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Zulu Vocal Harmonies

by Dave Durbach / 23.07.2010

Gridlock on Joe Slovo; Ponte looms overhead. A car and its driver rapidly overheating. No morning rush-hour; no roadworks; none of Joburg’s temperamental robots. This time it was our friendly police service, cunningly targeting the few remaining roads where cars would otherwise run smoothly, conducting an impromptu roadblock.

Circumstances preclude my usual coping strategies in cases of traffic – either hotbox the car or turn around and go home. Instead I put on a new CD. My mood soon lifts. An hour and 200 metres later, I’m at the front of the line, face to face with a small army of traffic cops. CA plates and a year’s worth of dirt raises no suspicions; an open window, a fresh blast of Hlanganani and I’m on my way.

Awuzihlole spent the rest of the week in my CD player, and got me through a couple more roadblocks, countless traffic jams and numerous roadside panhandlers without breaking a sweat. Music on the album contains no instruments, no programming; only smooth Zulu vocal harmonies. The lack of frills makes for the mellowest of vibes, perfect for anyone who needs to “chill the fuck out”, so to speak, including yours truly behind the wheel in a Jozi jam.

For most people, scathamiya is a genre that begins and ends with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but there’s more to it than that. Hlanganani are nine guys hailing from Mhlabe in KZN. This is their eleventh album since their 1993 debut Indukebandla. Bikane Magubane has been the group’s lead singer since 2001. Since 2003, big-selling maskandi kings Shwi and Mtekhala have also been part of the crew.

Their latest album will appeal to fans of early LBM, before they started doing duets with Dolly Parton and Des’ree. Raw scathamiya is a truly local idiom, accessible to anyone, not least fans of bare-bones blues or gospel. Best tracks are “Ngangizulazula” (I was wandering), “Ngathola intombi enhle” (I found a good girl), and the soccer anthem “i2010 iyeza” (2010 is coming).

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