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Though their sound was heavily influenced by American soul music, they created their own sound and style which won over South African audiences.
Mbaqanga is a genre that blends South African township rhythms with jazz- and funk-influenced harmonic structures, taking influence from indigenous Zulu music as well as rural cultural practices to reflect an identity held between rural roots and labouring realities. Band’s music was representative of this, blending nostalgia for rural traditions with more uptempo sounds for an up-tempo sound; international attention was gained when Paul Simon released Graceland in 1986 which reached million-selling status and later inspired Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chakachaka early careers respectively.
Moses Ngwenya attributes much of their success to their unique vocal style and innovative songs that made use of backing singers and Hammond organ. Moses Ngwenya credits David Masondo and himself as being key in writing these tunes; together they would come up with rough ideas for new material in isolation (Masondo often recorded his work at home before meeting up together again to refine them before scheduled recording sessions. Even their distinct personalities – Masondo preferring lively shebeen environments like parties to his home studio) somehow managed to complement each other and produce music that spoke directly to listeners’ ears!
Marabi or kwela bands typically employed local instruments like pennywhistles and pedal organs, whereas mbaqanga included Western instruments to replicate its American jazz and soul roots. Saxophones, acoustic guitars, double basses and drums were often seen among such bands at that time.
In the 1980s, mbaqanga’s popularity slowly declined as local sounds gradually transitioned towards African American soul and disco music from overseas. Yet Mahlathini and the Queens continued their relevance through hits like Thokozile which came out shortly before their reunion as original members Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Shawe and Mildred Mangxola returned together for Makgona Tsohle recordings.
Even through tragedies that struck their band, such as Mpompie Sosibo’s death in a car accident and drummer Zenzele Mchunu’s passing away in 1992, they continued producing hit after hit. Today a whole new generation of listeners have discovered them and they remain popular performers at family and neighbourhood parties as well as radio and local TV programs; their 13 album catalogue remains an integral component of South African music scene.
SOUTH AFRICAN MUSIC
South Africa’s apartheid period saw both political struggle and music development at its best. Young emergent musicians took quickly to American jazz styles like Dollar Brand, Chris McGregor, Johnny Gertse, Makaya Ntoshoko Mra, John Snydal, Early Mabuza and Jonas Gwangwa – these Black artists later formed the core of Mbaqanga music styles in South Africa.
These groups were part of a nationwide movement spurred by emancipation and the desire for greater freedoms, leading the way for other bands such as Black Mambazo, The Queens of Zululand, and Amaswazi Emvelo to follow in developing the mbaqanga style further by employing ancient African patterns combined with Western musical techniques; creating music infused with elements such as jazz, soul and samba.
Mbaqanga quickly spread overseas after it was picked up by European and American promoters who saw that audiences responded well to good-quality live entertainment, paying good money. Mbaqanga became the precursor to other dance music forms like Kwaito and Joogjazz as well as pop and rock in South Africa.
Mbaqanga began to be shaped by disco and UK punk music during the mid to late 1970s. Bands formed across Johannesburg at this time, recording at studios such as GR Bozzoli Hall, Metalbeat Studios King of Clubs DV8 with some going on to achieve chart success including Asylum Kids from Johannesburg and Peach from Johannesburg.
In South Africa in the 1980s, Mbaqanga was still immensely popular and Soul Brothers kept up a prolific schedule of album releases with at least one each year. Touring extensively, they played at ceremonies when Nelson Mandela and F.W deKlerk received joint Nobel Peace Prize awards at Olso. However, after tragic losses of Mthethwa in an auto accident and then rhythm guitarist Zulu, their star began to fade rapidly.
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Though the band’s music is commonly labeled mbaqanga (a genre that blends African vocal styles and lyrics with western pop), such a description might have taken offense for them. They were, after all, an internationally touring jazz-funk-soul band who recorded for major record labels while owning both their studio and label. Sydney Fetsie Maluleke, author of The Life and Times of the Soul Brothers, is mindful of these tensions – as both an academic and an insider fan, she administers their Facebook page while coming from an extended family who are also passionate fans. Yet she makes every effort to properly source what she learns, label anything controversial or suspect and acknowledge that different interpretations might exist.
At the core of their success lies lead vocalist David Masondo and keyboardist Black Moses Ngwenya’s songwriting partnership, where they would develop rough ideas for songs independently (Masondo wrote in his car while Ngwenya used his home studio), before meeting to collaborate on refining them prior to recording sessions. This process – combined with their genuine understanding for common people’s experiences – contributed greatly to Soul Brothers’ popularity.
HISTORY OF THE SOUL BROTHERS
The Soul Brothers were one of South Africa’s longest-lived and influential musical groups. They helped define the genre known as mbaqanga, which blends traditional African vocal styles and lyrics with borrowings from Western pop. Their sparkling harmonies and Hammond organ flourishes made them a standout attraction onstage while making them a formidable force within township music for over a decade.
They imbued their music with an empathic message that resonated with South Africans – especially migrant workers forced by apartheid to migrate in search of employment – drawing inspiration from life experiences of common people to combine melodic creativity with genuine understanding for commoners – at the core of which was their immense popularity.
Soul Brothers were established in KwaZulu Natal during the mid 1970s by vocalist David Masondo, drummer Tuza Mthethwa, keyboard player Moses Ngwenya and bassist Zenzele ‘Zakes’ Mchunu and have won fans around the world ever since their groundbreaking albums sold millions of copies worldwide. However, success came at a cost: four original members died tragically within months of one another while financial strain caused difficulties that almost saw them disband altogether.
Reconstituted after Mthethwa’s death in 1979 and Mchunu’s passing two years later, the band came back together and released Isiphiwo via Priority Records; it quickly became a smash hit! Subsequent years saw more classic releases like Uxolo, Isicelo and Deliwe’.
This book follows an iconic South African Mbaqanga group, from their formation through their 43 year career. Sydney Maluleke uses vivid photos, newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with members of the band as well as interviews to give readers an in-depth view of why Soul Brothers are considered Kings of Mbaqanga – truly inspiring and entertaining tale not to be missed!