Dancing with the Diaspora
Madala Kunene & the Madalaline of music
Madala Kunene is a Zulu guitarist playing his own style of music Madalaline. It is based on melody and traditional composition and not on dance as with Maskanda. Madala recorded a number of albums with Melt2000 records and many musicians like Robert Doc and Busi Mhlongo. Madala Kunene had an extensive collaboration with Syd Kitchen in Bafo Bafo.
Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Cato Manor. He refused to spend so much as a day at school. He started busking on Durban's beachfront at the age of 7, making his first guitar out of a cooking oil tin and fish gut for the strings, soon becoming a popular performer in the townships, he said: “It was my ancestors that didn't want me to go to school. They gave me a talent so that instead of school, I played my music”.
Umkhumbane - the multi cultural inner city squalor of Durban
"I started music when I was a boy at Umkhubane (Cato Manor) at Jippercoat Station. We were called 'Amanikabheni' (a name given to us because we would perform in open spaces and then be given pennies by the thrilled crowds".
The Durban City Walk
These musicians made their daily bread from busking on Durban's beachfront. That takes incredible faith. But they did it. Syd has passed on but Madala continues to tell the amazing story of the life of a true blue Zulu Gypsey musician, like Manu Chau. There is a walk in honour and immitation of these legendary steps.
Madala Kunene, the Nyanga
On Valentines day 2009, the day of Syd Kitchens first ever wedding, Madala spoke to me. He said, 'What do you need?' I said, 'I need a trumpet teacher.' He said, 'Do you have a trumpet?' I said, 'Yes.' He took me to Eric Duma. Eric is a great teacher of trumpet as trumpet is a musical instrument that requires the lovely clear and strong approach. Eric is in the army band and performs locally with Just Friends, Umkhumbane and Madala Kunene, where he performs alongside saxophonist S'thembiso Ntuli.
THE MELT2000 RECORDINGS
Madala can be recognised in performance throughout the world through his multi coloured and typically African attire. Madala was recorded extensively by Melt2000. When record producer Robert Trunz arrived in Africa from England (and the Swiss Alps before that) he found an incredibly new world. He changed radically. He becane a multi coloured man and spent his vast speaker fortune on African and spiritual music. When I met Robert Trunz for the first time in 1999 he was with Madala Kunene. They were in the midst of their extensive recording collaboration. Madala gave Robert many great recordings and Robert gave Madala a house in Queensborough not far from where he grew up.
Madala says, " Robert Trunz had helped me a lot in getting a house of my own. For a long time I'd been renting at others peoples places and I am forever grateful to Robert for that. With a house of my own I fulfilled my grand mothers dream traditionally I brought her home we now live together."
The Melt2000 recordings are the singularly most valuable aspect to Madala's career and indeed a defining moment. It was during these years that he formed a distinctive international presentation of his music that fits under the definition Madalaline. He is doing what he did from the very first day, he is doing Madala, he is playing Madala. He is Madala.
In 2009 Madala played solo guitar live throughout the exceptional performance and play called the Dictionary directed and performed by the Brother Ngema. This play played ot packed houses every night and had the sweat, blood and laughter of true African theatre that exists throughout all time. The sotryline was deeply innovative and educational and of course it was backed up throughout by a live set of music played by Madala, seated out throughout on a stool at the back of the stage. The music was sometimes childish with simple guitar riffs accompanied by Madala's child like vocals. And members of the cast would even sing a long too. And the music was sometimes quite funky so that we the audience might even clap a long. This play was a lot of fun ... Madala is currently performing a musical called SHAKTI at the Playhouse with the flatfoot dance company and an Indian tabla player. They are preparing to travel to Grahamstown.
Bafo Bafo / Madala and Robert
Interview Robert Trunz about Madala Kunene
How was Madala and Mabi's show at the Freedom Station?
Robert Trunz says in Cullinan Sunday 30/01
For me it was a reunion of the two. I haven't seen them for many years now. The last time I saw them together was in Montpelier in France, they did the festival le Printemps. It is a real nice festival and they were there in residence for a few weeks. I hadn't seen Mabi so it was nice to see Mabi live again and especially in this place that in a part of Johannesburg that I didn't know even existed. I haven't been there a lot, so it is quite fascinating to get such an incredible feel going in such a small place and Steve Mokoena is doing some nice stuff.
Madala I experienced on the 20th December at the Rainbow and it got better in the second half of the concert because Bernard (the bass player) came to me in the break and said ‘Oh Bafo, heish it doesn't sound nice. What can I do?' I said I know it doesn't sound nice. I gave him a few tips and they adjusted the whole system a little bit and afterwards it sounded really good. That for me was also a very interesting gig because it had the sax player Mdu Magwaza from Mango groove. I only saw him on pictures when they were playing in America because I had a real bad taste in my mouth after a concert with Madala way back in 2006. Mbeki was still in power and Mbeki's wife did a thing for local handicraft. Local craftsmen were invited to come and present their goods in the presidential gardens. Mbeki's house was there in the corner and there was a huge lawn, like the old apartheid governments' beautiful gardens and beautiful buildings. And she had a very expensive little tent and in each tent there were local craftsmen and so she brought along all these diplomats, people from the whole world. We had to stand on the side because Madam President was coming and all this. They spent an extraordinary amount of money on music as well. I thought a good investment. We had a few people playing there including Madala. And he had a sax player and a trumpet player playing with him, terrible. That is the worst nightmare concert I have ever heard of Madala, and I don't know why, these two guys just didn't gel. But when I came to this gig at the Rainbow I was expecting one of those sax players, but it wasn't, it was the guy from Mango Groove and that was really groovy. I think for bigger concerts this is a good formation whereas the more intimate Madala is the one with Mabi which is the one I like, with guests. Gontse was playing. That is the side of Madala I would call Madala unplugged. For me the Madala unplugged is the one I love the most. He attracts a lot of good people, young people and musicians.
Madala was saying that because of the things that we have been doing in the 90's and because of the fact that we have had so many strong artists, in the end when the rest of the competition started to catch up on that, they basically blocked a lot of the artists. He thinks he was blocked by a lot of the companies that organise these concerts. It is a mafia, it is a mafia everywhere. Everywhere you go it is the same kind of mafia that looks after the distribution of money that is being given away by the government or the organisations. There are always plenty of people who know how to spend it and with whom to spend it, which is part of the politics or whatever.
I always understood Madala's English quite well, and I don't think it is what he says. It is often what he puts into the room that makes you think about things. He has got some quite profound traditional ways of doing things. Deeply embedded in tradition which I also see with Ricky in Madagascar, same thing. But then I also see a lot of the same kind of feelings or views about things that I share with him. It is also perhaps to do with that we have the same star sign. It never really crossed my mind because I can't believe any of the birth dates that he has in his various different ID's and passports. Every single document that you ever get your hands on has a different date of birth. Even his birth year they got wrong. Because of sharing similar views across continents it is something that I enjoyed all these years with Madala and to see now the kids growing up all over with a memory that is embedded in them that comes from a depth of people like Madala, it is great. You can see here for example, Msimanga came and Msimanga is Mpumi's son. When Mpumi was living here before with Charmaine's Mike, Nico and S'bu down there (in Durban); they all have this memory of that man, Madala Kunene.
And here especially also, Mabi. And now I come back to the thing that I was saying because it is not really a story about Madala, but a story about Madala and Mabi, because that is how it started, that is how I first met them in '94 when we recorded Outernational Meltdown, because I had never seen anybody playing in time with out of time music, like Mabi. Mabi to me is a miraculous percussionist and drummer who is so close to Madala, it is a brotherhood. I feel also part of that brotherhood although there are different things over the years. Some experiences were very good and some experiences were less good. All in all, with a good relationship, up and downs from time to time. But then I see today the magic that is created when these two guys are together. That magic is just pure. In 1994, the first time, Mabi and Madala were joined by a couple of vocalists and Airto. That was really fantastic, three great musicians together. Then later on when I went back after the recordings with Madala; Mabi had disappeared. He was found in that hospital King Edward the 7th . He was staying with Sipho Gumede all this time and was practically dying. Sipho didn't call anybody or say anything to anybody. But then after we got him out, a week later we went to do this recording that later came out as “King of the Zulu guitar”. That was recorded in two different locations. The first part was recorded in the backyard of Sipho Gumede's house in Durban and then we went to a farm where Sipho Gumede's mother was housing. I never understood exactly to who that farm belonged. Madala said he once gave the farm to Sipho. There hasn't been a lot of love between those people, especially Sipho and Madala. Madala is not often angry, but he is a little bit angry, when somebody tricks you, you just stay away. I am also a person who rather walks away and that is it, which hasn't been good financially, but it doesn't really matter because if my inner peace is disturbed, I get sick; and every time I got sick, and I don't want to be sick, so I walk. Madala is one of those people. Madala also doesn't run after people. He doesn't get involved when people want to do things because of this and that, political gain or put him up as an endorsement. Madala has always said no, which hasn't helped him in becoming rich. And he has been going through tough times but he is Madala Kunene and there is only one Madala Kunene and there is only one Mabi Thobejane. That second recording, Madala with Mabi, that was out on this farm and there were people there, local people, there was a choir and they were all singing, and there was a river with sand and kids on the other side. Stunning. Very nice, peaceful recording and I think that is when Madala is at his best, the intimate evenings when you just hang out there at his place and he plays and sometimes he doesn't stop for an hour or two. He keeps going and these days it is a bit different because the bladdy phone rings all the time. He has still got one phone, he hasn't got to two phones yet. A lot of people call him all the time. And there were lots of concerts that followed and most of the time it was Mabi. Mabi was not there in '97 when we did Printemps. I think Mabi was in America with Juno Reactor. Juno Reactor was supporting artist for Moby. That got Mabi off to work with Ben Watkins a lot. Then somehow when I was between England and here, 2000 and something, I hadn't heard much from Madala for a while and then I get a message from someone who was saying that Madala has been publically saying something about music and sangoma's and it didn't go down well, Because he was hungry. Somebody interpreted it in the way that as a sangoma you are earning more than a musician, so he should become a sangoma. It went down the throat of some people in the wrong way and there was a lot of hassle and shit going on and even for Bernard and Mabi who have been together for ages and ages.
I wondered what the hell was going on so I called and I hear all these stories, I just got on the phone to Mabi and say Mabi come round to Cullinan. So Mabi comes and I put him in the car and we put some recording equipment and some of his gear and we drove straight down to Durban and I grabbed Madala and I got Bernard and Mabi and we went to a place outside of Durban in a kind of small forest, a park. I just put up bass amp, guitar amp, percussion and two microphones and we recorded. And that became the Uxolo sessions. Out of that afterwards there was a reunion happening again and we did some concerts and something at the bassline with Umshika Shika Qwabe. That night Kwani Experience were playing as the first group. That one we recorded and filmed and put a DVD out in the end. Again another concert with Mabi. It seems like Mabi and Madala are so intertwined, the one pulls the other one out of their trodden ways. Sometimes they get trodden because there is too much fear. The fear of existence, the fear of money, the fear of everything. Madala nevertheless is quite good at having people looking after him and his family. Some may not like that, when you are with somebody like Madala who has so many children and so much to look after you say why doesn't he have less children and less problems. Having just been there for months and having spent quite a lot of time, everything there comes out of that man and Thando that beautiful women. The children that come out of there is wow and they are all complete individuals. They all have this softness, this Madalaline touch, the line of the Madala's. Like the last evening before we left they were singing this song. Matthias recorded it on that thing. They are singing about this; “We are the Kunene's”.
Mabi just joined us, it is nice. Mabi we are recording this interview and talking about Madala and the concert last Friday in Johannesburg and for me you and Madala is like I can't say something about Madala without you. You had this thing with Ben and all that but in the end, everytime I experience you, happy or great shows is you and Madala together.
I know Madala. Me and Madala know each other a long time. Madala knew me since Malombo. Madala wanted to meet me from Malombo 1965. I keep on hearing about Madala. We were with Sipho. He was playing for Spirits Rejoice. I joined Sipho when he was playing for Spirits Rejoice. Spirits Rejoice were going to fall apart and from there we opened Sakhile with Sipho and Khaya.
Robert has Madala in the company. I come from Sakhile with Sipho, and now we meet Madala and I said yes, this is the time. We were practicing in Sussex. We used to practice everyday. So you see how much was our practice. Every day in the studio me and Madala until I got used to Madala. If you don't know Madala, when he plays, you are going to get lost. He plays his things and you don't know that thing and you like to go in, don't do that; leave him. We are talking when we play. We are like a team. He feels he is supposed to be in there and then he goes in. Everything Madala is doing I must get used to him. Unless he is going to leave you on the road. You won't know where he is and when he comes back, it is like a new song. We will play a medley, me and Madala, and you will never see where we do it.
Madala is not reading music. He plays by the feeling, so you must be clever to play with him, play by the feeling also. I am not reading music, but I have an ear of here is wrong, here is right. I can make Madala's wrong to be a very good thing by just getting in there and backing that thing. The song we start from there and go. Whoever gets out comes back. Madala is like that.
MELT2000 catalogue: Madala Kunene
Madala was in Joburg re-recording Martha Got a Free , Kon'ko Man and Washa Washa . Those three songs together with Madala's composition Ubombo , make up the core of his catalogue with Melt2000 as they were recorded and re-recorded, re-mixed and used on compilations throughout his twenty year recording career with Melt2000.
Madala says,"I first met Max at a studio in Johannesburg in 1995. We sat together the whole night. I just took the guitar and played and everybody sang along." This was a fore-runner to the Swiss SA guitar collaborations. We hear the Madala anthem Amasi , given voice with strong backing vocals and an organ. The prevalence of the vocal music is heard on the song 'First jam.' Lungiswa is showcased, which later earnt her an album on the label. The friendship that binds musically is heard on the track Bafo. It is a jam too. The version of Siyakhala is light, gentle and reserved. Ucilo preserves the unique guitar style with story telling vocals. On Ullimat we hear the mbira. Ubombo is recorded again under the name of Ubongo and features the rolling sound of organ and bird tweets. The rhythm is much straighter on this version. Uthando is a love song, out of place.
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