“Music is forever changing, if I was making new music, I’d be doing music that’s happening now.”
The South African music scene includes both folk and popular jive forms. If we look into the early music records, we see an indication of a fusion of cultural traditions. Shortly after 1994, South African music was liberalised and fresh styles of music arose. Kwaito, which was referred to as a South African style of hip hop, was one of the new styles to hit the surface. In the early 2000s, South African music continued to flourish and we saw a rise of Xhosa singers like Simphiwe Dana, Zonke, Ntando and Thandiswa Mazwai. With a list of South African artists that have released music under the Afro-folk genre in the past, we are currently drawn to the Eastern Cape-born, award-winning musician Bongeziwe Mabandla whose style of music enhances spirituality mixed with his powerful and meditative voice.
Mabandla was officiated as the new face of the Afro-folk genre when he released his debut album ‘Umlilo’ in 2012. His album was composed in isiXhosa lyrics that blended spiritual and traditional elements to create soul seducing sounds. In late 2017, Mabandla released ‘Mangaliso’, which means miracle in isiXhosa, named after a mark he had reached since launching his career and the release of his first album.
The 10 track album that won him his first SAMA for Best Alternative Music in 2018 is invigorating, carrying modern elements. Recently, Mabandla, released a single ‘Zange’ that highlights love and being loved in return from his upcoming album launching soon via Universal Music Africa.
Back from a 3-part tour in Australia, Bongeziwe Mabandla is currently working on his third album which he claims to be his best work thus far. The artist gives us insight into his life as an artist.
What drew you to music?
“I didn’t quite like school, I didn’t see myself doing maths the whole day. When I grew up, I discovered that there were people that didn’t do maths for a living, people actually did art, painting and made music. People did fun stuff so I came to a realisation that I can actually do ‘this’ as a career. I was intrigued because I learnt at that point that one doesn’t actually have to be stuck in a classroom doing accounting and multiplying. It was at that moment where I said to myself, ‘Oh shit, this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to be an artist somehow.’”
Did you have the support from home?
“Yes, I had a wonderful mother who was very intuitive and devoted. She picked up early on the kind of things that I liked, buying me crayons because she saw that I had an artistic side. My mother was a lecturer so she was well educated in the sense that she knew how to look out for my interests from an early age. She contributed to my artistic side taking me to singing lessons. There was a time I did ballet in Grade 3 and I recall how excited she was when she got me the ballet shoes.”
If you had to restart your music career, would you still do Afro-folk as a genre?
“Not necessarily, I have learnt that sound evolves a lot. If I was making music now it would be the type [of music] that is happening now. My new album is very different from my old albums sound-wise. ‘Mangaliso’ was about experimenting with modern sounds using elements of electro, while my first album was very acoustic and folky. The new album coming out in 2019, plays with more contemporary sounds, I am excited about it. It’s the first album recorded after I won my SAMA award and it was the first album where I had absolute fun.”
Do you think you could do better as a musician?
“Definitely, I’m growing and I’m constantly making better music, I will continue to improve as a musician for the rest of my life.”
Which is your favourite single?
“It will have to be ‘Gunuza’, it’s a jam and I’ve been playing that song for so long. It stood out from the day I wrote it and there’s something I can’t explain about it that makes me really like that song.”
When collaborating what do you look for?
“Collaborations are tricky but I like to work with someone that I can share an experience with, keeping in mind that we are creating something together, so I always try and keep that vibe. I’m open to working with anyone that wants to work with me, people that respect what I do.”
What is your creative process?
“It differs hey, however, I always try and prepare a lot at home, days in advance, trying to memorize the words because it is hard to read and sing in the studio and sometimes; I get distracted. There’s a lot of technical stuff that goes on in studio so prior preparation is very important.”
Your music is very spiritual and very much rooted in the language and traditions of isiXhosa. Does this have anything to do with emphasizing and celebrating identity?
“Yes, it has a lot to do with identity, I grew up in a time where it was important to sing in your language and even the artists that I liked back then, Thandiswa [Mazwai] and Kwani Experience, made it important to re-identify yourself in a South African context and that became very important to me.”
Who inspires your music?
“There’s a lot of people that inspire my music who include: Tracy Chapman, Oliver Mtukudzi, Jabu Khanyile and Busi Mhlongo. I sometimes go back and listen to their music and realise how I’ve grown up.”
How does it feel to be recognized as an international artist with cross over music?
“I’m happy that I am becoming an international artist. I got into music because I love it and never really posed the questions of ‘will I be an international artist or will I cross over?’. I just wanted to be a great musician. I’m happy that doing what I love has afforded me some sort of respect, appreciation and travel, it’s a blessing. When I made ‘Mangaliso’ we had a concept at the back of our minds, that we want to make South African music with an international appeal, then with the current album we didn’t even consider that concept, it’s just been about vibes, the feeling, and the beat which makes it very different.”
What advice would you give to someone that looks up to and wants to be an artist?
“Music can be a very good business when approached correctly. There’s a whole big world in music where the person should have a message that they want to offer. Definitely, be prepared for a lot of hard work and if you persevere, it can open up a lot of great opportunities.”