Music with words and considered to be romantic has always had a captive and loyal audience in the fairer sex.
Words by Tshidi Mametsa & Bongani Mahlangu
LOVE songs or ballads meant to stir certain emotions have an interesting history.
Crooners of such songs, among others Frank Sinatra and Teddy Pendegrass, have had female underwear thrown at them – of course in appreciation- from the charmed she-adults and some had, in their careers, the tantalizing joy of autographing firm woman’s boobs. Most of the ballads have, for decades, been so well written and presented they- to paraphrase Down Beat Editor Gene Lees- have been saying for the boys what they wanted to say and … for the girls what they wanted to hear.”
So it should not come as a surprise, certainly it was not back then, that the lyrics of many songs have over the years found their way to love notes written by one lover to another. South Africa on its part has given the world its own heroes in the love or soul ballad genre despite the fact that there have always been few artists that are exclusively or better known for such music. Often the approach is to mix and match a number of genres.
Back in the ‘70s there was Jacob Mpharanyana with his vernacular versions of popular American ballads such as Percy Sledges ‘s Take Time To Know Her that was translated to Nka nako ho Motseba. Babsy Mlangeni had an original killer composition in Sala Ema and several others that got them ladies cooing and screaming –some to this day. Jonathan Butler came out with soothing songs like Take Good Care Of Me and Sarah, Sarah. There were also groups like the Flames with tracks like For Your Precious Love and The Soul Brothers, although largely known for thumping mbaqanga beats, also impressed with groovy songs like Mama ka Sibongile. And then from the ‘80s to the 90s came Steve Kekana, Nana Coyote, Ringo Madlingozi, Jabu Khanyile and Jeff Maluleke among others.
There is a new generation of crooners that has been targeting its songs to those that believe in a good love song or simply like the idea of being in a romantic bubble. The list includes artists Theo Kgosinkwe, Jazziel Brothers, Loyiso Bala, Ntando, Brian Temba, Sliq Angel, Malaika, Mafikizolo, Robbie Malinga, Malik and Danny K. Pity a group like Seed had to split as they were also coming out with some fine Afro-ballads. Joe Nina had one or two popular love songs like Zodwa and Precisely. Music consumer’s views differ on who’s at the top of their game as far as some of the artists mentioned above are concerned. And it appears only a few names are generally known especially among the young audience. Tsholofelo Meje reckons that Brian Temba is something different. “I’ve heard a couple of his songs on the radio, and he’s good. As for Theo Kgosinkwe I’ve loved him since his time with Mafikizolo. Ntando is just on some screaming tip. Who’s Malik? And ” Shame Danny K is trying too hard to be black.”
Loyiso Bala, whose style is more influenced by American R&B, may to a certain degree be a modern day Mpharanyana in a sense that he has a penchant for re-recording American R&B hits like he did with George Benson’s Give Me The Night. While Loyiso has a following his attempt at perfecting the American way of presentation in his music could be the reason an equally sizable number is not feeling his music. Tumi Thloale was pleasantly surprised by Brian Temba the first time she heard him sing. “Musically he’s very talented. On the other hand Loyiso’s voice just irritates me, so I’d rather not torment my ears by listening to him sing.”
Kea Konopi thinks that Ntando has something good about him, ” He has his own style, which is not at all like the others. Loyiso for me is just too much.”
Kgosinkwe has, interestingly, been steadily picking up audiences from both young and older audiences since he started recording solo albums two years ago. But it seems there are different reasons, such as his sharp dress sense, he’s winning hearts other than just his soothing ballads. “Theo can dance but doesn’t have the art of singing,” says Esther Mafumba. “Malik can sing, I like his latest music it has a lot of love in it. Ag! Ntando works on a one beat basis and it’s always in the same language why doesn’t he try say singing in English at some point, ” advises Mafumba who’s never heard of Temba.
The London based Temba, an actor, performer, producer and musician has played the role of Simba in Disney’s West End Musical “The Lion King” in London and released his Sama winning debut “Something Better about two years ago. He then caught the hearts of many when he released a tribute to the late Tsakani “TK” Masinga by doing his version of her song “I Find It So Strange”.
There are plenty of good love song singers in this country and several are obviously not mentioned including females. The beauty about ballads in this country is that they come in diverse styles and different languages as opposed to just English. While Afro-ballads or soulful tunes are increasing their following in huge numbers local marketers in the music business and those behind the artists who sing this music have been too fast asleep to notice that the genre now more than ever has a real opportunity to be elevated to stand on it’s own and make its history instead of it being accommodated by artists of various genres.
*This article was first published in the tenth print edition of MusikMag in 20 11