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Bongeziwe Mabandla: a modern 'miracle' from South Africa

By Alison Hird

Bongeziwe Mabandla sings a distinctive Afro-folk in his native Xhosa language. Just 30, he's fast becoming one of the strong voices shaping the South African scene. A finalist in RFI's Discoveries Awards in 2011, he's now released his second album Mangaliso meaning miracle in Xhosa.

Mangaliso "is really about my realisation about the beauty of life, the gift of life and how precious life is," Mabandla tells RFI ahead of a concert at the MAMA festival in Paris. "When that happened, when I started to be grateful for life and to see life in a brighter and better way."

Mabandla grew up singing "in church, at home, at play, at school" in the rural town of Tsolo in Eastern Cape. He remembers a happy, if poor, childhood.

That sense of longing for something better drew him to folk music and singers like Tracy Chapman.

"That sadness and story-telling, music about people’s needs and people’s struggles and people who feel unjust, that’s what attracted me to folk music."

Bongeziwe Mabandla, RFI Discoveries Prize finalist in 2011, happy to be back in the studio in October 2018 ©RFI/HIRD

One of 10 finalists in the 2011 RFI Discoveries Award, he released his debut album Umlilo in 2012.

He's come a long way since then: comfortable with pared down accoustic guitar or with a more orchestrated sound drawing on genres like reggae, maskandi and electro.

His haunting, ethereal voice carries messages of heartache and healing from the Eastern Cape and yet captures the contemporary urban-African landscape.

Mangaliso was produced by Tiago Correia Paulo (Tumi and the Volume, 340ml). It features Mike Wright (Zebra and Giraffe), Robin Brink (Beatenberg), while electronic music producer and rapper Spoek Mathambo makes a classy contribution to the contagious track Bawo Wam.

Mabandla is currently on the Black Identity tour. Check facebook for details.

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