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Soweto's BCUC: psychosomatic flows grow on you

By Alison Hird

BCUC aka Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness from Soweto in South Africa have an explosive live sound they've called Africa Ngungungu. They initially struggled to find a public for their 20 minute long trance-inducing songs but now with two albums recorded and produced in France, their high energy cocktail of tradtional percussion and hip hop is packing concert halls. RFI met three of the band members before a sell-out concert at Jazz à la Villette festival in Paris.

BCUC formed in 2003 in Soweto at a time when Kwaito and DJs dominated the South African music scene.

"I won't admit we were going against, but we were," says lead vocalist 'Jovi' Zabani Nkosi. "We just wanted music to be live again, because music sounded unpure, losing the surprise."

He added that musicians would go into the studio and record a three-minute song and sing like that 150 times. Singing the same thing the same way was "almost un-African".

The band, though, wanted to go back to something more traditional, more roots, and use analog.

"It was a big risk because it made us struggle and suffer for years," Jovi admits.

France took us to the next level

Their fortunes changed in 2016 when they were invited to perform at the Transmusicales festival. 4,000 people lapped up their explosive mix of congas, marching drums, whistles, Imbomu horn (mother of the popular plastic vuvuzela) and superb R&B vocals from the band's only female member Kgomotso Neo Mokone.

A second album, Emakhosini, was recorded in Lyon earlier this year with a 17 and 20 minute recording in addition to a rap-inspired interpretation of the gospel classic Nobody Knows.

"France has been open enough to receive us and just so welcoming," says Kgomotso. "In our journey as a band we've met people who've been amazing to us, taking us to the next level."

She cites Transmusicales artistic director Jean-Louis Brossard and producer Antoine Rajon as people "who've been instrumental in taking us just a little bit closer to the dream".

Jovi adds: "We will never forget France, because France gave us the opportunity and the time to just be who we are. So we say thank you and say 'we’re gonna give you more'."

BCUC L to R Kgomotso neo Mokone, 'Jovi' Zabani Nkosi, Letlhogonolo Atlarelang Maphunyeoupe before playing Jazz à la Villette on 30 August 2018 © RFI/HIRD

Calling on the ancestors

The band sing in all 11 of South Africa's official languages.

While black identity, the politics of race and poverty are recurrent themes, so are tolerance and the recognition that there are "more similarities than there are differences", says Kgomotso.

The song Moya means air, spirit and energy "so we're talking about positive spirits, caling on our ancestors to give [us] more energy, more tolerance, more drive."

"This music is healing to us," she continues. "Whenever we are on stage it’s not just the seven of us, it’s millions of us, those who came before me, those who came before Jovi, those who came before Letlhogonolo."

Album cover BCUC by Emakhosini DR

"We’ll never lose the black but that’s not my ticket to the world, my ticket to the world is music” the band sing on Asazani from the 2016 debut album Our Truth.

Enough passion to go head to head against hate

BCUC use music "to make people love each other more, care a little about each other and dance a little bit more," Jovi says.

"With our music, after you see us, you go out of the room with so much love, so much happiness, so much reassurance , so many questions but still you feel like 'oh shit there is so much hope'."

It may sound folksy, but on stage they're anything but.

"Our positive vibes is not like melo-positive, we don’t do melo-positive, we don’t do lullabys," says Jovi."We do rock and roll. It’s positive and in your face and if people who have hate do it with passion then people with love should do it with passion. We have enough passion to go head to head with the negative passion."

Watch their performance at La Villette Jazz Festival (with guest Femi Kuti).

Follow the band on facebook

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