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South Africa's Sam Tshabalala releases Back and Forth

By Alison Hird

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Sam Tshabalala is a former member of the Malopoets - a leading South African anti-apartheid band in the 70s and 80s. After close to three decades living in exile here in France he recently returned to his native South Africa to record Back and Forth with other ex-Malopoets and musicians from the younger generation. He talks to RFI about going back to his roots.

Tshabalala's journey started at home, in South Africa, with the Malopoets, the first black group to play at the prestigious Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 1985.

His musical journey continued in exile; in 1993 he founded the band Sabeka with other African musicians here in France.

Back and Forth recounts this journey between South Africa and Europe. The nine songs on the album (sung in Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Shangaan and English) were composed in Europe and recorded in Johannesburg.

Tshabalala tracked down former Malopoet bass player Pat Mokoka and Eugene Skeef - who wrote some of the band's early tunes - penned the new song Africa (My peace with life). He also enrolled the talents of Zamo Mbutho who did backing vocals for Myriam Makeba.

On Humelela (Asking for love), sung in Shangaan, Tshabalala talks about family big and small.

"The first lines I talk about my family: 'I think of you day and night' and after I think of their friends, and friends of their friends and South Africa. And after it gets large, talking about Africa. I believe we have to share, if people in Africa are in difficulties we have to welcome them."

The mix of South African sounds like mbaqanga and kwela with jazz, soul and pop shines on tunes like Kunzima (Hardtimes) and Ke Sone Sebe (Wrongdoing) .

What Tshabalala describes as "the dream" of returning to Johannesburg to record with other South African musicians was made possible thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign and the backing of Paris-based South African artist Bruce Clarke.

"If people give you money you want the results to be good," he says, "so I hope, and from what I hear, they're happy about it."

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