BLK (read “black”) Sonshine that is Masuko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga. They performed on the rooftops of JOZI CBD their fusion of hip hop, jazz and traditional African influences, blending soulful melodies and percussive flurries over unplugged guitars.
Monday, July 26th, 2010 by Duduzile Mathebula, images by Claire McNulty
Blk Sonshine at the Alexander Theatre somehow manage to transcend the venue’s rich ambience. It says a lot. Right in the heart of Braamfontein’s student district, by day the place bustles with workers and thousands of locals who live in the surrounding high rises. And by night the new middle class colonizes the streets: visible, boisterous and good-natured they trek here for sounds like no other.
Blk Sonshine is Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga. Their first eponymous release came out in 1998. After ten-years, during which the duo split apart, one to the States, the other to Slaapstad, they released their second album, Good Life. They blend soulful melodies and percussive flurries over an acoustic flow evoking hip hop, jazz and folk among other traditional African influences.
The Alexander auditorium was happily full on the night. First up was Bongeziwe Mabandla, an up and comer, who dazzled with nothing besides a voice and a guitar, sincerely setting the tone for the show. After him was Two-parts Black who have rapturously diverting harmonies, then Tumi Molekane, poet turned MC, joined in. With spryly conscious rhymes and velvet lyricism, he was always going to be a crowd pleaser. Then Blk Sonshine took over. I had to recline in my seat and take in the music. It was like a show tailored just for me. The band played a set list right out of my dreams. “Borders”, “Born in a Taxi”, “Building” and “Crazy,” – all firm favourites. Painter Nico Pocco – who did the covers for both their albums – dressed in a dashiki and white pants busied himself with canvas and paint (dirtying his pants). Soon an abstract painting emerged. The artist who has been with them from the beginning is a testament to the band’s easygoing commitment to keeping in touch with their roots. You’ve got to love that.
There’s sometimes a moment when audience and band are in unison live. Brought on by a familiar note, a gesture or a shared something in a song. At this show that moment happened during the tantric “Soul Smile”. Helped by its acoustic sparseness which enables intimacy as the vocals sink foxily in.
Songs from The Good Life made the crowd beam. It’s a much praised and understandably loved release. Watching the duo effortlessly interact with the audience, I was struck again by how consummate they are at winning a crowd, hatching a vibe and filling a room. The highlight for me was when Tumi returned with the rather dull MXO (who at this stage should like totally retire or completely renovate his sound). Along with Two Parts Black they all performed “Nkosi”. Masauko helpfully explained that Nkosi has a double meaning: “It means you know God for all those who believe, or just plain Thanks for anyone who doesn’t.”
The night came to a euphoric close with the song “Bahlalefi” (Sotho for “wise people”) from the first album. It seemed an appropriate end to a show dedicated, movingly, to the memory of Robbie Jansen and the dear departed Busi Mhlongo. Blk Sonshine are carrying the fire. We should thank them.
Putumayo World Music
South Africa by Putumayo, contains 12 tracks from 12 different artists, all which live in or near South Africa. It is a fusion of Afro-pop, Latin jazz and African rhythms that will easily fit into any New Orleanian’s music library. One track that grabbed my attention was “Mbombela” |mom-beh-lah| by Bholoja, whose style is swazi-soul. The song is about hope and optimism in spite of the political turmoil that the people of South Africa have faced over the years. Blk Sonshine combined hip-hop, jazz and folk in their song, “Nkosi” |n-kor-see|, a thank you to God or a chief. The lyrics are a reminder to sift through the material world in which we live and focus on the fundamentals of life. Finally, my favorite track on the record is by Miriam Makeba also known as “Mamma Africa”. She was a part of the human rights movement, and in 1963 was more or less banished from her homeland after giving an anti-apartheid speech at the United Nations. Her song, “Orlando”, is an homage to the township where she was raised. The song appealed to me because of the African vocal styles on top of an American jazz composition. The vocal melodies especially stand out due to their unusual style on top of a 50’s era ballad. You can find this CD at www.putumayo.com as well as past projects the organization has put together. I’d recommend it to anyone in the mood for some refreshing sounds. —Brian Serpas
It feels like a sequel to 2000’s Putumayo Presents: South African Legends, with the addition of vibrant newer bands, along with veterans Miriam Makeba and the Soul Brothers. The NYC and Cape Town collaboration between Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga (who form the duo Blk Sonshine) gives rise to a fantastically groovy blend of hip-hop and Afro-jazz on “Nkosi.”
Those who watched the Japan vs Cameroon and Italy vs Paraguay match enjoyed performances by BLK Sonshine, a local Afropop group that blends melodic and percussive acoustic guitars with hip hop, jazz and folk influences. Their soulful music, including songs such as ‘Born in a taxi’, and ‘Bahlalefi’, got fans moving and shaking. They were followed by CODA, a popular South African band that combines classical electric strings and Afro-jazz to create a uniquely local style. Their soccer song ‘Blow your vuvuzela’ – fast becoming the official anthem of the World Cup – was particularly popular.
The Soul Brothers got me on my feet and dancing immediately with their undeniably grooving organ intro, and Blk Sonshine gives us a taste of the Hip Hop influences currently popular throughout Africa with the pocket beat boxing that opens their contribution, “Nkosi.”
BLK SONSHINE / “Blk Sonshine Mixtape”
from Breath of Life
Source: Breath of Life – (BoL Mixtape – June 7, 2010)
02 Blk Sonshine Mixtape.mp3 (35.28 MB)
Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga
It all depends on what you want to call good music. Somewhere in their heritage nearly every human culture has a folk music tradition and part of that tradition usually includes “troubadours,” i.e. roving musicians who sing popular music about topical events and timeless emotions such as love and heroic persons and events. Troubadours are particularly strong in African heritage cultures.
Country blues singers are America’s most prominent and most recent troubadour lineage. When I first heard Blk Sonshine I was a bit confused. I liked the music a lot but I couldn’t align all the sonic pieces. Who were these cats? I knew they were continental Africans but they sounded a bit too comfortable in the language. They identified Africa as home but sounded like they had hung out on Mr. Walter’s South Central L.A. porch for a healthy spell.
The music had contemporary black music structures and they even had a couple of freestyle raps on their debut release. And the audience fit right in so snugly I was sure that this was not simply a gig recording. I tried following up and finding out more but the trail ran dry and I just let it go.
Fortunately, in the fullness of time, the puzzle was assembled and mysteries did unfold.
Founded in in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1996, Blk Sonshine is a collaboration of Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga. Masauko was born in the United States to parents from Malawi who were living in exile at the time of Masauko’s birth. He studied music at Cal State Northridge.
Neo Muyanga was born in Soweto, South Africa and studied at The United World College in Trieste, Italy where he majored in philosophy, minored in physics, and also studied classical music.
These then are not self-taught folk artists but instead Blk Sonshine are college educated musicians who have decided to return to their roots and make music of two worlds, a duality that is at the heart of the post-colonial, urban African personality. Their background also explains how it is they cast such a wide net stylistically while remaining focused on the conditions and concerns of their people.
Their self-titled debut album was recorded in California at the House of Blues studios while Blk Sonshine was touring. Good Life, the second album is actually their third album—the original second album was “lost” during the recording process in South Africa and it took over three years for Blk Sonshine to put together a follow-up to their phenomenally successful debut, whose single “Building” went to number one in South Africa.
They remind me of Taj Mahal, who is also both college educated and roots oriented. This is truly world music and, as Louis Armstrong noted, it’s a wonderful world.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Blk Sonshine Mixtape Playlist
03 “Perfect Love”
04 “Soul Smile”
05 “Fingerpainting A Masterpiece”
06 “Good Life”
09 “Watch This Woman”