August '15

Heita-da! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection...

This month we pay tribute to the recent passing of David Masondo by bringing you his legendary SOUL BROTHERS. We also check out rockers CLOUT, choral grooves by the LESOTHO MIGHTY BOYS, gospel synths from PRAYER FOR S.A., bubblegum by PHILLIP MATHOLE, a young Bhekumuzi Luthuli in OSHOMI, not forgetting the fancy fingers of TREVOR NASSER.



STILETTO - Say I'm Your Number One (198?)

David Gresham, DGX412
Producers: Dennis East & Clive Goodwill
Engineer: Fernando Perdigao

The mid-80s saw a trend in local producers releasing near-identical covers of international hits, probably in reaction to some tracks not being released here due to the cultural boycott. These include Margino's cover of the Madonna hit 'Holiday', Amadoda's cover of the Pointer Sisters' 'Automatic', and this, written by Stock Aitken & Waterman and a hit for British singer Princess in 1985. Co-producers Clive Goodwill and Dennis East, both originally from Durban, are still active in the industry. B-Side 'Sweet Jam' is a smooth instrumental groove composed by East and Goodwill. 

TREVOR NASSER - Speak Softly Love (1990)

RPM, RPM1271
Producer: Kevin Kruger
Engineer: Darryl Heilbrunn
Arranged by: Dan Hill
Recorded at: RPM

Something different from classical guitarist Trevor Nasser, best known for his fancy fingers on the theme song of the popular mid-80s TV show Vyfster (five star). His 1990 album Speak Softly Love contains 16 tracks, a mix of international and Afrikaans standards, including themes from The Godfather, Dr Zhivago and Deer Hunter, produced by keyboard fiend Dan Hill. Today he's still going strong, releasing albums like Somewhere Out There (2009), Classical Memories (2012) and The Classical (2015).

OSHOMI - Saphela Isizwe (1990)

Roi/Music Team, CT(T)89
Producer: Tom Mkhize
Engineer: Humphrey Mabona, Felani Gumbi & Tom Mkhize

One of the biggest figures in Zulu maskandi music, Bhekumuzi Luthuli started out in a mbaqanga band named Oshomi in Durban's Umlazi township in the late 70s. Tom Mkhize of CTV Music invited him and Oshimi to Johannesburg for mbaqanga music recording, and after two albums Bhekumuzi went solo and switched to maskandi, soon becoming one of the genre's top-selling artists.

Saphela Isizwe is dedicated to the band's bass player Joe Mzobe, who passed away soon after its recording: "We regret that you were not spared to hear the final mix, of which your bass played such an important part." Guest musos included Stimela members Isaac 'Mnca' Mtshali and Ntokozo Zungu, sax man Teaspoon Ndelu, pennywhistle legend 'Big Voice' Jack Lerole, another maskandi star in Bheki Ngcobo (Ihashi Elimhlophe), and prolific producer and session man Felani Gumbi. 

Luthuli passed away in 2010, aged 48 and still at the height of his powers, after releasing an album per year for the past 20 years. He was nominated posthumously at the SAMAs for Male Artist of the Year and Best Traditional Music Album for his final album Isipho (gift).

PHILLIP MATHOLE - Birthday Party (1991)

Producers: Abie Sibiya, Dave Booth, Marshall H.
Engineers: Dave Booth & Marshall H.
Recorded at: Real Time

Upbeat bubblegum grooves with a new school touch like MarcAlex. Produced by Abie Sibiya, formerly the keyboardist  for crossover acts Zia and Wozani, and later chairman for the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO). Titles include 'Godgiven Lover', 'You're My Sunshine' and the more political 'Pledge of Peace', 'In The Ghetto' and 'Anginandawo Mina' (I don't have a home) about being forcibly evicted.

PRAYER FOR S.A. - Prayer For S.A. (1991)

African Gospel Music, AGM105
Producer: Pastor Victor Phume
Engineer: Sam Loy (Greenville, TX)
Recorded at: Victor Phume Recording Studios, JHB

Synth-heavy gospel in the name of peace in South Africa at a time when violence threatened to derail the struggle for democracy. The brainchild of one Pastor Victor Phume, who also recorded with a band called The Syndicate. One track, 'King of Kings', was recorded at Lazer Productions in Texas, USA.

"The ever-increasing number of lives being lost in our country through a variety of causes necessitated the outcry for a concerted prayer from the gospel music artists in South Africa. 'Prayer For SA' is a contribution from the gospel music ministry denoting a plea for peace through prayer. This album is dedicated to all those who lost their beloved ones; and those who may wish to join in our prayer to tranquilize our beloved country."

In recent times Phume has written a book, titled 'Is God a White Man', and since 2007 has run the School of Prophets in Soweto.

LESOTHO MIGHTY BOYS - Mahlalela (1989)

Tusk, HSH8057
Producers: Tlanyane Mopeli & Handley Hodgeson
Engineer: Fab Grosso
Recorded at: RPM Studios

The soothing sounds of isicathamiya choirs are largely synonymous with Zulu culture, but the genre itself was adapted to other languages too, with Xhosa, Swati and Sotho choirs not unheard of, perhaps as a deliberate marketing ploy. Some popular Zulu choirs, including the most famous of all, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, have recorded Sotho tracks. From the mountain kingdom itself came this album, Mahlalela ('lazy bones').

CLOUT - A Threat And A Promise (1980)

Sunshine, GBL(L)514
Producer: Grahame Beggs
Engineer: Ian Martin

One of South Africa's most successful bands in the global market, Clout had an international number one hit in 1978 with their cover of the Righteous Brothers' 'Substitute', along with other lesser hits like 'Save Me'. Though marketed as an all-girl group, this was seldom the case. It turned out that even their signature hit had been recorded using male session musicians from the band Circus. By their third and final album, 1980's A Threat And A Promise, the line-up was three women and three men, including keyboardist Ron 'Bones' Brettell, who went on to form crossover act Hotline, while lead singer Cindi Alter would front the similarly styled Zia. The album is full of catchy, hook-driven pop-rock numbers, and includes the bands last two singles, the Hall & Oates cover 'Portable Radio' and 'Wish I Were Loving You' (written by John Sembello).

SOUL BROTHERS - Isilingo (1985)

Priority, PRYB4002
Producer: Jabu Moses Dlamini
Engineer: Peter Thwaites
Recorded at: Ovation

Formed in KwaZulu-Natal in the mid-1970s, the Soul Brothers have remained the most successful proponents of the mbaqanga sound that has long dominated South African urban music. By the mid-1980s, they had established themselves as one of the biggest groups in the country, which they remained for the next three decades. Led my vocalist David Masondo and 'Black' Moses Ngwenya on keyboard and organ, the rest of the group at the time consisted of Skhumbuzo Mabaso (lead guitar), Sicelo Ndlela (bass), Bongani Nxele (drums) and Michael Magubane and Thomas Phale on horns. Featured guests were Brian Tyeke (keys), Johnny Chonco (guitar) and Makhaya (percussion).

According to the liner note on Isilingo (temptation), "The Soul Brothers have consistently been the most successful recording group in South Africa. Yet, despite their enormous success, each new album that they release is a vast improvement on their previous effort. 'Isilingo' is an album that has been blessed by outstanding creativity and originality."

Though their sound was still at its best, the release was tinged with sadness, coming after the death of their original bassist Zenzele 'Zakes' Mchunu the year before. "The album is dedicated by The Soul Brothers to the loving memory of the late Zenzele Mchunu. In spite of this tragedy The Soul Brothers' music will live on and still reach greater heights." 

These words hopefully still ring true today, after frontman Masondo passed away on 5 July 2015. At the time of his death, the Soul Brothers were recording their 39th album, which includes collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Steve Kekana and Ihashi Elimhlophe. The group's other founding members, guitarist Tuza Mthethwa passed away in 1979 and Themba American Zulu in 1988. 

BAHUMUTSI - Azikho! (1991)

Tusk/Diamond, TUH21
Producer: M. Maponya
Engineer: Lee Short
Recorded at: RPM Studios

A notable member of South Africa's anti-apartheid musical theatre scene during the 80s (alongside the works of Amandla, Mbongeni Ngema and others), the Bahumutsi Drama Group was established in 1977 by playwright Maishe Maponya. They used the Moravian church hall in Diepkloof, Soweto to perform plays in the township between tours of Europe. As they grew in stature they set up their own label to release Busang Meropa: Bring Back The Drums in the UK in 1987. Azikho! features the musical talents of Fuya Nofuya (guitar), Maile Maponya (piano, flute and synths), Zenzi Mbuli (congas), Vuyisile Sabango (sax and synths) and Nhlanhla Ngubeni (bass), as well as guest appearances from Bayete's Themba Mkhize (Sakhile) and Sello Mphatsoane. It's soulful, uplifting, modern African jazz. Includes the unforgettable refrain: "Shit! I never knew I was a hypocrite!"

THAMI AND THE ALL-ROUNDERS - Ekaba ke mango eo (1983)

CCP, RG(E)1034
Producer: Tom Vuma

The All-Rounders were originally a band of talented blind multi-instrumentalists that included Babsy Mlangeni. Many members of the band left the country after 1976, while Simon Falatsi went on to form Marumo. "By 1983 the line-up had so changed that it would be wrong to call it a band of the blind. They released an album, Ekaba ke Mang Eo, under the name Thami and The All-Rounders, produced by CCP's Tom Vuma. Their lead vocalist was Thami Sobekwa, one of the most powerful voices in the industry at that time. Yes, he's the voice on 'Cause I Love You' on the group Stimela's live album. You may also like to know that one of the band members was Faith Shadi Kekana who would later be a member of female trio Shadiii" (Mojapelo, 2008:16).

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'.