5 Standout Songs From Mafikizolo’s New Album, ‘Idwala’
A shimmering display of tallent and alliance
A shimmering display of tallent and alliance
Mafikizolo are titans of the African music space. Formed by composer Theo Kgosinkwe and singers Nhlanhla Nciza and Tebogo Madingoane in 1996, the group’s eponymous debut album was released the following year. Before 1999 when their sophomore album ‘Music Revolution’ was released, the group were famed for embedding Kwaito’s distinct groove onto broader genres. A trifecta was completed with 2003’s ‘Kwela’, an album whose title track featured the legendary Hugh Masekela and went on to become a great commercial success, firmly imprinting Mafikizolo among the greater figures of contemporary South African music.
View this post on Instagram
Ever since, sonic excellence and hard work has been defining traits of the duo. Following the untimely passing of Tebogo in 2004, the remaining members of Mafikizolo took a break and returned the next year. It’s been seventeen years since their fourth album, and they’ve clocked in eight albums in that time. ‘Idwala’, the latest of those, was released only last Friday. Translated into ‘rock’ in isiZulu, it advances the group’s collaborative vision—only this time, they’re more in-tune with popular music than ever before. Collaborations include Sjava, Ami Faku, Zakes Bantwini, and Sun-El Musician, among others.
Curating a five-songs list is definitely hard, because the album is a sonic treat. Each song glitters with visceral production, and the accomplished voices of the musicians doing great justice. Jazzy, electric, and colourful are some descriptors that come to mind, but you’ll have the time to make your own selections. That said, these five songs aren’t necessarily the best songs—they rather evoke the variance of the album’s tapestry.
There are songs and there are songs. “Fatela” is that song. Right from the opening seconds, there’s a rustic element shimmering at its core. The drums are really alive and groovy, like there’s a party happening somewhere. You’ll find this quality of production elsewhere on the album, but there’s a familiar yet strange feel to this particular song. Classifying its genre is another task, as House blends into contemporary Jazz, and some shades of Indian-esque progressions. The singing polishes the record’s brilliance, bouncing with joyous inflections and the captivating hum at its centre, a childlike presence which elevates the feeling into something transcendental, yet ephemeral.
This was a pre-album single and an excellent one at that. Countless times since 2020, I’ve allowed its slow groove wash over me like an ocean’s waves. Soulful strings and steady drums form the sonic bedrock, and those roll in the deepest into your psyche. Even before the duo’s voices are introduced, this soundscape is immersive and somehow personal, bending to accommodate whatever stories the listener might have. The actual meaning however weaves the tale of two young lovers who are the focus of society’s unwavering eyes and criticism. “They won’t succeed, they won’t finish us,” goes the chorus, “because this love obviously cannot be overshadowed.”
You’ll find collaborations are left and right on this album, but “Abasiyeke” instantly stands out. Even before Bantwini’s dreamy vocals swirl alongside Nhlanhla’s, the set mood is dusty, colourful, and made to sound interstellar through the glitter of its drums and keys. Chants of “abasiyeke, abasiyeke” blend into the production, dipping and rising in tempo to accommodate the verses. Community was perhaps the driving ethos behind this record, because it sounds made for sharing—sharing its fun vibe through a party, in a dark room full of friends, or on TV, where its yet-unmade visual would be full of smiling, dancing, and perhaps a logfire.
A slow, soulful feel permeates the bones of this record. It’s a winter-esque craving for someone’s love, imbued with all the longing and listlessness associated with that cutting feeling. The tone of the singing carries that looking-out-the-window vibe, its pacing supplied by the stripped production. This record’s mood is very reminiscent of Sauti Sol’s “Girl Next Door,” though the gender perspectives are flipped and here it’s Sjava delivering a winding, poignant verse. He flexes his famed versatility, dipping into Trap cadences while maintaining the homebound inflections and words from isiZulu. As far as R&B goes, this is probably the most traditional of the records and like most songs off the album, it sounds wrapped in a time capsule.
Imagine a dancefloor swirling with coloured lights, the conversations rising in dark corners, the smell of alcohol, the feet of people dancing, and yet somehow, every activity seems ordained. If one of them were to stop, the scene’s magic would be instantly subdued and watered down. That’s the associative mood of “Kwanele,” which is perhaps my favourite record on the album. A lot has been said and written of Amapiano’s intricacies but South Africans are great music makers, period. Here those signature drums are slowed, paired with Disco-esque synths and progressions. Along with the soothing tones of the singers, an ethereal record emerges. It is dreamy but still closely rooted in painful experiences, you can tell, and the sparse spaces in the verses allow the beat to breathe, to allow its seamless entry into the depths of one’s heart. A truly beautiful song.