5 years after releasing his critically acclaimed debut album Umlilo, Bongeziwe Mabandla is back from touring the world and the SAMA nominated afro-folk musician is eager for you to hear his sophomore offering, Mangaliso. Mangaliso means “marvel” or “miracle” in Xhosa and it’s meant to represent the highs and lows Bongeziwe has experienced since his last release.
Like many South African artists who go against the grain, Bongeziwe has had to venture overseas to find audiences who appreciate his art. Some of his best gigs have been in Canada, Australia, and Japan. I asked him how the love compares at home to overseas. “I find that sometimes there’s a bigger appreciation in other places for the kind of music I do. I mean, it’s kind of refreshing, you know? The difference I find when I play in Joburg or South Africa, I’m always trying to convince people, a lot, about the kind of work I’m doing. Whereas I find that people are more open to the kind of sound that I’m bringing in Canada. It’s such a folk music kind of country.” But being away from home is tough and some of the lowest moments for Bongeziwe were “being away for so long and not having the right opportunity to make new music.”
With Mangaliso, Bongeziwe certainly has had the right opportunity to make new music. Bongeziwe has signed to Universal and teamed up with Tiago, you know, the legend from 340ml and Tumi and The Volume, on production (Spoek Mathambo is the lone feature). For a young musician, an opportunity to work with someone so talented and experienced is a game changer. I enquired about the process and what it was like working with Tiago, “I had these songs written on guitar, very much in a folk type of space, so when I met with Tiago, we wanted to make them more interesting and more to what the world is kind of doing at this point in time. Kind of mixing genres, a very folk sound with a very urban, electro, hip-hop sound. He’s such a creative and hardworking guy and he puts those kinds of aspects in me. Getting to work with him was very exciting. As soon as we started to work on the songs, we knew that there was something special in the studio.”
Growing up being inspired by the likes of Tracy Chapman and Jabu Khanyile, Bongeziwe aims to do the same with his own music. “I guess, you know, the kind of music I listen to has always been inspiration music, and so I wanted to have something like that in my music. Music is about storytelling and very much about figuring life out and understanding life better, so I’ve always wanted to do that with music,” he explains. “As I grow older, I understand life better, I understand myself better and I always try and put those life lessons and what I know about the world into my music.”
Since Bongeziwe wants to inspire others, I asked what inspires him? “I’m inspired by everyday situations. I don’t think inspiration is something specific. Sometimes you’ll hear something, like somebody speaking to another person, so it’s kind of, hard to be specific. But I’m really inspired by hopeful stories, by resilience, and specifically for this album, I was very inspired by people that are able to shift their life directions and change their circumstances.”
While I don’t understand Xhosa, after listening to Bongeziwe’s music, reading translated lyrics and chatting to him, I got the feeling that there are spiritual aspects to his music so I asked him about it, “Yeah, definitely, especially this album. This whole album is very much about the spiritual revival I’ve gone through in the past two years, trying to search within myself and to look for answers in a much deeper way. So definitely that came into the music. It’s what’s really inspired this new album.”
His first single off the new album, Ndokulandela, is a testament to this. “The song is very special and I guess the best way I can explain it is that it’s about starting afresh.” Ndokulandela means “I will follow you”, and the song is written about Bongeziwe’s own life and the kind of direction where he wants to go when starting a new journey.
Bongeziwe starts a new journey on the 5th of May as he releases Mangaliso. The realease will see Bongeziwe touring his new live show with a new band on the festival circuit in Africa and later Europe. Thankfully there are festivals like Sakifo, Bushfire, and Zakifo in Southern Africa that cater to alternative artists like Bongeziwe, and slowly but surely other bookers are catching on, but the industry is still lacking in its support of these artists. I asked Bongeziwe what he’d like to change in the industry and he told me “I think what I find is lacking in South African music is that music is often viewed in one way. That it should always be dancey and loud, but it would be great to understand that there’s different music for different situations. People do not just have one emotion. I think we should be open enough to understand different genres and understand more different styles of music.” I can’t help but agree.
Towards the end of our Skype session, I asked Bongeziwe what he wants people to take from Mangaliso? “The last thing is that the album is really about hope and finding the sense of hope within us that sometimes can disappear. It’s about keeping it alive. That’s the kind of message I want.”