Bongo Maffin has been called many things, many-a-times, in many countries, and yet what they are, or do, as a band is simply this: use their voices, bodies and souls as channels to a very urgent, highly rhythmic, African spirits in the form of music.
“New Construction” is multi-platinum selling, multi-award winning, multitudes of hearts warming band’s sixth and most home coming album since their major recording, “ Concerto” featuring the township slammer, “That ’Isghubu.”
Crafted with the guidance of Kalawa’s hit making crew, DCC, are 14 deftly created songs, complementing and varied from each other and from anything the group has done before. The music is still very distinctly dance music, essentially African, age barrier crushing and more celebratory than their previously politically agitative tone.
It’s close to five years since the band worked as one whole in the studio, thus making this album a reunion album of sorts. Also it is not an album intentionally created to satisfy the fans’ – “where’s Bongo Maffin at?”- questions but a heartfelt re-gathering and sharing of creative energies for Bongo Maffin, which this year marks ten years as a band.
Songs range from 1970s type of wedding hits, village ritual songs, popular tribal house, dub reggae, township disco and soul music offerings, which sees their dance hall toaster Jah Seed’s presence prominently pronounced in this recording than ever before. His Shona propelled song “Kura Uone” has already become the biggest summer hit, just a week after its release.
A charming mid-tempo dance piece with an infectious sing-along-chorus (for the preacher-like communal call and chants, refer to Fela Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy,” for the sizzling, summer dance production refer to Trompies “Sweety Lavo” and, or Mtukudizi’s mbaqanga-meets rumba jams ) and the fluid, Snoop like rhymes of Stoan Seate all backed by the chirpy Thandiswa, “Kura Uone” makes “Kura Uone” a United Nations of cultures, emotions, and beauty.
As often –like the Carribean-hip-hop-rocker-calypso-reggae leaning Fugees in the US – language and regional cultural boundries, crumbles when Bongo Maffin comes knocking on the door, dance floor, radio charts and all forms of communication technology throws up for usage.
Here Shona, Xhosa and SeTswana do not co-exist, as in the band’s previous albums, but merge into one honey dripping dance oriented urban soul. And yet there’s also urgency: songs such as “Mo Fire,” “We Bring The Fire,” and “ We Are Back” are self explanatory as they are rhythmic announcements to the band’s hard core fans that their favourite band is back. Both those two, harks back to Bongo Maffin’s early anthem “ Summer Time,” the serious outfit’s playful side.
Then the big party commences with hits –mostly dance . . . its all about dance this summer, yes the African variation of dances!- as songs such as “Siya Jabula”, “Uphenyu wa kanaka,” , “Bayivumile,” and “Viibe Master” heats up the floor.
While “ We Are Back,” is right out of Kalawa Records’s early 1990s, hard core isiPanstsula-meets House signature vaults, “Mo Fire” is more bass catchy, the sort of song ripe for lounge house and dub remixes.
Bayivumile is perhaps the most musical of all the hits here: a combination of calls and responses laid on a jazz-house groove, it explodes with saxes, trumpets, rippling guitars conveying an orchestral completeness, and wire to dance groove. On its own, this song expresses -as the band alludes – Bongo Maffin’s “hommage” (homage/ tribute) to the art of making music. A tribute to time when instruments and not the computer, were the first point of call for those serious about making music.
This is not kwaito, mbaqanga, jazz, house or techno-chants religious folk art: it is every piece and part of that and more. Clearly the band matured long time ago with “Mari Ye Phepa” and “Ndiphendule”( from the album “IV”) “Laduma Izulu” and “Twasa”( from the last album, “Bongolution”) – maturity recently reaching its peak through Thandiswa’s own solo project.
Yet if you had not noticed, this is perhaps the only band better placed to redraw, recombine radio’s play lists. The music here is young, feisty, fast, nostalgic ( not old, though it makes the eldery get down and boogie) futuristic, soothing, the sort of sound that builds itself in a listener’s soul long after the needle has left the vinyl, or iPod segued into other parts of the compilation.
Perhaps buoyed by the successful sole ventures of Thandiswa Mazwai – a SAMA multiple winner, BBC 3 World music finalist, and an international solo force to reckon with – Jah Seed’s soaring, religious fan base premised on his dance-hall and roots reggae show at The Horror Café, as well as Stoan’s music/ lifestyle explorations, the band brings about three solid and clearly unique artists.
Each one of them is firmly established in their own right and yet the music they created here expresses the joy and chemistry they have built over the years. No ego, no disrespect: when one of them raps, sings or chant, they all rap, sing and chant along. The album is significant well beyond the demands of summer jitterburg and mindless boogie, though.
For example, the last section (three of the last four) cuts, “Third World War”, “Sul’Inyembezi,” (Wipe of Your Tears) and Ndi Nkhumbule, ( Do Remember Me) illustrates that Bongo Maffin is not Bongo Maffin, without social conscience, strong, brave activism and a take on the pressing issues in the world today. They can’t help it: they are a feeling trio.
On the music front though, these last compositions are distinct in tempo and genre, as the band delves into laid bare stew of dub, roots reggae and emotional, romantic and ideal strands that made the 1950s- 1980s mbaqanga music and mbaqanga giants such as Soul Brothers, black people cult bands acts, they are today.
While “Third World War,” verges into Bob Marley’s territory( “Get Up Stand Up” and “One Love/ People Get Ready”)while serving as street reportage about the state of world tension, with the same defiance of rapper Busta Rhymes’ “It Aint Safe No More,” the songs “Sul Inyembezi” and “Ndi Khumbule” are straight-ahead appeals to the heart.
For indeed, if you or parts if the world is overwrought, Bongo Maffin, with this album offers to relieve and share with you your pain. Like the say, the purpose is to “reconstruct” the souls.
With this album, the message is clear: Bongo Maffin is running for the best youth/ adult loved African band of the decade. Clearly they are on the paths once trodded by legendary outfits such as Lo Six, Harari, Osibisa, Theta, Fela’s Africa 70 and Zaiko Langa Langa : institutions, than mere bands . . . only that, Bongo Maffin refuses to be embalmed in a African cultural museum.
They are young, creative and too ambitious to settle for iconoclasm right now. Graffitti’s been long on the walls: they are back to reclaim their crown – what’s that baby they created . . . and now so popular? Afro-Pop? With this, soul is back in the “pop.”