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The Madala Trance

by Matt Vend / Images by Tracy Hinds / 13.03.2014

It’s a grey Friday night in Durban. The Upstairs bar draws the usual suspects; hipsters with their bored indifference and Friday night razzlers slamming their pre-drinks. The crowd is overall a mixed bunch, young and old, black and white. The mood is as mellow as a lazy Sunday afternoon. The Hinds Brothers (Durban’s answer to the New York folk scene of the 60s) are tuning up to play. They always seem to give as much as they have when they are on any stage, eventually winning over apprehensive onlookers, who struggle to not become immersed in the band’s modern brand of old-time folk.

As a band, their influences are apparent but once the songs start, they’re possessed. In a trance-like state they are mere vessels for their sound, which is undoubtedly bigger then them, or anyone in the audience. It’s quite surprising that they aren’t playing more shows to more people and touring internationally. With a début record like Ocean Of Milk, who knows, within the next few weeks and months, they very well could be.

It’s nearing the end of their set when Aden Hinds procalims: “It’s almost time for Madala Kunene folks!” And the crowd reacts with a  familiar cheer – not a cheer as if there is some big rock star in their midst but a cheer for an old friend, kind of like ‘We haven’t seen Madala for quite some time, I wonder how he is.’

Madala Kunene is a testament to tenacity, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing him perform on numerous occasions, always backed by quite an ensemble of musicians. Remember the work he did with late legend Syd Kitchen? Called Bafo Bafo (Brother, Brother), they made a record together entitled ‘What Kind?!’; an exemplary piece of African folk music and its ability to induce trance-like states. Madala is the king of the trance, listen to any of his stuff and see what I mean.

Madala trance

A bit of fresh air on the balcony until a small, bald man starts going around, saying to everyone “Come okes, Madala is jamming now, get inside!” I make it inside before the first note has been played and am already feeling somewhat trancey. This feeling doesn’t end, except for brief moments when Madala takes a break from his meditative form of guitar and vox, a mixture between dark African introspection and the blues. Can’t really think of anyone else who sounds quite like him. Madala is his own genre, and this was the first time I’ve gotten to watch him intensely to really grasp the entirety of the man’s sound in its solo form. I’ve seen him at bigger events like Splashy Fen, and it’s always hard to get deep inside someone’s music when they are performing on big stages, especially with music of this nature.

The gig moves in various directions, and the little man who pushed everyone inside is now talking excessively loudly in the back. This briefly takes me out of the trance, yet the guitar playing is too deep and I slip back in, holding onto every note until it is time for the collaboration to start. Aiden Hinds walks onto the stage and Madala tunes “Call your brother.” Wren, who was in the back eating pizza from the restaurant downstairs, soon joins the the two on stage and some impromptu jamming starts. The three only had a brief run through at sound check so naturally it sounds a bit free-form. They then kick into ‘Manje’, a song off the ‘What Kind?!’ Bafo Bafo album with Syd Kitchen. Aiden, Wren and Madala were all great friends of the late Syd Kitchen, and together on stage they set about trying to summon his ghost.

By the end of it, Syd Kitchen may, or may not, have been summoned… but if his soul was wandering through the streets of Durban he woulda definitely made a stop in at The Upstairs and he would have been smiling and chuckling as Madala and the brothers jammed his song.

All images © Tracy Hinds.

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