South African Folk & Blues guitarist "Bafo" Madala Kunene developed his Folk style of guitar playing combining blues & soul with African folk into a unique trance-like way of Zulu folk singing. With wit and clarity he relates the traditional Zulu folk tales we would otherwise forget.
Folk & Blues guitarist Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Cato Manor, Durban, a vibrant mixed community just outside of inner Durban. The son of a carpenter, Kunene was raised by his grandmother — a staunch academic who wanted him to be something of a bookworm. He started busking on Durban’s beachfront at the age of 7 making his first guitar out of a cooking oil tin and fish gut for the strings. It was friends such as the late guitarist Sandile Shange who encouraged him to take guitar playing much more seriously.
At the age of eight, in the year 1959, Kunene and some members of his extended family were trucked off by the Apartheid government to go live in the then relatively new township of KwaMashu.
“People can’t imagine what it’s like when you see bulldozers demolish your home in the middle of the night,” recalls Kunene. “The worst thing was that when they moved us, they came at night and packed my family into the back of a truck and then went to another area to pick up another family there and so on. So you were not just separated from your home, you were stripped of your friends and neighbours in the process. It was a very calculated act,” Kunene adds.
In very little time he had become the hottest guitar player and was discovered by the late Sakhile leader Sipho Gumede. Madala started to share the stage with such luminaries as Doc Mthalane, Songamasu, Shor Philips, Mankunku Ngozi and Busi Mhlongo.
Madala’s first solo album for M.E.L.T. 2000 was Kon’ko Man meaning ‘the Strong Man’. Made in 1995 and co-produced by Pops Mohamed and Airto Moreira, the album features many of his old friends, including Zena Edwards, Sipho Gumede, Flora Purim, Mabi Thobejane, Busi Mhlongo, Mandla Mgabhi, Mandla Masuku, Jose Neto, to mention but a few. Following this debut solo album he collaborated with numerous artist including Swiss guitarist Max Laesser. Bafo, as he is known by his friends and fans, released a number of CDs listed herewith and remains one of the few remaining legends of true South African music.
As a meditation on his history Kunene released an album titled 1959. It explores dense and often melancholic subject matter, especially Kunene’s own history as a victim of forced removal. “I’ve never spoken about those experiences in my music in an earnest way. I wanted to recall them and most importantly make a personal album that was looking internally at my personal history rather than looking out,” says Kunene. 1959 is a blues album with slightly more muscle—a personal catharsis and an attempt to exercise the muscle of memory through music. Insistent and unrelenting, 1959 is Kunene’s urban war cry. It is a portrait of the artist as a not-so-young man of faith, a sonic investigation that tries to make sense of the gradual process of sanitizing history—how the real past is purged for the sake of a historical sound bite.
“Music is the best medium to record and tell history. As African people, the way we know and understand our past is very influenced by music,” Kunene says. “So if I can add one layer of context that can help in understanding this period in our history, then that is great.”
The album “1959” was co-produced and engineered by Marius Botha and Neil Snyman. Madala gratefully acknowledges the many appearances of friends amongst others Lu Dlamini, Bra Hugh Masekela, Sthembiso Hlela, Max Lässer, Vishen Kemraj, Sazi Dlamini, Steve Newman, Guy Buttery, Bernard Mndaweni, Paki Peloeole, Eric Duma, Sihlanga Zulu, Mdu Magawaza, Njeza Dlamini, Zamo Mbutho, Sipho Nxumalo & Smanga Ngubane.
Interest in Madala has extended into a documentary film to be screened in 2017 about his early work with the MELT 2000 label. Filmed, edited and produced by Dick Jewell the documentary is called MOVING WITH MADALA.
MADALA KUNENE & FRIENDS – UXOLO PEACE THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS DVD (MZADV 007)
Live at the Bassline – Johannesburg
The initial unplugged recordings in Durban were followed by an unique gathering of friends in Joburg with an evening of live performances with Madala Kunene, Della Tamin, Umshika Shika, L.A.P. Greg Georgiades, Ashish Joshi & Bernard Mndaweni.
Around 2003 Madala Kunene, the veteran self-styled King of Zulu Guitar remarked in an interview that he was thinking of working as a full time Sangoma because music was no longer a viable profession for providing for his family.
For some reason, local traditional healers were very soon up in arms. Even some of Madala’s friends felt he’d gone too far. When I learned about the seriousness of the situation, I packed my DAT machine, microphones and picked up Mabi Thobejane along the way with some of his drums and headed for Durban. Once there, we initiated a series of unplugged Uxolo (peace) recordings. Music in effect became a medium for conflict resolution.
It soon became obvious that the Durbanites needed to come to Johannesburg to play for their fans and artist friends which included young musicians from groups like L.A.P. and Kwani Experience along with a new young generation of supporters who never had the chance to see Madala playing live. However, before this could evolve further, Madala and Bernard Mndaweni had been invited to perform at a small festival at Fort West in the Pretoria area. This was at the behest of oud player and guitarist Greg Hadjiyorki Georgiades. The festival also happened to be the first time that the older musicians had shared the stage with accompaniment from the recently formed L.A.P. (an organic offshoot of Kwani Experience).
Thus when Madala and Bernard’s unplugged album Uxolo was finally released and launched in June 2005 with live gigs at the Bassline it had ceased to be purely a Madala Kunene event, simply because all his musician friends wanted to join him on stage for a memorable night in Newtown.
ACOUSTIC AFRICA – Madala Kunene, Greg Georgiades, Carlo Mombelli, Ernest Mothle,Ntombe Thongo DVD (MZADV 002)
In 2004 Jean Bourdin (director of the Alliance Francaise in Pretoria) told me of his plans for a small, intimate festival sponsored by the Alliance and the IFAS (Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud). I immediately asked him if I could make some additional program suggestions and expressed my wish to record and film the event.
Jean’s musical program found form in the 2004 Fort West Village Heritage & Cultural Festival which was built around four musicians born or raised in Tshwane (Pretoria). These are Ernest Mothle, Carlo Mombelli and the two artists to whom this DVD is dedicated, Greg Hadjiyorki Georgiades and the only non Pretoria basedMadala Kunene. And yet despite their common roots, the diversity of their musical influences and inspirations is awesome. The MELT team gathered with cameras and stacks of recording gear, some of which was flown in from London with Chris Lewis – a man whose expertise with acoustic music I certainly did not wanted to miss.
Another journey and a new era of collaborations had begun.