Best of 2010 | Geen Babylon Gedagte Hierby Andy Davis / 25.12.2010
The most striking thing about the new Tidal Waves album, Manifesto, is the sheer range of musical styles they manage to incorporate into their reggae groove. From kwela to boeremusiek to old 1950s style Jamaican ska via Sophiatown swing, mbaqanga, goema and rock – all fleshing out a reggae backbone. Manifesto is an original and distinctly African contemporary reggae soundtrack that is stuck on repeat in my car and fast becoming my favourite release of 2009.
And why should we expect anything less from a band that gets their crowds to chant the mantra, “original music for original people” over and over at all their gigs. It’s a rallying cry. A statement of intent. The sad thing is that other bands, consciously or sub-consciously, mimic the glutt of American and European music styles, and succeed. While Tidal Waves remain peripheral to mainstream South African music. Their albums are hard to find in shops and online. They struggle for airplay on radio and are generally snubbed by the local music industry tsars. And yet they’re steeped in South African music, creating relevant tunes, with a conscious message, and the most exciting and original sound around. Their roots are buried firmly in our culture. And their fruit is one of our sweetest.
Without a shadow of a doubt Manifesto is their best album since the 2002 breakthrough Harmonijah. Since then the band has been through many different incarnations over the years, as players have come and gone. But the core has always remained the same. With Tebogo Sam Shoai on drums, percussion and vox and Zoyisile Zakes Wulana up front on guitar, harmonica, vuvuzela and vox. The introduction of Jaco Mans on lead guitar as well as being signed to Oppikoppi for the last few years, has added an extra dimension to the music. There’s a distinctive swing towards Afrikaans culture, incorporating boeremusiek, langarm, a konsertina and other sokkie elements into their music. As their now deceased former keyboardist Andile Reuben Faku once told me, “Afrikaans, it’s an identity for us.”
And why not, it has long been proven that Afrikaans audiences support and nurture local music far more loyally than us soutpiele with our eyes trained North. And since signing to Oppikoppi the band plays regularly and has a staunch folllowing in both Pretoria and Northam. Then add Abrie Mmakola on keys, from Lucky Dube’s old band, and old time North West collaborator Charlie Mathopa on bass and the sound has certainly changed some. But the core of the music is the same. Only better.
The album kicks off with something new – a 30 second brass intro before skanking into an easy upbeat little track called “Happy Man”. All feel good reggae and positive vibes, hypnotic basslines and upbeat vocals. With Zakes and Sam swapping verses. Their distinctive vocal interplay and contrasting styles is a Tidal Waves trademark. Track two “Mo’Faya” is a jump track, it probably works better live with the vuvuzelas and the building rock-inspired chorus, but it’s my least favourite track on the album. Once you get over it, the rest of the album is pure inspiration. “Vastrap” is exactly that. A reggae inspired vastrap with tingly kwela guitars and mbaqanga keys. You’ll kak yourself for the originality in this song. It’s got hit written all over it. Upbeat with a big smile, if you’ve got just the tiniest splotch of Afrika in your blood, you literally cannot sit still to this track. And check the lyrics. Zakes sings “Die is ‘n nuwe pad / Whiteys and darkies mingel mekaar my bra / Maak seker jy staan regop / Dan gaan ons verklop / Links. Regs. Links. Regs. Links. Regs.”
Then the concertina wails… Vastrap! And Sam comes in with, “There is a natural mystic order I-ya / Love and respect vir al die mense / Daar’s geen Babylon gedagte hier / Geen eugenics movement / Gou gaan ons een liedjie sing.”
The album then hits us with one of the sweetest reggae songs, the Soshanguve brass section blow a plaintiff riff, hues of Hugh Masekela, on “What you got”. More conscious reggae lyrics that cut to the heart of where we are as a nation. Zakes kicks it off with: “There’s a stain in your garment / You’re not devoted to wipe it off / Your pride leads you to destruction and your arrogance to a downfall / All your riches will do you no good / Respect and honesty will save your life.”
And then this clear, calm voice from behind the drum kit: “Times have changed drastically in this capitalistic world / Don’t care for me / Don’t care for you / God for us all but every man for himself.”
“Mogalammakappa” is another natural, smiley hybrid. Afrikaans lyrics over bouncy 1950s Jamaican ska rhythms with a Sophiatown swing twist. “Die Berg is Hoog / Maar dis groen daarbo.”
“Knowledge” is a straight reggae standard. All rolling basslines carrying a strong message about teaching your kids to do right. “Lufuno” is a tshiVenda reggae song. “Lufuno luna manda” love has power. With Jaco Mans playing your heart strings on the lead guitar.
Strange that it takes 8 songs before we hear the trademark Tidal Waves harmonica, But it arrives on “Alles is Befok”, which is, without doubt, my summer song for 2009/2010. It just kills me. Mashes me with music. This is some high level feel good voodoo shit right here. “Ek is net ‘n rasta man / En ek kla nie man”
“Go tell everybody / Alles is befok!”
The flood gates open. Hit after hit. “Ke Bale” is a Tswana language reggae beaut. The collab with Piet Botha on “Gypsey’s Lament” also looks destined to blow up. Every Tidal Waves album has at least one instrumental dub on it, and Sleep Walking brings Jaco’s skill on the lead guitar to the fore. It’s got a very different feel to a reggae dub, especially with the brass section taking the lead and Jaco channeling both Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana in a Soweto shebeen with his guitar solo. But it’s a classic foot tapper.
And the sad thing is, this fucking masterpiece hasn’t been picked up by any of the major distributors, yet. Still the easiest way to get your hands on the SA music release of the year, is to hit a Tidal Waves gig. This is true reggae. Heart reggae. Original music… 12 gold stars. 7 fat lips. 120%. Find this album. Buy it now. If I ever make it to be the king of South Africa, I’m going to pass a decree that every citizen has to own this album or we’ll drive you into the sea, by law. Justice for all. Do yourself a favour.