila, the title track deals with the still-burning issue of forced removals, with lyrics dwelling on "The sound of bulldozers tearing away at our hearts..."









JOYCE - Fantasy (1988)

RPM, RPM7127
Producer: Peter Moticoe
Engineer: Humphrey Mabote
Recorded by: RPM Studios


Funky Shangaan disco produced by the prolific Peter "Hitman" Moticoe (Tom Dollar, Joy White, The Ghetto), featuring two English songs - the title track and 'The Other Side of Me'. Powerful vocals and stinging synths, but nothing really catchy enough to set it apart from the rest. 

LAPPASIDE - Colourblind Fever (1987)

Teal, XPD2472
Producer: Potatoes Zuma


Unknown early crossover effort by L Joubert and SG Mbatha, evidence that the crossover trend that defied apartheid ran far deeper than the big names typically associated with it, like Savuka, Hotline and Zia.

"Hey sister, let's stand together,
this game called life is forever...
We live and love together,
we've got colourblind, colourblind fever"

RONNIE MARTIN - Don't Mess Around (1985)

Rufaro/Gallo/GRC, XRU118
Producer: Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse
Engineer: Phil Audoire
Recorded by: Ovation


Produced by Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse in his post-Harari prime, 'Don't Mess Around' is typical early bubblegum - innocent subject matter, repetitive English lyrics ("Don't mess around with a good thing..."), strong American R&B influence and a mid-tempo groove laid down real musicians, here led by some impressive guitar work. The B-side 're-mix' is more of a dub version and hardly deviates from the original.

THE YOUNG STARS - Gold Dust (1989)

Umkhonto, KHON1024
Producer: D. Sihlangu
Engineer: R. Sletcher
Recorded by: Gateway Studio


Fresh instrumental fusion of programmed beats, synths and sax jive sounds, with titles like 'Party Time' and 'Lets All Dance'. According to the duo, "We would like to thank those who encouraged us, especially Christinah K. Bogopane who spent a lot of time with us, and to thank Mr Santos James Ramatlhape. We won't forget our parents Mr and Mrs Ramatlhape and Mr and Mrs Pilane for praying and wishing us the best. The best of everything not forgetting our creator, the Lord Almighty God."

UMSALOFU NAMAVIZITHA - Washonaphi Ubaba (1986)

Daylight Beat/CCP, DB(A)4051511
Producer: Simon Ngwenya
Engineer: Jan Smit
Recorded by: EMI Studios


Superior quality traditional Zulu grooves courtesy of producer Simon Ngwenya (Indod'engaziwa, Abakhwenyana) who throws in some experimental synths and samples to spice up the traditional guitar-driven maskandi sound. There's even a rare English track, 'Hello Lavi', with its catchy refrain, "I want to see you tonight".

HARRY MOYAGA - Jonaaas (1987)

Mabob City/CCP, MMB(O)4061621
Producers: Rex Rabanye & Harry Moyaga
Engineer: Marks Mankwane
Recorded by: Emcee Studios

Moyaga has been a respected musician and visual artist for many years, including during the 80s with the Medu Art Ensemble in Botswana, and more recently fronting the Harry Moyaga Band in the UK. Here he delivers upbeat saxophone and flute instrumentals over some fairly experimental programming courtesy of co-producer, keyboard legend Rex Rabanye. Engineered by the legendary Marks Mankwane (a key figure in the Makgona Tsohle Band that backed Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens). "Dedicated to the Mothers, Fathers, Daughters and Sons of Southern Africa".

RUFARO - Rufaro (1987)

Challenger/Mac-Villa, CHM073-12"
Producer: Sidwell Duda
Engineers: Sam Wingate & Lee Short
Recorded by: RPM 


Top-quality disco grooves from a tight, full band along the lines of Zasha and with the Afro-rock influence of Harari. "Moses (Mahlangu, bass), Shadrack (Rameya, keyboards) and Joseph (Mngoma, drums) started as session musicians, playing in various studios in Johannesburg. Having backing numerous groups we decided to look for additional musicians and to record our own material. We met Ephraim (Hlope, keyboards) who playing keyboards for the now defunct Cannibals. He injected new life into the band and assisted us with our compositions. Together with our producer, Sidwell Duda, we auditioned several vocalists until we discovered Eric (Mmusi) who used to work with Cheek To Cheek and Sparks. After a few weeks of rehearsals we went into the studio for our first maxi-single 'The Mighty Birds'. For the backing vocals we used the powerful new trio Elegance."

LORRAINE STAPLE - Here I Come (Sizolala La) (1986)

Gallo/GRC, HUL40098
Producer: Richard Siluma
Engineer: David Segal
Recorded by: RPM Studios


Soulful grooves with the unmistakeable Stimela influence courtesy of a backing band of Ray Phiri, Thapelo Khomo, Felani Gumbi and Nana 'Coyote' Motijoane (Lorraine writes: "Nana, with your raunchy voice and arrangements you have made this album into something special"). Produced and engineered by Richard Siluma and David Segal, the same duo behind Lucky Dube and Stimela. Siluma takes care of Roland 707 and Yamaha DX7, with Tim Kraft on Linn 9000. This was her second full-length album, after the debut single 'On The Road Again/Let The Music Move Me' (1984) and the album You Belong to Me (1985). In 1986 Staple also recorded 'Together We'll Make It', a duet with Lucky Dube, which featured in the SABC's First National Song Festival.


"Lorraine Staple's solo career was Lloyd Lelosa's dream. Her real name was Lorraine Sibisi... Her music was the alternative of the time to Disco music. She had a mellow voice and her style of singing reminded one of Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers" (Mojapelo, 2008: 106-107).

Writes Siluma in the cover notes: "Lorraine Staple releases this album for her fans, in the hope that this is what they have been waiting for. Her message is: If you are tired of hearing daily disco music, this is the kind of music to listen to. Sit down, stretch your legs, relax and let Lorraine make you "Feel the Fire" in her music. We hope you enjoy this album."

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.