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Music, Zakifo
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CITY OF ANTHEMS

by Robyn Perros / Images by Marcello Maffeis / 17.06.2015

Last Thursday Zulu blues legend Madala Kunene, Reunion island’s Nathalie Natiembé and kasi-choir The Soil kicked off the inaugural Zakifo Muzik Festival at the Durban City Hall.

Madala and his band members looked like they’d stepped out of some wild Umlazi funk-forest. Dressed in multi-coloured maskandi get-up, Madala had the charm cranked on full blast to deliver another poetic, soulful performance. Although no one could keep their eyes and ears off the mesmerising maskandi wizard; his eccentric band members were equally as integral to the Afro-psychedelic opening act…

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Joining Madala on stage was legendary South African drummer and percussionist Mabi Thobejane. In his grass skirt, with his bouncy ripe bop and entire face smothered in tribal paint – he was almost completely unrecognizable at first. Together, the band took the crowd on an animistic acid trip with Mabi’s Balobedu-tribe inspired drum beats and soundscapes, often replicating the sounds of birds, frogs and rain. These soundscapes were experienced to the full in one of my favourite, most nostalgic tracks ‘Khono Thwele‘. Maskandi magic.

In contrast to Mabi was mellow man Lerato Ntsana on electric guitar; winning the rock-heads over from the get-go with his shredding blues solos often played casually from between the teeth. The band seemed to blend traditional African and western rhythms as effortlessly as a summer smoothie, making themselves more palatable to the diverse urban audience that night.

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With his straight back and stripy sixties dungarees, Gontse Makhene sat up tall at the bongo’s on the right of the stage and played an array of homemade shakers in style – one being a plastic Vaseline tub filled with rice. Lastly, the talented Matthias Abacherli from Switzerland was the sturdy guy on bass and one of the highlights of their set was when he brought a tip-tap of Irish folk sound to the Zulu blues with an unexpected, captivating violin serenade.

Madala’s classic ‘click’ track ‘Konko Man‘ got the audience ulule-ing as much as his playful waddles across the stage did. The band members seemed to look at Madala with as much affection as the rest of the audience and together they opened up the taste-buds of the night like the freshest fruit salad, delivering all the A to KZN vitamins for the soul.

It’s true, a Madala a day keeps the dokotela away…

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Reunion island’s Maloya songstress, Nathalie Natiembé, took to the mic after Madala and just 20 seconds into her set she had the crowd licking out the palm of her hand. Nathalié is a musical shapeshifter, and could rock an underground goth gig in the heart of London, seduce you off your seat in a smoky cabaret bar in France and at the same time sing your baby to sleep on the seaside…

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It’s no surprise that Nathalie is one of Reunion island’s most powerful and enchanting voices – and, sjoe, does she have the stage presence to match. With her three, shiny-scalped band members on keyboard, drums and bass, Nathalié  bounced barefoot across the stage with a fierce streak of red paint running across her eyes. This woman was undoubtedly the Zoro of Zakifo.

The band delivered a powerful performance, cleanly blending musical elements of jazz, soul, blues and some of the most paint-chipping rock ‘n roll riffs I think the walls of the City Hall may have ever felt…

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Despite singing in her first language Creole (and French), the crowd seemed to sense the intimacy of her lyrics which explored melancholic themes of childhood, love and the history of her people. But no matter what the songs were about, Nathalie’s first priority was ensuring that everyone had a damn fine time. “You can dance!” she encouraged the small crowd timidly head-banging up front. “…iz good for me!” she assured in broken English, stomping her thick soles even harder.

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Nathalie has the grace of a queen, the sex appeal of a chocolate strawberry and the warm belly laugh of your favourite auntie – a combo that put the audience effortlessly under her spell despite her unconventional quirks. One of my favourite parts of the performance was when she whipped out a red plastic packet and began scrunching it vigorously in front of the mic as if she were washing her clothes.

Hai! Amaplastic!” a girl at the back exclaimed between the giggles. Although a seemingly unusual instrument to the city-slick crowd at first, by the end of the track she had everyone moving to her contagious sense of rhythm and refreshing island charm. “Iz juz a plastic bag!” she laughed again and the crowd lapped it up, demanding an encore… twice.

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If there was such a thing as an Afro-Vogue The Soil look like they would have jived right off the cover. The three-piece a-cappella group from Soweto swaggered on stage after Nathalié to one of the cleanest bassline beat-boxes Mzansi might have ever heard. It seemed that the majority of the youthful crowd that night had been waiting for this moment… their entire lives. The iPads and smartphones flung out from all pockets and a dancefloor sprung up from the floorboards. It seemed everyone wanted to document what appeared to be something of a ‘second coming’.

This Soweto-born trio made up of Buhlebendalo Mda, Luphindo Ngxanga and Ntsika Fana Ngxanga quickly got the young and the old doing the pata-pata like it was a Friday night in Sophiatown and there was not a soul out of tune in the world…

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Earlier this year The Soil performed for the Queen of England, and although the Durban crowd was small and disjointed at times, the energy and class The Soil exuded on stage was enough to make us all feel like we’d landed ear first in the royal jelly.

During their last track I looked back at the audience. It had now been bulked up with security guards, bar-ladies and doormen witnessing South Africa’s mesmerising new-wave of ‘Mambazos’. Although a-cappella might not be everyone’s jiggy, it was impossible not be moved by this group.

The trio’s contagious on-stage chemistry, astounding vocal harmonies and stream of positive lyrics was the perfect closing anthem for the night. A symbolic composition that seemed to have descended from somewhere between Soweto, the sea and the stars…

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*Images © Marcello Maffeis

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