How to wear denim this summer
That gorgeous hunk of Afro-pop is back with his former record company, TS Records, and is set to release a new album this week. Ntando spoke to Therese Owen about his imminent return to the spotlight.
Ntando is late for the photoshoot at The Star studio. His manager tries to pacify me by telling me that he is five minutes away. Yeah, five minutes in Nigerian time. But all this dissipates when the big, beautiful man arrives. With that all- too-familiar charm he hugs me, kisses me on the cheek and flashes a smile as an apology. I am drowning in his large dark eyes.
“No, you can’t stand in the photoshoot,” he teases. “You make me shy.”
Forty-five minutes later, he and photographer Mathews Baloyi wrap up the shoot. We decide to go to Shikisha down the street to do the interview. I drive with Ntando in his silver Mercedes Benz. He plays his favourite music, ragga, very loud and sings even louder over it. Cruising downtown Jozi with Ntando! Can life get any better?
However, on arrival at Shikisha his manager says Ntando needs to be at Bassline in 10 minutes to rehearse for an upcoming gig at Moretele Park. Really, dude? Really?
The problem is solved when they invite me to the rehearsal where Zahara’s band is patiently waiting for Ntando. The idea was that he would sing two of his songs during her set in front of 30 000 people expected at the Moretele Tribute Concert. This is a regular marketing ploy by TS Records. They use their artists to promote each other and, of course, the brand that is TS Records.
Once the home of Brown Dash, Mzekezeke, PRO, Mafikizolo’s Nhlanhla Nciza and Ntando, to name a few, the record company fell on hard times. It was only with the discovery and huge success of Zahara that they were able to get on their feet again and now it seems a few chickens are coming home to roost, including Ntando.
“Yes, it was a stormy breakup,” he admits. “But we never stopped communicating. I would often phone TK (owner of TS Records) and their producer, Robbie Malinga. We were communicating for the past year. When I left I started Bornfire as a label and it was a way for me to do my own thing. Then I had a fallout with my artists.
“We met at TK’s house shortly after that and discussed working together again. There is no place like home when you were not chucked out, but voluntarily left.”
Watching him rehearse it is clear to see why, at the height of his career, he was one of the greats. He still is. He is naturally talented. His physical presence aside, I had forgotten just what a great and powerful voice this man has.
A few days later we meet for round two. How did he feel walking into producer Malinga and Mjakes Thebe’s studio after all the water under the bridge?
“I walked in cold and we discussed beats and vocals. Then Robbie suggested we record with a live band just to do something different with the music. We recorded at Mbongeni Ngema’s KZN Music House. It was a beautiful experience, for obvious reasons. It was just the three of us staying in a flat. Robbie is a good cook, so is Mjakes, so they made the food. My job was to make coffee in the morning.”
The chemistry between a producer and a musician cannot be underestimated. Think Brian Eno and U2, Zola and Kaybee and Ntando and Malinga.
For this album, called Monday to Sunday, they moved away from their formulaic Afro-pop style of five years ago. This style, which included beautiful ballads, won Ntando many awards and ensured he was at the top of the South African food chain, the reigning golden boy for a few years.
So what is different about this album?
“Well, there is no denying the Nigerian sounds and there is huge potential internationally.”
The Nigerian sound is also known for using autotune ad nauseum.
Ntando looks at me almost scathingly: “No, I never did those autotune vocals. I know how to sing.”
“For me music is melody, so lyrics are difficult. I also try and make my lyrics simple. When it gets to verses I am Jet Li and Robbie gives me the freedom to do what I want. But with the choruses – even you can sing: Oh, my dali wam.”
While we chat a spring bee is buzzing around. With a flick of his wrist he grabs an empty lemonade can and covers the bee.
Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten that this man prides himself on being a sportsman. His agility is remarkable. Yes, life came easily for him.
In between discussing the album, we talk films as Ntando is a movie buff and particularly likes kung fu and is a big fan of Li. He also loves his ragga and dancehall music and when he sings it, all the moves come naturally to him.
“We do a cover of Redemption Song with a Congolese guitarist called Tresor. We were looking for an easy reggae song in the studio and Robbie and Mjakes were getting tired because they don’t know reggae. We started jamming Redemption Song and Robbie woke up and was impressed. We did it in one take; just me, Tresor and his guitar.
“I also do a tribute to Brown Dash. It was emotional recording the song. Bricks, Mzekes, Sash (Sashman), Robbie and myself got together, telling stories about him, about all his weird Brownisms. It was fun, yet sad.
“I also did a song featuring Robbie, called Haaibo. It’s about letting a guy into your house who wants to sleep with your girlfriend. You can’t let everybody into your life. The people who can hurt you the most are those closest to you.”
Well, Ntando, let’s hope those closest to you don’t hurt you again.
Monday to Sunday is due in stores on September 20.