Mzfitz: Xhosa blues from Freshlyground side-project

Mzfitz is an Xhosa-blues acoustic side-project comprising a trio of members from Freshlyground. It’s just one of the musical experiments the top South African band .

Mzfitz: Xhosa blues from Freshlyground side-project

Photos courtesy of Flamjangled Tea Party / BPMLife.

(This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12 – 13 March 2011).

Kyla-Rose Smith may not be a household name, but her image certainly is – the feisty fiddler who co-fronts Freshlyground, and is as comfortable coaxing African melodies from her violin as she is cajoling the crowd to dance as she performs synchronised moves with the band’s singer, Zolani Mahola. She’s also one of the co-founders of the Balkan-influenced Kolo Novo Movie Band – stars of the “Balkanology” series and the only local artists featured on the mixed CD of the same name. Now, she and Mahola have another musical side-project in the form of Mzfitz, an acoustically-driven band showcasing songs written by Mahola, and featuring Freshlyground guitarist Julio Sigauque.

Freshlyground fans will recall the superb series the band ran at Long Street’s Waiting Room, with potential new songs for the “Radio Africa” album being trialed by the band in an intimate setting, and Mzfitz has an origin related to this acoustic incarnation of the band. “We were invited to do an intimate gig at Studio 7 (an invite-only series conceived my photo-journalist Patrick Ryan) and, instead of doing a Freshlyground acoustic session, we decided instead on a smaller group doing mostly songs that Zo had written and arranged, with a few acoustic Freshlyground songs,” explains Smith. “It was a nice opportunity to do something different, and the response was great.”

Meanwhile, this time last year, Kolo Novo Movie Band co-headlined the Flamjangled Tea Party, a delightfully left-of-centre music festival that encourages participation by attendees, showcases a diverse range of the country’s musicians, offers discounts on fancy-dress hire with every ticket purchase and features the Arthur Murray School of Dance teaching urbanites the moves in a group “Foxtrot Fandango”. For the 2011 incarnation of the event, Mzfitz has been invited to headline, although with a different format to their inaugural gig. There, guitarist Nic Hazell (Cape Town Sound, and ex of The Streaks) and percussion-master Tony Paco (Flat Stanley, Verity and The Shades) augmented the trio of Mahola, Smith and Sigauque; for the Flamjangled appearance, they will be joined by guitarist Nick Turner (Micanic, Solms-Delta, Sons of Trout) and Shaggy Scheepers – keyboard wizard for Freshlyground but, for Mzfitz, playing on percussion.

“Mzftiz does a kind of Xhosa blues, with some songs in English,” says Smith. “It’s a very low-key, acoustic performance, with lots of vocals and minimal instrumentation. Very gentle, very sweet.” She acknowledges that the interest in the band is curious, if flattering. “It’s really only our second gig, and it’s not even a real band, so to be the big name on the Flamjangled poster is strange. We are very happy to be playing there – it’s the perfect in-between space after the intimate show at Studio7, where people are sitting on the floor, and might even be asking questions between songs. Then there are the huge audiences we play to as Freshlyground, and it’s nice to connect something between the two.”

Inevitably – although foolishly – the appearance of a side-project from a major band leads to rumour and speculation about a break-up. Besides a three-week US tour in June and other performances scattered throughout the year, Smith laughs at the idea.

“2011 is a year for Freshlyground to be more independent as a band. We are not looking at the album as the ultimate prize, but will be doing single songs and releasing them until, perhaps, we have 12 or so, and then we might make an album. It’s a nice way to free ourselves up, to think out of the box and to collaborate. We have a studio on Long Street that we can use a lot more than we do, and now is a time to do that. We’re trying different things – that’s within ourselves as musicians, and as Freshlyground collectively. What we do as individuals, musically, can only be beneficial to the whole – we come back with different ideas and influences, and it’s a great way to extend ourselves.”

By way of example, in addition to Mzfitz, the Kolo Novo Movie Band and work arranging contemporary classical music for chamber-sized orchestra, Smith is continuing her collaboration with electronic producer Paul Ressel, perhaps better known as Humanizer, and as a co-founder of the “glitch-opera” group Lark. “It’s an electro-orchestral thing called Tungsten Bytet that we do when Paul is back in South Africa from London,” says Smith. “It’s an exciting year. When Zo and I asked Julio if he wanted to play with us in Mzfitz – after we’ve been playing together for 8 years in Freshlyground – it was such a nice opportunity to rethink ourselves outside of what we do in the bigger band. After we did that first gig, it was just so great that we thought it would be nice to continue – and we’re kicking ourselves that we didn’t record it. Now we’ll be at Flamjangled, which is a very relaxed weekend away with some bands thrown in, and a great opportunity to see bands that are not really on the main festival circuit.”


Find Kolo Novo Movie Band and Tungsten Bytet on Facebook. Hear Mzfitz at the Flamjangled Tea Party, alongside acts like Guy Buttery, Manouche, Jack Mantis, Dan Shout & Barry van Zyl, Card on Spokes, Teba, Dixie Swingers, Little Kings and Peachy Keen, amongst others (18 to 20 March, Contermanskloof Wine Farm,  Durbanville; tickets R290 (outlets), R300 (Webtickets.co.za), R330 (gate), or R150 for Sunday only; see TheTeaParty.co.za for details).

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 12 – 13 March 2011. Find out more on Tonight.co.za.

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