Bongeziwe Mabandla has a striking figure: muscular folk musician with his pants rolled up above the ankles, there’s still something about the little boy who grew up in the hills of South Africa.
Nominated for a South African Music Award in 2018, Mabandla has become extremely popular in her home country and has performed at concerts and festivals abroad.
He made his last album at the height of the pandemic, drawing on the legacy of maskandi, the musical tradition of migrant workers.
During apartheid, trains passed through South Africa carrying workers in cattle cars to work in the gold and coal mines.
Others walked for miles to work the sugar cane fields.
Men left their wives and children behind, and during their long absences they created a new kind of music.
They sang about their loneliness, their work and the difficulties of everyday life.
Thus was born the “Zulu blues”.
In her thirties – he refuses to reveal his exact age – Mabandla performs with her guitar, alone on stage with a drummer.
On his latest album Iimini, or “The Days”, he sings love songs in his native language, Xhosa, with all of his distinctive clicks.
“The Xhosa language is very lyrical, very expressive,” he told AFP. “It’s a form of activism, keeping your culture, loving yourself.”
Even those who do not speak the language can understand the emotions of what he sings.
Her voice expresses both the pain and the confused feelings that love can bring.
“It’s really about how love can change you,” he said of the single “Zange” or “Never”.
– “Humble” –
Born in a village in the south of the country, Mabandla burst onto the Afro-folk scene in 2012 with his debut album Umlilo.
He had discovered the guitar as a child in the Eastern Cape, the vast southeastern province which is home to a rich musical and literary tradition.
“My childhood was very happy, I grew up with my mother. Kind of normal and humble growth,” he said. “I never thought I would be a musician.”
Like many others from rural South Africa, he left for the city in the early 2000s, hoping to make his way to Johannesburg, home to much of the country’s recording industry.
He cites among his influences the American artists Tracy Chapman and Lauryn Hill, as well as the Zulu singer Busi Mhlongo, a pioneer of modern interpretations of the maskandi sound.
For Iimini, he decided to incorporate sample and electro elements.
He then called on the Mozambican producer Tiago Correia-Paulo, former guitarist of the South African hip hop group Tumi and the Volume, which had international success before separating.
The end result is well paced upbeat streaks and RnB style escalations that fill the room.
At a recent concert in Johannesburg, the crowd shouted “Yebo!”, A South African word of approval, as the crowd sang and danced in a concert hall that Covid had left silent for too long.
cld / gs / mbx