Kora All Africa and South African Music Award multiple winners Malaika play a rare Cape Town performance following the loss of founder-member Jabulani Ndaba – and they’re teaming up with singer-songwriter Wendy Oldfield.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Tonight” section on 21 February 2009.
If you’re South African, or living hear, you’ve heard Malaika, although the band suffers that quaintly South African dilemma of having burst onto the local chart scene with a song that was so catchy, and produced with such slickness, that many a casual listener “didn’t think it was South African”. Admittedly, this applies more to listeners of the historically “white” radio stations and club scenes (think SABC’s 5FM), but even fans of the traditionally “black” stations and clubs (think SABC’s Metro FM) first thought that 2004’s “Destiny” was an overseas dance track. Their appeal reached far further, though, and four years and lorry-loads of awards later (Koras, SAMAs, Metros and Channel O gongs for Best Newcomer, Best Afro-Pop, Best Music Video and Best Southern African Group, amongst others), the band has gone multiple-platinum and toured the length and breadth of the country, and abroad. All this success pales, though, in the face of losing a founding member and close friend.
Malaika was born from the remnants of kwaito outfit Stouters when Bongani Nchanga and the late Jabulani Ndaba teamed up with producer Godfrey “Guffy” Pilane and mesmerising songstress Matshediso “Tshedi” Mholo to produce a dance-angled blend of kwaito-infused Afro-pop that drew on elements of club, soul, mbaqanga, pop-rock and dance music. Since then, they’ve been invited to tour England, Canada and Australia, and have played innumerable public and corporate gigs. “Jabu will always be part of Malaika,” says Bongani, “That is something that Tshedi and I feel very strongly. The songs that we composed and wrote; the way he made a difference in rehearsal by coming up with suggestions and enhancing our performance with things that we could never think of. He will be greatly missed, and we miss him every day.”
“Personally, I’m still in the healing process,” he continues, speaking of Jabu’s death in 2008 following a long battle with tuberculosis. “I will have these moments, both on stage and off-stage, when I think, ‘If Jabu was here…’ It can be when I’m watching TV and I remember that he would call and say, ‘Hey, are you watching this?’ There are songs that we perform, or something I hear on the radio, or the songs I’m working on in my studio and I think, ‘If Jabu was here, I know that he would have loved this song’ or ‘I know he would put a different feel to this’. Sometimes I will just lock myself away – not to drown in sorrow, but just to reminisce.”
But the show must go on and, as Bongani points out, “We had goals and dreams for Malaika and now we have to carry on with them, even if this means carrying on without him.” He is also candid about the musical difficulty that a duo faces when performing music created for a trio. “I sing alto and Jabu used to sing tenor, so some of his parts are very low for me to even try to reach. But Tshedi and I help each other, and there are ways that we can come in and give the songs a different feel, but make it work.”
For the Kirstenbosch concert, Malaika will be joined by veteran pop, rock and world singer Wendy Oldfield. Naturally, one can expect fireworks when the three do “Don’t Stop Believing” live – the Oldfield song was reworked and featured on Malaika‘s hit-heavy album “Sekunjalo”, alongside tracks produced by the heavyweights like Sello “Chicco” Twala, DJ Christos, Spikiri and Guffy. It also rubbed shoulders with “Kiss Kiss”, a song by the late king of South African Afro-pop, Jabu Khanyile, and string-work courtesy of violin star Tshepo Mngoma (son of Sibongile Khumalo). “Sekunjalo” certainly provided the proverbial “bus-stop” Mzansi kwaito-house hits, but also saw the band tackle more sombre issues of a social and political nature.
“It’s the second time that we will collaborate with Wendy Oldfield live,” says Bongani. “The first time was with the three members of Malaika but no backing band, and it was at a Joburg venue for limited people. We did songs where Wendy did a verse, and we did verses on her songs – it was a nice experience and an excellent collaboration. It’s also good working with her because we sometimes thing about the same things – there’s a song you want to dance to, but there are also serious things that we are saying. It’s great that they want us back to collaborate – I hope that means they love us.”
Malaika were quick to lend their support to concerts in support of anti-xenophobia causes and events, and have also shown dedication to HIV awareness appearing at, amongst others, the Levi’s “Rage For The Revolution” event. The multi-genre party saw tickets awarded to entrants in the clothing brand’s “Red For Life” campaign where the entry was simple – you had to be tested for HIV and know your status. “That was a unique gig,” says Bongani of a bill which also sported Jozi, aKing, Flat Stanley, Ntando and Tidal Waves, and was held in a special cordoned-off area under a highway bridge in the Newtown precinct.
It saw the Malaika duo impressing a crowd drawn from multiple varied backgrounds and, quite simply, raising the bar in terms of a classy and sophisticated performance which still oozed urban appeal and irresistible danceability. Not bad for two singers dressed in tailored gold lame with a backdrop of concrete and graffiti. “It was interesting because it was not the usual enclosed space, and also not a normal outdoor venue. It was unique and refreshing for us, and also an amazing experience to play to such a wide crowd and for a good cause.”
Praise for the band’s live shows comes not only from local sources. “The last time we did a performance in London, people were racing about it, and I think that’s because we stayed true to who we are. Australia was just overwhelming too; people telling us how much they appreciate our music because we have not become something we are not. Sometimes I think, ‘If only people would know what they have in terms of the music we have here’. It’s like Lucky Dube, who was a huge international star, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo – they are so good because they approach something totally differently because of where they are from, and the world appreciates that.”
“It’s the same with our music,” concludes Bongani. “We try to do that and to make sure that our performances out of the country are about us representing; about the fact that we don’t compromise, and we will always be African. We show people what makes South Africa great and they are amazed.”