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The acapella group from Soweto – made up of Buhlebendalo Mda, and brothers Luphindo and Ntsika Fana Ngxanga – is looking forward to travelling to New York in 2013, but say they’ll always enjoy performing at campuses across the country.
Nal’ibali caught up with the award-winning group – whose Deluxe Edition of their self-entitled debut album just reached Gold status – to talk music, motivation and how their songs have roots in the culture and community they grew up in.
Q: Through your songs, you tell stories of hope, faith, goodwill and love. Who told you stories growing up – and what impact did these have on your life?
Ntsika: “Growing up in Meadowlands Zones 4, 6 and 10, we had grandmothers all over the place you know (laughs), and they would tell us awesome stories. They’d tell scary ones to make sure kids would stick to their curfews and come home before sunset… And man did it work!
Luphindo: “Family! Where we come from, people were forever singing and playing music in our families. They used to take us to church, where there’d be more singing and music.”
Buhle: “African homes are all about stories and singing, especially when we have rituals. Stories are a way to draw in families and communities. The elders often get you to start a song as a way to make friends, but also for some friendly competition – to see who can sing best. As for me, my grandfather, Utata, used to gather us all to sing at night. He would always encourage me to sing and that’s where I got my motivation and confidence from.”
Q: Who is your favourite SA storyteller – through song, writing, poetry or music?
Ntiska: “I like the fact you have options for the different forms of storytellers we have in SA. For me, I’d say Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They do acapellas and narrate African stories through song, which is what we’re trying to do with our own distinct flavour.”
Luphindo: “It has to be Miriam Makeba – the way she told stories via her songs and used them to share messages with the world.”
Buhle: “Definitely Simphiwe Dana… I like how she tackles politics and creates awareness and shows us that it’s not all rosy in our country… She shows the real deal through the stories she tells, which also help to heal.”
Q: Did you need to learn how to do acapella – or did it come naturally?
Ntsika: “One of the reasons we called our group ‘The Soil’ is because soil is basic and raw, just like the acapella we sing and never went to school for… But when it comes to making verses, comprehension and unprepared sessions at school certainly help. We used to prefer isiXhosa and English periods over any other subjects… Reading and comprehension of what you’re reading teaches you how to construct sentences, you know, which you need if you want to create verses.
Q: Why do you think people have responded so well to your music?
Ntsika: “I think it’s because our music comes from a sacred place. It’s pure and meant to be for people’s souls, to give them goose bumps because it’s something they can relate to.
Buhle: “This has been the most lovely thing about our success. Having fans means you are doing something to someone, and that you are making your mark. Most importantly, it means people are liking our way of praising God – the first member of our group.”
Q: So that’s why your unique sound has been dubbed ‘kasi soul’?
Buhle: “Yes. And through our music, we talk about real issues in the kasi… Where we come from, drug addiction is a major problem. Kids we once jammed with are stealing and begging to feed their addiction… It’s social issues like these that are close to our hearts, and something we try talk about through our music. But it’s also our whole sound that came from going to high school, where we didn’t have instruments, so we had to make our own harmonies.”
Q: Do we tell enough stories as South Africans? How can we revive a tradition of storytelling in the modern world?
Phindo: “We should use the internet and mobile phones to get the word out there. We should all share quotes from our favourite books to motivate people to go read those books…”
Ntsika: “We should get more artists and singers that resonate with people to narrate stories… As South Africans, we use music and song to tell stories all the time… We do it at funerals, strikes, at church… it’s a part of us.”
To find out more about this reading initiative, please visit www.nalibali.org or choose from a range of multingual stories here: http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/goodlife/youthtube/