Vulamasangoby Dave Durbach / 06.01.2010
In a genre all but duopolized by Mafikizolo and Malaika, Kaya are the hottest thing outta Bloem since the chakalaka boerie roll I picked up on my way back from Lesotho. “Vulamasango” means opening doors, the band’s intention apparently being an appeal to the powers-that-be (that includes you) to help build on the success of their 2005 debut Kunzima, which won them the best newcomer award and was nominated for best afro-pop act at the Metro FM awards that year. The album is also their first since moving to Bula – a label better known for platinum-selling gospel and maskandi acts. There’s a clear gospel tinge to Vulamasango, and while this might may not appeal to the cynical or uninitiated, rather than a debilitating bout of the happy-clap, the album offers an infectiously uplifting sound with mass appeal.
Vulamasango comes on strong, the first five tracks all being winners: “Afrika Borwa”, an appeal for unity and a homage to our fallen leaders, the guitar-driven title track and the house-oriented numbers “Ngena”, “Stimela” and “Nginjenje” – a trio of radio-friendly hits. Maskandi guitar riffs feature on tracks like “Lengoma” and “Mandla”, while “4 Da Longest Time” has an 80’s pop-reggae flavour cut up with razor-sharp rapping from Thabang “Teezo” Matsepe.
Weighing in at over seventy minutes, the album gradually loses momentum in the second half, with slower tracks like “Mookamedi” and “Lindiwe” offering very little to write home about, besides giving Teezo some more time to shine. It closes with a remix of “Stimela” that replaces the afro-house with a fresh electro vibe – enough to satisfy even those who insist that the musical sun rises in the West and sets at the Assembly. A little rough it may be, but it’s the closest Kaya come to experimenting or crossing over.
The only cause for concern is how a four-piece “band” can rely so heavily on programmed house beats, while live guitar and keys have become secondary. But this is more a sign of the times – the same might be said of most other local pop acts at the moment. And in any case, it’s the vocals that really give Kaya their sound – specifically Mpho “Miss J” January’s soaring melodies tied up with Teezo’s slick MCing.
Hear this: Kaya do NOT sound like Mafikizolo No cheesy kwela and marabi vibes here; instead, more contemporary, uplifting sounds. Miss J has her own vocal style that at times puts Nonhlanhla to shame. Kaya may still have some work to do before they give the big guns a real run for there money, but this is a decent album for anyone who cares about homegrown talent and who doesn’t need to look abroad for inspiration. We’ve got it all right here.