05/08/2020South African Artist Bongeziwe Mabandla Unveils Love-ly Third Album Of Enigmatic African Soul

The first sound you hear is seemingly that of a tape being placed into a tape recorder, then silence, rain, the light strumming of an acoustic guitar, more rain and finally a voice, quite unlike any voice we've heard before. Johannesburg-based artist Bongeziwe Mabandla has been described as "the enigmatic spirit of African Soul" by some and as a "modern miracle"  by others. Eight years ago, he released his debut LP "Umlilo" (2012) and followed that up with his sophomore album "Mangaliso" (2017) five years later. The latter was awarded "Best Alternative Music Album" at the 2018 South African Music Awards and "showcased an artist intent on conveying a deeply mined emotional landscape" as well as "a gorgeous, understated mix of Xhosa lyrics with traditional music and folk stylings," his artist bio reads.

A few weeks ago, slightly delayed by the global pandemic, Bongeziwe Mabandla released his third album "iimini" (engl. "days") that was recorded over the course of 21 days in 2019, in Johannesburg and Maputo, alongside Mozambican musician, songwriter and producer Tiago Correia-Paulo. Correia-Paulo had already displayed his prowess on "Mangaliso" as the two reconnected on "iimini" to further evolve and intensify their creative collaboration, "[rooted simultaneously] in the deep and fertile soil of Mabandla's folk instincts and Correia-Paulo's roving eye for electronic music's loveliest aspects". The combination of Mabandla's soulful storytelling, truly haunting falsetto and meditative guitar playing along with Correia-Paulo's productive genius, adding electronic snippets and experimental flourishes with guitar and vocal sketches recorded on his phone, is absolutely mesmerising.

"iimini" in its essence is a one-theme concept album, as Bongeziwe Mabandla offers up "a cycle of twelve songs [...] that trace the unfolding of love with pure sonic beauty, from the day of the first meeting to the heartbreaking end" and that "is intended to be listened to as a whole". This notion of telling a story from all angles, thereby revealing a plethora of emotion, reflection and nuanced understanding, of deriving significance and meaning from personal human experience is part of a South African tradition that Mabandla intends to keep alive in his work. "I've always loved listening to lyrics. South Africans love storytelling in a song and I am led by a desire to be part of that tradition when writing," he says. 

Thus, "iimini" is a tale of love over time that, although we cannot understand every word, makes itself felt intrinsically. Mabandla's rendition is so utterly heartfelt and musical that the literal meaning of his words would almost seem inconsequential. Add to this the versatile electronic narration of Correia-Paulo and you have an album that is as folkloristic as it is contemporary in sound. Yet for those curious minds among us, let's have Bogeziwe Mabandla sum it up in his own words: “The album starts off with meeting someone and how feelings evolve to love, and then the pain and heartache of being with someone. The last songs are about the end of relationship and the cutting of ties, and basically the separation of people who used to be incomplete without each other. iimini is about time, and how things eventually unfold. Time can change so much.”

You can stream "iimini" in full and/or watch the video to album track "jikeleza" below. The album was released on Platoon, a London-based artist services company that is playing a role in helping African and South African artists showcase their creativity to the world. Also, in case you were wondering, the equally amazing and enigmatic cover photo was shot by South African writer, photographer and filmmaker Lidudu Malingani

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom