This year’s South African Music Awards may have been a powerful reminder of the enduring power of kwaito – but if there’s one artist who has consistently remained faithful to the genre that spawned him, it’s Mduduzi Tshabalala.
Known to his extensive fanbase simply as Mandoza, the artist has always believed in kwaito’s ability to convey his heartfelt emotions, life experiences and those hopes and dreams and challenges of the generation that, like him, moved towards adulthood in first flush of post-apartheid South Africa.
From his early days in seminal kwaito group, Chiskop, and especially in his solo career, the Zola, Soweto-raised Mandoza has also never let the musical boundaries some link to kwaito to constrain his creativity. You only need look at the chance he took in creating ‘Nkalakatha’ with producer Gabi Le Roux in the opening year of the 21st century to understand how easily Mandoza is able to take kwaito forward. That award-winning and evergreen hit song made full use of rock stylings to become – and still remain – the biggest crossover South African hit in recent memory.
In creating his 2010 album, ‘Real Deal’ Mandoza has again remained true to kwaito’s eKasi heart whilst taking a music adventure that sees the genre stretched to include elements of jazz, electronica, R&B and pop.
“I always approach every album with the vision of making it better than what has come before, no matter what challenges I’ve faced in my life in the period between records,” Mandoza confides.
Indeed, the personal challenges the platinum-selling, award-winning artist has faced in recent years provides creative stimulation for the songwriter in Mandoza – in particular on the nakedly emotional “I’m Sorry”.
“The words say it all,” Mandoza says of the track which he penned with Sipho Ngwenya and Ziyon, the vocalist of the current dance hitmakers, Liquideep.
Driven by Mandoza’s unmistakable gruff, emotion-heavy voice, the R&B-infused track is a powerful take on what it takes to be “a man, a dad, a famous man” – the lack of privacy, the intense pressure, the unrelenting spotlight when things go wrong (“sometimes you say wrong things to other people/but you know what/I’m sorry …”).
But, as hard as it sometimes is to live life in the tabloid spotlight, Mandoza’s not shying away from his role to be a “soldier” who believes in himself.
Indeed, the opening track of ‘Real Deal, calls on people to “do what they do best”, something Mandoza has never stopped doing all his professional life.
As this powerful track showcases, around 15 years in the business hasn’t taken the shine off Mandoza’s all-round talent: from the propulsive melody and direct lyrics to the incredible delivery, “Moja Solja” is a siren call to those who have ever doubted Mandoza’s ability to deliver hits, year after year, album after album.
‘Real Deal’ sees Mandoza team up with several different producers to create possibly his most diverse album ever: “It was important to me in taking kwaito forward to work with different producers and co-songwriters,” Mandoza says.
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