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Wheeling and Dealing

by Dave Durbach / 07.05.2010

That the song still rings out at Loftus every Saturday speaks for itself. Released a decade ago. “Nkalakatha” remains the ultimate crossover hit. Its success means that Mandoza has arguably done more to unite South Africans than any other musician of the kwaito era. But this was before he did a Jub Jub on the N1 two years ago. Accusations abounded of booze and drugs; the threat of jail time loomed; the hits dried up. Mandoza’s prospects looked dim, along with the fate of kwaito itself.

On the eve of the release of a comeback album in February, Mandoza was in another car accident. He was found dazed and confused in Roodepoort (as good a place as any), but, it emerged, not in the driver’s seat. Playing it safe, EMI pushed back the album’s release date. That storm has now subsided, and here we are.

Real Deal’s eleven tracks seldom stray from what audiences have come to expect from Mandoza. Some play it safe – opening track “Moja Solja,” “Top,” and the soccer-inspired “Namkelekile” all sound like rehashes of “Godoba” or “50/50”. They’re typical Mandoza songs though, and will appease his less demanding fans. Far less certain is just how Ndoza was rickrolled into taking a stab at “Never Gonna Give You Up,” that awful 80’s Eurobeat hit, here morphed into something even worse by substituting noxious synthesized female vocals for Rick Astley’s baritone warble.

More interesting efforts include “Sthandwa Sami,” which draws on Latin-influenced afro-pop and has Mandoza actually singing, instead of barking, and “Don’t Forget,” MXO-styled nuskool funk featuring vocals from Baby M. “Hlanganisa” hearkens back to Mduduzi Tshabalala’s early days in 90s kwaito heavyweights Chiskop (“Klaimar”), while downtempo tracks like “Ubzukuzuku” and “Zingakanani” offer something far less frantic than the Man-dozer’s typical pumped-up sound; perhaps a sign of things to come as he (hopefully) negotiates life as an artist older and wiser than he was two years ago. This much might also be gleaned from titles like “I’m Sorry” and “Court”, as well as the album’s liner notes, in which he asks for forgiveness from the families of those who died in the 2008 accident.

Songs on Real Deal were produced by Themba Mhinga (son of Yvonne Chaka Chaka), his frequent collaborator Philemon Madibe, and Sipho ‘Psyfo’ Ngwenya. Together they’ve helped put Mandoza back on track – with no help from Rick Astley.

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