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CityPress - - News - FRED KHU­MALO news@city­press.co.za

o the growl­ing groans of a Ham­mond or­gan, the in­sis­tent thud of a bass guitar and the re­laxed shuf­fle of drums, the five men in flam­ing-red trousers, match­ing flo­ral shirts and white takkies arch their backs, lift their arms to the skies as if in sup­pli­ca­tion to the gods and launch into a fren­zied syn­chro­nised dance.

They gyrate to the right, then to the left. Left-left, rightright. Their arms stretch out like the wings of birds that are about to take flight, quiv­er­ing with ex­cite­ment.

The diminu­tive man in the mid­dle rushes to­wards the mi­cro­phone and starts singing: “Mama Ka’Sbongile, awuyek’ukuthi uma usu­phuzile bese uyangiphoxa (Sbongile’s mum, stop hu­mil­i­at­ing me when you are drunk).

The crowd ex­plodes into thun­der­ous howls of ap­proval at the recog­ni­tion of their all-time favourite song.

It is April 1990 and the place is the Ru­faro Sta­dium in Harare, Zim­babwe, where South African su­per­group Soul Broth­ers are giv­ing a con­cert as part of that coun­try’s cel­e­bra­tion of its 10 years of in­de­pen­dence.

Lead singer David Ma­sondo has the crowd eat­ing out of his tiny hand, his qua­ver­ing falsetto tak­ing his au­di­ence on a sen­ti­men­tal jour­ney.

He is singing about mis­placed love (Ngakushele­lani Ngi­dakiwe – I now re­gret hav­ing pro­posed to you while I was drunk); abu­sive men (Isig­il­amkhuba); and po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions (Ba­zobuya – our he­roes will come back from ex­ile).

A long jour­ney

The group’s song­book tra­verses all the emo­tions known to hu­man­ity – and more.

Welcome Bhod­loza Nz­i­mande, the group’s man­ager, in an in­ter­view con­ducted just af­ter a me­mo­rial ser­vice in hon­our of Ma­sondo, said: “It has been a long jour­ney for them, and a some­times trou­bled one – es­pe­cially for David, who had to carry the load and pres­sures of fame for such a long time.”

The lead singer and face of the band that came to be known as Oganda­ganda baseNin­giz­imu Afrika (The Trac­tors of South Africa) – the name coined by Ra­dio Zulu an­nouncer Cyril “Kansas City” Mchunu, who be­lieved the Soul Broth­ers had steam­rolled all com­pet­ing wannabes into stunned si­lence – had come a long way.

Born in How­ick in 1949, David Mbuso Ma­sondo later went to live in the rel­a­tively new town­ship of Mpumalanga in the Natal Mid­lands.

There he hooked up with Zen­zele Mchunu, Tuza Mthethwa and Themba Amer­i­can Zulu to form a band called the Groovy Boys. They im­me­di­ately suc­cumbed to the lure of the City of Gold, where the band was ex­panded and re­named the Young Broth­ers.

Leg­endary pro­ducer Hamil­ton “Vala” Nz­i­mande helped them with their first sin­gle, Mshoza, which be­came an im­me­di­ate hit af­ter it was re­leased in 1975.

They were there­after known as the Soul Broth­ers and had been joined by Moses Ng­wenya on or­gan. Ma­sondo, pre­vi­ously con­fined to play­ing drums, was cat­a­pulted into the role of lead singer, tak­ing over from Mthethwa. This mir­rored the ca­reer move made by Teddy Pen­der­grass, who joined Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes as an ob­scure drum­mer to later emerge as a pow­er­ful lead singer.

The mar­riage be­tween Ma­sondo’s keen­ing so­prano and Ng­wenya’s groan­ing-growl­ing-groovy or­gan gave the group an in­stantly recog­nis­able sound.

The rhythm sec­tion was aug­mented with a brass sec­tion, gui­tars and mul­ti­ple vo­cal har­monies. The Soul Broth­ers’ live per­for­mances were a feast. Un­like many band lead­ers who sang, then stepped aside for the dancers to per­form their magic, Ma­sondo him­self led the dance moves.

A unique sound

While the cos­tumes, chore­og­ra­phy and a few har­monies echoed the Amer­i­can soul mu­sic that inspired the Soul Broth­ers – yes, they did rip off some Do­bie Gray har­monies note for note, but changed the lyrics – the group cre­ated a sound uniquely rooted in the lives of work­ing class black South Africans.

Then tragedy struck. In 1978 Mthethwa died in a car crash. Two more band mem­bers died in 1979, in­clud­ing Mpompi Sosibo, one of the ear­lier mem­bers.

With each death, the band re­leased songs pay­ing trib­ute to their fallen ones, tear­fully ask­ing God to stop the car­nage.

In 1983, the group trav­elled to Botswana, where they worked with then ex­iled Hugh Masekela to bring an mbaqanga sen­si­bil­ity to the trum­peter’s sem­i­nal Tech­nobush al­bum.

Then in 1984, Mchunu, the bassist, also died in a car crash. The band re­leased the song Hamba Kahle Mfowethu, bid­ding him farewell. I was in ma­tric at the time. I know that I cried. Not that I knew Mchunu per­son­ally, but it was a song that made me cry.

The Soul Broth­ers had their fin­gers on the emo­tional pulse of the com­mon man. They made you laugh (Ushel’umkami – You’re Mak­ing Moves on My Wife) and cry (Mama Wami).

With their al­bums notch­ing up hun­dreds of thou­sands in sales and win­ning awards, the Soul Broth­ers be­came the big­gest mu­sic set-up in the coun­try – even later, when Brenda Fassie ex­ploded on to the scene with her pop­u­lar sound, they

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