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Bongeziwe Mabandla: a new voice for African folk music

Written mostly in Xhosa, his texts evoke his quest for the self and the struggles young people have to deal with. Resolutely unplugged, deeply inspired by African traditional sonorities, his music echoes influences as diverse as Laurynn Hill or the recently deceased Busi Mhlongo. Bongeziwe Mabandla is the rising star of the South African folk music – he has just been short-listed for the prestigious Prix Découverte of Radio France Internationale awarding the best African or Caribbean new musical talent of the year. As he prepares to perform on stage at the Alliance française of Johannesburg on the 17th of September, Intofrench has met him to understand where he draws inspiration from and what are his artistic expectations.

A genuine sound

In a society that still endures certain effects of Apartheid, Bongeziwe Mabandla's choice to seek influence in traditional Xhosa music sounds like a statement. "I come from that generation of people who just wanted to be white and anything that was black was backward, unimportant and maybe a bit scary" he declared once. Thanks to such heavyweights as Bongo Maffin, Mabandla got evidence that black South African musical culture has its place on the world stage. Starting to write music as a teenager, he began to mix traditional African sonorities with contemporary folk. It results in original, directly recognizable songs of which Bongeziwe has already recorded the EP “Umlilo” (Fire), the release of his début album being planned soon.

What inspired you to become a folk musician?

I've always loved music that had a strong social comment element. And folk is the kind of genre that really allows this. Instead of simply "folk", I prefer to refer to my work as "traditional folk" because my sound has to have that African angle to it. I love this kind of music because it allows me to write about and stand for the things I have always believed in.

How is it difficult for an independent musician to find its full audience in South Africa?

I do think its hard to get a following audience in South Africa. I think artists are always looking for the best thing possible and in that way it’s hard to find loyal die-hard fans. But I feel blessed to know that that, yes, music is the thing I want to do with my life. It makes it easier when you are filled with passion So, yeah, it kinda has to work out.

Musically speaking, what is you're biggest expectation?

Like one off my favourite singer, Ayo, says: "I expect a lot. I want all the things I cannot have." As for me, I am working very hard and I'm expecting only good things. I'm hoping to be doing numerous live performance around South Africa and overseas if possible with my new band. I'm working with some really talented young people and we’re gearing up to hit the road and be able to bring good music to you.

Concert of Bongeziwe Mabandla + Flea Market : 17th of September from 10:00 AM (concert at 12:30). Alliance française Johannesburg, 17 Lower Park drive cnr. Kerry Road, Parkview.

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