October '14

Heita hola! This is AFROSYNTH, the realest African selection . . .

This month we check out The Invaders' JOE MOSES, disco funk from SPECIAL CANE MAHLELEBE and MINEBELT, gospel pop by KATIE PENNINGTON, and traditional grooves from THE CHALLENGERS, SUKAZI MKHIZE, LINGANISA NABAFANA BEJUBANE and MAKAOTA AKALAME.

he IKEY GAMBA DANCE BAND and the star-studded charity compilation LIVING LAND.


BYRON - Byron (1990)

David Gresham, DGR1167
Producer: John Capek

Byron (aka Jean-Michel Byron, aka Byron du Plessis) is a singer from East London who miraculously found himself fronting US rock band Toto in 1990 for their 'Past To Present' compilation, including four new songs for which he shared song-writing credit. In his brief stint with the band he gained notoriety for "diva-like" behaviour, infuriating the band's founding members and fans alike. He was quickly booted from the band and in an effort to redeem himself recorded this solo six-track album, retaining his only moderate hit with Toto, the power ballad 'Love Has The Power', as well as the original version's producer, John Capek. Byron shows his African roots on two other tracks, 'Sangoma' and 'Plaything', which go a long way to redeeming his image and this album. Interestingly the experience inspired Capek enough to record his debut solo album 'Indaba' in South Africa, released in 1991. Byron remains based in Los Angeles and in mid-2014 began recording a new album in Italy.

According to the accompanying press release from David Gresham Records, "Byron combines the best of pop, rock and ethnic elements creating an album of classy sophistication. 'Byron' is a superb local offering... a clear indication of the talent in South Africa."

KATIE PENNINGTON - Look What God Is Doing (1989)

Maranatha, MAR048
Producers: Danny Antill & Lukie Carelson
Engineer: Andre Groenewold
Recorded at: Maranatha

An American-born gospel singer who made an impact on the pop scene with her powerful vocals, most famously by featuring on the Stimela hit 'Where Did We Go Wrong', Pennington as a solo artist here delivers sugary gospel pop, with synths by Danny Antill (Sunset, Patience Africa, Liz Pass, Billy Paulson). "Although I was born, raised and educated in the United States, I have had a mission call to Africa since the day I asked Jesus into my life at age five. It has been my privilege to live and minister along with my husband Leif in this country of OURS for the last five years. Africa my home too!"

MINEBELT - Jealous (1988)

Teal Trutone, KVL5081
Producer: Peter Moticoe
Engineer: Humphrey Mabote

Funky disco grooves produced and composed by the prolific Peter 'Hitman' Moticoe (The Ghetto, Tom Dollar, Joy White, William Mthethwa, Brenda Fassie). Featuring lead guitarist Benjamin Nhassavele (later became part of the sucessful stage musical Umoja), drummer Godfrey Mgcina (Ymage, Hugh Masekela), keyboardist Joey Mabe (Mahlathini & Mahotella Queens) and backing vocals by the likes of Khanyisile Sibiya (Sweet Desire) and Ntombifuthi Mabaso (Hot Soul Singers).

SPECIAL CANE MAHLELEBE - Something On My Mind (1985)

Hope, HOPE(E)112
Producers: Koloi Lebona, Monty Bogatsu & Japie Lebona
Engineer: Fabrizio Grosso

"Also produced by Sabata (Lebona) was former deejay, Special Cane Mahlelebe from the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The young man had earned the nickname 'Special Cane' or 'Speshu' from his flexibility in breakdancing, a craze that swept the country (originally from the slums of Bronx and Harem in the States). Unfortunately, in 1986 a car accident on the way from Roma University cut short young Speshu's life at age of 24 before he reaped the benefits of his first album cut in 1985." (Mojapelo, 2008:17).

JOE MOSES - Remembers The Invaders (198?)

Roy B/Dephon, RBL139
Producer: Al Etto
Engineer: Stephen McNamara
Recorded at: Platinum Studio

The Invaders were a groundbreaking rock group from the Eastern Cape established in the early 1960s and initially inspired by Cliff Richard & the Shadows following their visit to Port Elizabeth in 1961. Joe Moses was the lead guitarist of the band, which also launched the career of vocalist Lionel Peterson. Here he revisits some of the Invaders hits from 20 years earlier, like 'Shock Waves' and 'Ice Cream & Suckers', with the late great Al Etto giving the instrumentals a modern, synth-infused twist. More about the Invaders here.

TRIBE AFTER TRIBE - Tribe After Tribe (1991)

Megaforce/Atlantic/Tusk, ATC9907

Charismatic frontman Robbi Robb cut his teeth with the seminal punk band The Asylum Kids in the late 70s, best known for the banned anthem 'Fight It With Your Mind'. Upon the band's demise, Robb formed Tribe After Tribe in Johannesburg in 1984. Like The Asylum Kids, the band was a thorn in the side of apartheid authorities with their outspoken political lyrics and live performances. In 1985 they released their debut album, Power, featuring the hit 'As I Went Out One Morning (Damsel)'. Robb and the band soon moved to the US, settling in Los Angeles, and in the late 80s made a solo contribution to the soundtrack of 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'. Not long after that they released this, their second album. With hard-rocking 'Afro-Acid Rock' tracks like 'White Boys in the Jungle' and 'Build A Subway', it helped the band earn a following on the grunge scene, opening for Pearl Jam in the early 90s before Robb and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament formed a side project, Three Fish, recording two albums later in the decade. Tribe After Tribe was followed by Love Under Will (1993), Pearls Before Swine (1997), Enchanted Entrance (2002) and MOAB (2009). Today Robb and his Tribe are still going strong (website here), with Robb a revered guitarist, lyricist and 'rock mystic'. Check out this interview and live performance on South African TV from the mid-80s...

THE IKEY GAMBA DANCE BAND - Strike Up The Band (1989)

Tusk, TUSB3009
Producer: Ikey Gamba Jr.
Engineer: Murray Anderson

An institution of the Cape "langarm" sound, the Ikey Gamba Dance Band (aka Orchestra) formed as early as 1951 and incredibly are still around today, a family band of three generations of Gamba's and friends. Their 1989 album Strike Up The Band is classy ballroom jazz with a bossanova influence. The band 11-piece ensemble sees Ikey Snr on electric piano lead a horn section of six, rhythm section of two, with two vocalists. Titles include 'I Go To Rio', 'Manhattan', 'Rainbow Connection' and 'In The Mood'.

Writes Ikey Snr in the liner notes: "Started 38 years ago my myself, my late father and mother and friends. From the start-up till today, this is still a family band. Athough this album is dedicated to me, tribute must be given to all the members of the group..... Lastly my two sons Andre and Ikey (Jnr), who I hope will carry on when I retire, which will be in the near future."

In the 2013 book Sounding The Cape, Denis-Constant Martin writes: "The repertoire of Ikey Gamba's langarm band is extremely diversified, and has absorbed kwela, boeremusiek, Indian music, as well as Brazilian samba." (Martin, 2013:346).

BENJAMIN BALL - Come To Me / Hi Lite (1986)

Sound Of Soweto, 12XTWS(c)141
Producers: Cyril Mnculwane & Benjamin Ball
Engineers: David Moloele & Phil Audoire
Recorded at: Orange 338

Benjamin Ball emerged as one of the funkiest dudes around with his 1984 smash 'Flash A Flashlight' off the album Paulina, injecting his distinctive monotone voice and some reggae grooves into the bubblegum sound. Alongside producer/co-writer Cyril Mnculwane (of CJB) and manager Peter Snyman (who also handled Brenda Fassie), Ball went on to release albums like Kabadzeene (1988), In The Jungle (1990) and Take A Chance (1991), although he sadly never quite lived up to the potential of 'Flashlight' and later faded into obscurity. This is a hot 2-track album, with B-side 'Hi Lite' in particular showing off a slick dancefloor sensibility and bearing a close resemblance to his breakthrough hit:

"Everybody's on the move, in the golden city,
They're so busy, getting ready for the disco,
They wanna move, to a place where they can be happy,
It's called Hi-Lite, it's international boogie club...
Come on people get ready, I wanna see you get ready
There's no parking, on the dancing floor
People doing the best they can
Everybody's groovin', groovin' to the music,
Gotta keep them dancin', gotta keep them busy,
Gotta keep them movin', gotta keep them groovin'.
Gotta keep them boogyin', gotta get them dancin'...
DJ turn it on..."

JONATHAN BUTLER - Introducing Jonathan Butler (1985)

Jive/Zomba, HIP31
Producers: Barry Eastmond & Bryan 'Chuck' New
Engineers: Carl Beatty, Lincoln Clapp & Steve Goldman
Recorded at: Celestial, New York & Battery, London

In 1985 Butler has just moved to the UK, already a well-known act in Cape Town since childhood with Ronnie Joyce, Pacific Express and others. Under the guidance of fellow exiles Richard Jon Smith, Clive Calder and Ralph Simon, and all-star producer Barry Eastmond, his soulful jazz guitar style drew widespread acclaim. This, his international full-length album debut, includes favourites like '7th Avenue South' and 'Afrika'. It reached 101 on the US Hot 200 albums in May 1986. It also laid the foundation for his hugely successful eponymously titled second album, which earned two Grammy nominations in 1988 and established Butler's international career, which continues to thrive to date.

VA - Living Land (1985)

Cat, CAT4069
Producers: Emil Zoghby & Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse (exec: Dawn Lindberg)
Engineer: Ian Martin
Recorded at: EMI Studios

Despite heightening state repression at the time, pop musicians were able to put their weight behind the struggle via the relatively innocuous charity "Operation Hunger", the express aim of which was to fight malnutrition rather than apartheid, but in truth espoused a strong anti-apartheid message, most successfully at the landmark Concert in the Park in Johannesburg. That year the project also released this maxi single, written by Des Lindberg and Zane Cronje, and featuring a large cast of prominent black and white musicians - including The Angels, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Johnny Clegg, Brenda Fassie, Abigail Khubeka, Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse, 'Funky' Masike Mohapi (RIP), Thembi Mtshali, Neville Nash, Hotline's PJ Powers and Alistair Coakley, Barney Rachabane, Tata 'TNT' Sibeko and many others. Recorded in ballad and dance (arranged by Hotstix) versions, with each line sung by a different star, the lyrics predict peace "one day soon"...

"This is our song the hymn of our living land
come on and sing the song of our living land
no matter what colour
no matter what key
no matter what language, sing it with me
for our living land, our giving land
our loving and forgiving living land."

According to the liner notes, "Living Land is an expression of hope, and a gesture of musical solidarity in a time when many in South Africa are in despair. We have all pooled our capital - the only capital we have - our talents, our voices, our imagination, our ears, our energy, our time, and our skills, our minds and our hearts, to produce a statement about life and living in our land, South Africa. We are a microcosm of our society: child, adult, young, old, black, whie, brown, pink and everything in between. We are South Africa. Sing with us, please. It helps!"

THE JUVENILES - Push Before I Start (198?)

Roy B, RBM048
Producers: Pat Shange & Adrian Strydom (exec: Phil Hollis)
Engineer: Mark Holland
Recorded at: Syntrax

Before Pat Shange became a solo star in the mid-1980s with hits like 'Sweet Mama'. 'Casanova' and 'Undecided Divorce Case', he fronted a mbaqanga outfit known as The Juveniles. This two-track album catches Pat somewhere during this transition, probably shortly before he went solo. It's catchy, fun bubblegum, with the car theme reminiscent of Condry Ziqubu's timeless hit 'Skorokoro'. Featuring some input from another star of the Dephon stable, William Mthethwa.

INDOD'ENGAZIWA - Thembalami (1985)

Daylight Beat/CCP/EMI, DB(O)105
Producer: Simon Ngwenya
Engineer: Fab Grosso
Recorded at: EMI Studios

"The unknown man" was an alias of Simon Ngwenya, one of the most innovative producers in the mbaqanga genre with the prolific and longstanding Abakhwenyana, who experimented with synths and studio FX instead of traditional instruments like the accordian and guitar. Left to his own devices as a solo artist, he donned his long grey beard and put out some of the hottest tunes of the day, alongside the Madlala Brothers and the Soul Brothers.