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Culture, Music

Rooted in the Belly

by Nobhongo Gxolo / Images by Takatso TK Madini / 05.09.2012

Their harmony is a reconstructed deconstruction of the wind, strum and beat that make instruments tick; a cappella. Press play on their self-titled debut album, or the Deluxe Edition released in May this year, and you’re received by a female voice that clears throat and intones: “The Soil; decomposing the keys of pianos and guitars. We are reaping what the tapping of feet have sewn. As we flow out from the blows of trumpets, and bounce from the strums of cellos. Moving through sounds in which music was found. Rooted in the belly of the soil.”

This is what you know about them – brothers Ntsika Fana and Lupindo Ngxanga, and Buhlebendalo Mda – 27 seconds into their album. Their debut was a joint venture between Native Rhythms Productions and Sony Music released in June 2011. The two guys, the girl, and the Creator they refer to as the first member of their group have been sifted down from about 30 folk who sang together back in their high school days, through eight years of evolutionary culling.

As Ntiska, 23, says, “the name came to me in a dream,” just one of the ways God speaks to them. “Though I had ‘Particles of the Soil’. We were in the Vaal. Just before we could dial out to the guys in Soweto, they called us saying they’d thought of a name – The Soil. Amazing! God brought us to the same mental juncture. It was telepathic.”

But this God as a group member thing can get tricky – sceptics are bound to raise eyebrows. It’s not cultish explains Ntsika – it’s faith. “Music is awesome, it’s a conversation from a sacred place. God is the first member of The Soil. He composes all of the songs to relay a message of hope. We are the channels that convey it.”
Bring religion into the mix and expectations shift. 24 year old Buhle clarifies. “We believe in God – no question. But you won’t find us in the congregation every Sunday. We aren’t out there to prove our belief. We have a beautiful relationship with Him. We visit church when we have time.”

Kasi Soul is how the a cappella group categorise their sound. They sing what they’ve experienced having been buttered in Soweto. “The umbrella, the genre we fall under has soul – is Soul,” says Luphindo.

The choice of a cappella was simple, a matter of circumstance: “Back then we weren’t exposed to nor did we have access to ‘real life’ instruments, let alone the cash to purchase our own. We were forced to find an alternative; to come up with something fresh and new. So we relied on what we could trust – our voices. We stuck to what we knew – singing. And that morphed into us healing people with our voices, our words, our music,” says Buhle.

Language also plays its part in the lyrics. A significant amount of their songs are in vernac, and it works. The fans love it and is constantly reminding them never to change their sound. The Soil taps into an array of genres that influence the sounds they generate. Luphindo’s earphones rock Cold Play’s ‘The Scientist’ on repeat. For Buhle it’s a mood thing; what sounds good to her at the time. Bra Hugh, Ma Brrr, and Stompie Mavi are highlights. With a side glance at his older brother Ntsika admits to leaning towards the stuff he was bombarded with while growing up – the list is long – a conflation: KC and Jojo, Joe, Sisqo, TKZee, Prokid, Arthur – and more recently – Zaki Ibrahim.

In 2010 the Vaal University of Technology, where the brothers were students, sponsored The Soil to attend the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. That’s when everything changed. With nine shows booked, it was on them to fill up those venues. They turned to guerrilla marketing tactics. Approaching festinos on the street, seducing the ladies with serenades – they did what they could. By the third show word had spread and the payoff was a full house. As it turns out there was a scout at the gig. They walked away from the Eastern Cape bearing the title of the Standard Bank Ovation Award.
Reminiscing, Luphindo believes only one word is pertinent in summing up the experience – “Awesome!”

The Soil

To the band, family is important. They hinge their success on the unflinching allegiance of their respective families. On the one hand it’s the relatives and loved ones they go home to when the tours end. The other is their extended family; the guys who know all the words to their songs and support them at their shows. The 50 000 who have “liked” their Facebook page.
“They give us genuine love because of what we give out.” Says Buhle.

Another stand out track on their album is ‘Lonely Nights’ – a melodic yearning. An honest rendition of a three-man choir doing what voices were intended to when music schools first recognised them as instruments – chords and harmony. The beat boxing is so subtle it’s almost imperceptible. The song hints at once-upon-a-time blues singers in pastel suits and angled hats that never left the head, clicking fingers, and the heart hankering for the presence of a long gone lover.

Simply put, The Soil sing so that you have no misgivings about the truth of their experience.

*As part of their Campus Tour The Soil will be performing at Cape Town’s CPUT Campus on the 7th of September at 18.00. Tickets are R80 at the door but rather book by calling Siya on 0768783743.

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