Turn An Ear (Or Two) to South Africa


South Africa FlagOne of our labels, Next Music in South Africa, has released a trio of albums in the last month that are definitely worth mentioning as these red hot releases, ranging from Hip Hop, Gospel and Electronic/Alternative, bring us proof that the South African music scene has continued to flourish in the last few years.

These three albums from TUKS, Thami Shabalala and ISO are as diverse as the country itself. A bit of background in case you don’t know: the music scene in South Africa is mostly focused around the 4 major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein, though other cities and scenes do contribute to developing acts as well. One characteristic that stands out in the South African music scene is the strong sense of community which sees artists, promoters and venues all actively involved in developing local talent.

Bloemfontein’s music focus is centered predominantly around the metal and Afrikaans genres. Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban have a much wider range of music genres, with Cape Town standing in as the hot bed for Underground music, generally more experimental than the music produced in the other centers. Uniquely African music aside, the South African music scene has, to a large extent, been characterized by bands seeking to emulate popular genres abroad.

Furthermore, the introduction of the South African Music Awards (SAMA), intended to recognize accomplishments in the South African recording industry, has raised awareness for many local artists and bands. The awards are given in various categories, including Album of the Year, Best Newcomer, Best Artists (Male and Female) and Best Duo or Group. Another popular Next Music artist, LARK, won a SAMA for Best Alternative Album in 2007. This popular South African Ambient Electronic quartet released its third new album Gong Is Struck this past July.

Now that you have the background, let’s introduce the first of the three spotlighted artists: TUKS (or Tuks Senganga). Also a SAMA winner and the recipient of numerous other African Music accolades, TUKS is a local Hip Hop heavyweight and just released his fifth studio album, Footprints, on September 3rd. The track “Love Angel” was recently featured in the forthcoming film “Mary & Martha” from director Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games, The Quiet American) and writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, War Horse) starring two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn. Impressive, right?!

Next up on my spotlight list: Thami Shabalala. Thami is the youngest son of Prof. Joseph Shabalala, who founded and leads the legendary South African Grammy Award winning vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, of which Thami has been a member since 1994. In 1998,  Thami and his brother formed a highly successful Maskandi group called Shabalala Rhythm, which released four albums. Eight years later, in 2006, Thami initiated his own project with the successful formation of the group Inkanyezi, described as “isicathamiya (traditional African music) meets Gospel.” Not stopping at that, Thami released first his self-penned solo album, Siyakubonga Baba, to critical acclaim in 2009. And earlier this year, Thami put out uJehova Ungumalusihis second solo project and similar in style to Inkanyezi. The new album features 12 beautifully crafted Gospel tracks with an unmistakable and distinctive African flavor.

Finally: ISO (formerly known as Isochronous). Their fourth studio album, Piece by Piece, was released to the masses this summer, August 20th. Recorded in their home base of Pretoria, South Africa, the album features 10 tracks with an international sound and a lot of groove. ISO has fine tuned their art over the years, and Piece by Piece represents well their ability to write creative melodies and good songs. “Our first album was a journey through Progressive Rock and Jazz. Our second album Imago took our fans on an adventure through our Acoustic music. Inscape, our third offering, was a blend of progressive Rock and Pop. And now Piece by Piece is going to get our fans dancing and singing all the way through the album. It has a lot more Electronic elements which we felt worked perfectly with our new songs. We have spent a lot of time on it and really focused on the songwriting and production.” If you’re in the area, and this intrigues you, catch ISO on their nationwide South African tour. More info on their Facebook page.

So, have you caught the South African music bug yet?

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