Music of an African Queen

by Cebisa Keswa

Thandiswa Mazwai?s  latest offering Ibokwe consists of a rooted , rich African sound that takes the listener down a soulful journey that begins in the open fields and mountains of the Transkei, passes through a buzzing township sheeben and ends in a night club in one of Jozi?s busiest streets .

Since claiming her title as one of South Africa?s soul music pioneers after the release of her first album Zabalazain 2005, Thandiswa has once again managed to offer a home brewed album that showcases her  pride in her Xhosa origins and South Africaness. Ibokwe a nine track album which simply means goat in isiXhosa was released in May 2009 under Gallo Record Company and reached gold in the first six weeks of its release.

The album itself is a personal narrative which tells a story of her realising her calling and begging for a cure in Thongo Lam and ends with Vakahina a kwaito song you would hear pumping out of a car in Soweto. She goes back to her background as a revolutionary singer in songs as Vana Vevhu  a TshiVenda song with English  poetry by her sister Ntsiki Mazwai, where she says the beautiful country is dying and she continues to say in Ngimkhonzile the power is in the in people?s hands and freedom is worth fighting for.

In Ibokwe Thandiswa sticks to her distinct singing style of vernacular with almost all of her songs written in isiXhosa and heavy drums that go together with a masikhandi influence. The sound and essence of the album is different from the upbeat Zabalaza and this may lead to her losing some of her more youthful ears she gained during her Bongo Muffin and Zabalaza days.

Ibokwe showcases a more personal side of Thandiswa, who critics have referred to as the ?Makeba of our times?, she has her daughter Malaika and sister Ntsiki feautured in it.  She writes all the songs and co-produces the album with Thapelo Khomo an accomplished South African producer and former member of Stimela who has also produced for South African music legends such as Jabu Khanyile, Simphiwe Dana and Jeff Maluleke.

The album has gained much appreciation and recognition with one of its stand out song Ingoma featuring Bra Hugh Masekela (which can be best described as an African love ballad) nominated for the MTN record of the year in the 2010South African Music Awards (SAMAS) and the video nominated for the 2009 Channel O Music Video Awards. Thandiswa who has performed all around the world including the Nelson Mandela Birthday Celebration in New York was also nominated for the Best Female Artist of the Year for the year 2010 at the SAMAS.

The richness of the language used may limit her audience to only those who understand the language and the tale behind the lyrics but she makes up for this by including masikhandi elements in songs such as Izilo and kwaito beats in Vakahina. The abrupt end of Ingoma leaves the listener confused and gasping for more and this lets down the beautifulness of her work in this song. Fans of hers from when she was in Bongo Muffin   and those who loved the funkiness and currentness of Zabalaza may not necessarily fall inlove with this album as she really adapts a more traditional but Africa jazz vocal sound than her usual kwaito feel.  What they may appreciate is that she stays true to her roots and this is found in the song Chom?emdaka which is a cheeky song about a ?diiiirty man and a diiiirty friend? and Vakahina that sounds like a song off a Bongo Muffin album.

Lovers of an African inspired sound will definitely fall in love with this album and the history and message instilled in it that transcends space and time makes it an art collective. On the other hand, those who are still looking for the girl who was a song leader for Bongo Muffin may be a bit disappointed.  This is one of those albums you would listen on an easy Sunday afternoon in or on a road trip down the Karoo – a definite must listen!

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2 thoughts on “Music of an African Queen

  1. well said, well written, well reviewed, well everythin’… this takes be me back to my roots! you are a talented young gal or shud i say small…lol jus kiddin!! am proud of you homey!!

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