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Bongeziwe Mabandla goes back home with folk music

By Lesley Mofokeng | 2017-07-08 09:57:10.0

The Biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son is the motif on which Bongeziwe Mabandla penned his new album Mangaliso.

As we sit soaking in the sun in one of the rooms at our offices, Mabandla tells me that this has been his most favourite tale from a young age.

It even had resonance in his life as he moved from home in Tsolo, Eastern Cape, to Johannesburg to pursue a career in the arts. "I had neglected some parts of my life, such as family, and I had to return to them as a grown up. When everything is over you go back to where it all started," said Mabandla.

The song that perhaps encapsulates the spirit of the 11-track album and the prodigal son theme is Ndibuyile, a deliciously arranged and beautifully delivered track about returning home to a father's house.

Ndofelapha is a lament of a son when things don't go his way in the big city and resolves not to die in the streets but rather go back home.

Mabandla features Spoek Mathambo on Bawo Wam. All the music and lyrics in Mangaliso are by Mabandla except for on Ndibuyile where Tiago Correia-Paulo the producer of the album contributed.

Judging by the intensity of his vocals and his falsetto plus the texture of his music, Mabandla could easily be the spiritual reincarnation of Busi Mhlongo and Jabu Khanyile.

The fact that he's shunned commercialism and fame instead focusing on perfecting his craft and great music makes him more appealing.

Mabandla has come a long way since his days at Tsolo where he struggled academically at school until he found his footing in the arts when he went to a school in Lady Gray, Eastern Cape.

His first musical influence was his mother, whom he says sings very well. He was also touched by the magic of Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana, Tracy Chapman and, of course, Khanyile and Mhlongo.

He came to Johannesburg to study drama at Afda, in a leap of faith that left his parents worried.

But there was no need to fret because by second year, Mabandla had landed a role on Generations as Andy, working at Ezweni advertising agency.

"That was my first proper job and it opened my eyes to entertainment. Two years earlier, I had been watching these stars on television, and here I was with the likes of Connie Ferguson and Leleti Khumalo," he marvels.

Mabandla says he used the earnings from Generations to fund his demo tape recording.

"Acting was great, but it had become limiting. I felt that I had a lot more to offer in the arts," he remembers.

And so he picked up the guitar that he studied at Lady Gray, changed some modules at varsity, and in 2007 graduated with BA in Music.

Armed with his demo, he met and worked with Paulo Chipanga from 340ml and was signed to his record label where he released his first single Isizathu that set him on a path to greatness.

His first album was released in 2012 and he says the long wait for the follow-up album was due to being uninspired.

"I wanted to experience life in order to make music that genuinely comes from the heart ," Mabandla said.

Not that his career has been stagnant. Mabandla has taken the world by storm with his modernised ethnic and traditional sound. He is a regular in Canada, France, England, Spain, Germany and South Korea. He has an agent in Australia and a record label representing him in Japan. He is set to perform in Senegal soon.