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Back in the Nineties, Blk Sonshine bucked the trend of kwaito, with its mostly repetitive beats and fickle lyrics. They gave listeners a bit of heaven with their self-titled debut album in 1998 and waited more than 10 years to release Good Life.
Surely there must be something else other than music that they have been working on. Why does it take them so long to release these much loved albums?
“Blk Sonshine has never been about quick album releases,” says the ever serious Neo Muyanga.
“The first album was made up of songs we began writing when we were teenagers. It only came out ten years or so after that.”
via Inspiring sonshine.
via Inspiring sonshine.
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.
|By Ewetse Khama & Blk Sonshine
|Neo Muyanga and Masauko Chipembere are two of Southern Africa’s greatest living musical artists in a humble yet significant way. The duo is an unassuming pair who has been known to use their voices and stringed instruments to stir it up. Kojo Baffoe, long time friend, and admirer of Blk Sonshine perhaps put it best when he said of their performance, “There are moments in time when there are no words that can adequately capture the emotion, the experience.” With an almost magical quality to their art these two Librans left an indelible mark on the South African music conscience with just one album. AfricaBe caught up with Neo in Cape Town and Masauko in Brooklyn, New York to get at the method to the magic.
AfricaBe: To set the record straight once and for all. Where were you born?
AB: What do your names mean?
AB: Why did you leave Africa?
AB: What brought you back home to Africa?
AB: Is there anything you feel you missed out on in Africa spending so much time abroad?
AB: Where did Neo and Masauko first meet, and how was that first meeting?
AB: How did it transpire that Yeoville in Johannesburg ended up being the birthplace of Blk Sonshine?
AB: How did California then become where the first Blk Sonshine album was ultimately recorded?
AB: How do you manage to give a diverse range of global citizens access to your music?
AB: What were some of the influences that were similar at home and abroad about Blk Sonshine the debut album?
AB: What do you do individually when you are apart?
AB: What sort of performances do you stage as individuals?
MC: The first CD came about because we had been playing live a lot and people wanted to take the music home. Our audience sort of demanded the ability to hear the music in their own spaces at home.
AB: How did you manage to make such an impact off of one album, Blk Sonshine?
AB: How did you structure a deal which allows you generous freedoms in terms of producing albums?
AB: Is this a good business method?
AB: Is a message in the music also good business?
AB: Has it always been that way?
AB: What is it that artists need to think about when they want to sign on with a record company?
AB: New Album, Good Life… what doest it say about Blk Sonshine’s growth over the last 10 years since the first album?
|Written by Jack McBrams|
|Thursday, 05 August 2010|
|American born Malawian musician Masauko Chipembere is back in the country to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday at Chancellor College Thursday evening from 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm at Little Theatre, Chancellor College. In the interview below, he talks to Jack McBrams about his music and the significance of the event and how these two merge together.
What brings you here on this particular journey?
Two powerful women, my wife and my mother. My wife is teaching a course in literature at Chancellor College. I’ve also come to
Why is this birthday important?
Without his life I would not have mine. But, my father dedicated his life to Malawi. So in celebrating his life, we celebrate the history of Malawi.
You are a musician, how does that relate to the legacy?
I am a child of my mother and my father. My mother is a singer and a political person. My father was a political person who loved the lyrics to songs. I am the synthesis of these two people.
Born outside, how do these journeys help you discover yourself and your people?
Marcus Garvey famously said a tree without roots cannot grow. So, these family roots give me my wings. I am learning my place in the story. I am finding my purpose in life. I am learning about umunthu and sadaka.
What have you learned from Malawian music and musicians?
One of my first encounters here was with Wambali. We met on my first journey and he encouraged me to learn about all the music here. In Malawi, we are masters of the drum and the guitar. I am a fan of the Kachambas and Namoko. We have world class music here. I could spend a lifetime just studying all the musical styles of Malawi. Music is also a great way for me to learn the languages.
What current music are you into?
I love Peter Mawanga because I enjoy it, my mother enjoys it and my children enjoy it and the whole Black Missionaries posse too. But, I can also dig Third Eye and Tay Grin. I see no boundaries in music. MaNyasa are some of the best musicians in the world whether Malawians buy them or not.
What is going wrong with Malawian music?
Technically, we are using out-dated keyboards. We are also forgetting that producing and engineering records require learned skills. Spiritually, the fact that those who play traditional music are separated from those who do hip-hop and reggae is foolish. We all need each other in order to create a larger market and survive as artists.
At what stage are you with your music?
This has been a good year for me. My group Blk Sonshine was nominated for a South African Music Award for our new release called Good Life. I recorded a song with Tekitha and RZA from the Wu Tang Clan called ‘Ghetto Serenade’ and it was released in 2010. I recorded some South African jazz with Mongezi Chris Kandoje, the Malawian who played guitar for Lucky Dube. We supported Lorraine Klaasen on that CD. It is called Africa Calling and was nominated for a Canadian folk music award. In 2010, I’ve found my direction. I have learned that I can make whatever music that I want. I can bring Allan Namoko, Daniel
What are the Malawian musicians saying to you and what are your thoughts?
There are saying the people are moving away from their own Malawian music and running to the Western sound. I think this is a shame because the Western music has no respect for women and children. Malawians are dignified people. We must respect ourselves and our history.
How does it feel to be Chipembere’s son in this place at this time?
It feels great. I believe that my father’s vision is slowly coming to fruition. My father believed in fighting for the dignity of all
Where do we go from here?
I think we need to start educating ourselves. I am not just talking about school. I am speaking about this in the William Kamkwamba sense. This means that all learning doesn’t happen in school. If you don’t know about Chipembere and Chilembwe go find a book. If you can’t find a book go ask as many elders as you can and be able to speak intelligently about your own history. Because I know there are plenty who can tell me every character on Generations but how many can name
Your last words to Malawi?
“Lead us not into Materialism but deliver us from imperialism.” Bambo Chipembere!
Blk Sonshine will be featured on ETV’s Unplugged Joy of Jazz programme on Wednesday 4th August at 9.30pm
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.
The Alex Theatre, 36 Stiemens Street, Braamfontein
Friday 9th July 2010, Doors Open 8PM
Fresh from wowing audiences at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, celebrated acoustic duo Blk Sonshine will be treating their Joburg fans to an all too rare live performance. (See details above) In late 2009 the act released their critically acclaimed, SAMA nominated album ‘Good Life’, ten years after their eponymously titled debut album.
“Blk Sonshine melted a freezing audience on Sunday night as they kicked off the music line-up at the National Arts Festival, cementing their performance as a rare musical treat on the festival line-up this year. And since we rarely get to see the chemistry between the very serious Neo Muyanga and charismatic New York-based Masauko Chipembere work its magic, it did not take long for audiences to warm up to them and let their hair down. Both armed solely with acoustic guitars, and equally matched in their playing and singing skills, their soulful music stretched and uplifted, even for those hearing the songs for the first time. Their final charm was when they sang: When we make love, you make my soul smile, with replies of “beautiful!” from the women, and the entire crowd drifted off, successfully wooed. The duo ended their set with the hit single Born in a Taxi and had the entire crowd singing along.”
Atiyyah Khan – The Star Tonight, June 22, 2010
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.”