July '15

Peace magents! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection! This month we bring you bubblegum hits by SHALOM, JAZINO, BRENDA & THE BIG DUDES and ADAYE, and some fresh grooves by DAVID MABIKA, ALTAR and THAMI & THE ALL-ROUNDERS.


SHALOM - U O Me / Dance (1986)

Hot Stuff/CCP, 12HST(P)4054046
Producer: Tata 'TNT' Sibeko
Engineer: Jan Smit
Recorded at: Universal Studios

Fiery, uplifting Afro-rock inspired by the likes of Funky Masike Mohapi and Harari, with powerful vocals and plenty of time for guitar solos. Followed in 1987 by Africanism. 'Dance' is packed full of evil synth solos, while  'U O Me (Oa Nkolota)' contains determinedly uplifting, escapist lyrics:

"Live for today, sing a happy song.
Everybody loves you, you're my pride and joy..."

ALTAR - Stay Alive (1991)

Diamond/Accord, AMH402
Producer: Altar
Engineers: Meir Eshel & Nic Paton
Recorded at: Miditone

Downtempo reggae that eschews Jamaican influences for a distinctly African touch, thanks to rudimentary synths and raw vocals that at first sound undercooked but after repeated spins lends itself to a deep irie vibe - not unlike Izindlovu and Big Elephant. Tracks include 'Reggae in Africa', 'Sad Face' and the still relevant 'Damn Poachers'.

BRENDA & THE BIG DUDES - Weekend Special (1983)

CCP/EMI, 12FLY(C)508
Producers: Mally Watson & Blondie

The original 12" version of the song that ushered in the bubblegum era and made Brenda Fassie its star following her apprenticeship in the family band of Blondie Makhene. Heavily influenced by American R&B and deliberately lifting from two specific tracks - BB&Q Band's 'All Night Long' and Sharon Redd's 'Never Give You Up' - in 1986 the song was remixed by Van Gibbs in New York, released internationally on Capitol and made it onto the Billboard charts (more about the song's history here). Penned by Melvyn Matthews, as was the B-side 'Life Is Going On', a timeless ballad showing Brenda's vocal power in the style of Whitney Houston. 

JAZINO - Sibharara (1990)

Roi/Music Team, ETL5024
Producer: Heavu Mazibuko
Engineer: Graham Handley

Uptempo pre-kwaito grooves by one Jazino Maribatsi and his female backing singers The Golden Tones. Produced by Heavy Mazibuko, who that year also produced the similarly styled Mashedo. Following the influence of Chicco and others, the album shows how by the end of the 80s most American influences had been shed in favour of homegrown grooves and vernacular lyrics.

DAVID MABIKA - Izimpi (1990)

Diamond/Tusk TUH27
Producer: Thami Mdluli
Engineer: David Moloele
Recorded at: Cut 'n Mix

Smooth, synth-heavy mbaqanga produced by the innovative Thami Mdluli (Professor Rhythm, Taboo), who reinterprets the traditional groove with an interesting selection of fresh electronic sounds. Titles include 'Bekezela' (endure), 'Uyakhala' (crying), 'Izimpi' (battles) and 'Umsebenzi' (work).

ADAYE - Turn It Up (1983)

Heads, SV0022
Producer: Emil Zoghby
Engineer: Phil Audoire

Recorded by Ray Phiri and members of Stimela at a time when they dodged record industry conventions by recording under a host of different names for various labels (eg. Kumasi, Street Kids). Produced by the late Emil Zoghby, others involved in the project included legendary producer Peter Moticoe and singer Al Etto. Over 10 tracks were recorded during the Adaye sessions, but this was the only one to be released. 

NELLI - Guns On Fire (1989)

Orange, ORH008
Producer: RP 'Sun' Nkotsoe
Engineer: Terry Meredith
Recorded at: The Sound Studio

Powerful Brenda/Rebecca-inspired vocals over slick electronic beats with a distinctive synth bass, produced and composed by Sun Nkotsoe, one half of influential duo Monwa and Sun, who also lends his vocals to the duet 'Living For Your Love'. Other titles include 'Tired of Being Fooled' and 'Living in a Bar'. Albums notes include a "Producers message: Do unto others as you have want done to yourself. And don't judge a book by its cover."

SAILOR - Sailor Man (1989)

Power/Genesis, POH5001
Producer: Dan Mosa
Engineer: J. Mabika

Potent synth-powered bubblegum by Themba Mazibuko, singer in Mordillo, the former backing back of Shangaan disco king Paul Ndlovu, who until his untimely death in a car accident in September 1986 was known for his trademark sailor's cap. In 1987 Mordillo released their first album without Ndlovu, naming it Sailor Man in tribute to him, and retained the nautical dress code thereafter. After two more albums, Mordillo split, leaving Mazibuko to continue the legacy. In the album notes he give thanks to Ndlovu: "He reintroduced me to the music industry. I was no longer interested, but due to his encouragement I'm back but this time as a soloist...Sail on Sailorman!"

STIMELA - Siyaya (1991)

Gallo, HUL40238
Producers: Dave Segal & Stimela
Engineer: Dave Segal
Recorded at: Bop & Downtown

Stimela's 1991 album Siyaya (we are moving) came at the end of a golden run of iconic albums, starting in 1984 with Fire, Passion and Ecstasy and until 1989's Trouble in the Land of Plenty. Frontman and founder Ray Phiri was in 1990 invited to feature on Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints album, the long-awaited follow-up to Graceland. Phiri reportedly left the group around this time to concentrate on his solo career, in 1990 signing to French label Barclay, but after his 1992 solo album People Don't Talk, So Let's Talk things never quite panned out as hoped. Stimela continued with Nana 'Coyote' Motijoane, who had been hired to share vocal duties with Phiri a few years earlier. One of the country's most distinctive and powerful vocalists, Coyote had long proved an able substitute, and the stream train marched on. The core line-up remains intact on this album, with Isaac Mtshali (drums), Lloyd Lelosa (keys), Thapelo Khomo (keys), Ntokozo Zungu (guitar) and Charles Ndlovu (organ) with Sandile Ngema replacing Jabu Sibumbe on bass. Also featuring a young Ringo Madlingozi.

Though not featuring on every track Phiri was still closely involved in Siyaya as a co-producer, and provides guitar and vocals on two of the eight tracks, 'Rhythms of Oneness' and 'The Guys Are Doin' It' (a nod to Hugh Masekela's 1975 hit). Though arguably considered to not fall within the band most revered albums, it still contains some of their greatest hits, 'African Changes', 'Go On (Living Your Life)', 'A Song Tells a Story' and 'Siyaya Phambili' (we are moving forwards), a song that answered many of the band's skeptics and also captured the sprit of political change at the time. Three songs of the best known tracks from this album were included in Stimela's 1992 UK release, Kululani

Stimela continued to release albums, including Don't Ask Why (1994), Out of the Ashes (1996) and more recently Turn On The Sun (2011) but struggled to maintain the same relevance or success as during their prime in the second half of the 1980s

Big ups to the Boiler Room crew for this recent interview:

PETER MARINGA - Makanani (198?)

Roy B/Dephon, RBM051
Producer: Peter Moticoe
Engineer: Rick Wolff
Recorded at: Studio 5

High-end bubblegum grooves on the Roy B label produced by the legendary Peter Moticoe (Tom Dollar, The Ghetto, Joyce, Minebelt, Shadiii). "Clothes concept" by kwaito pioneer Senyaka Kekana (RIP). Maringa also released Jakalas (1988) and made a comeback in 2014 with Hadyiwa.

MICHAEL LEBESE & THE AFRICAN VIBES - Rhythm Through The Night (1986)

Raintree/Rainbow, CEX8015
Producer: Michael Lebese
Engineer: Ferdi Brendgen
Recorded at: Universal Studios, Jhb

Born in Mangaung and raised in Thaba Nchu, Michael Lebese was an original member of the pioneering multiracial punk band National Wake (recently the subject of the documentary, Punk In Africa, and re-issued by Light In The Attic Records in the US). In 1981 he released an album as Michael LBS, 'Greetings From Africa'. In 1986 he released these two tracks of synth-heavy disco, 'Rhythm Through the Night' and the instrumental 'Kwela Rhythm Shock'. Lebese handles lead vocals and drums. Also featuring Lucky Franks (guitar & synths), A. Lucky Nxumalo (keyboards), Jorge Arrigone (lead guitar & bass) and Richard Ntsumele (bass). Sadly these days Lebese is living on the streets of Joburg (see here).