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The Indigo Child is my current Favourite Album Of All Time And For ever. The almost debut solo album by Zwai Bala is a beautiful creation by this musical child prodigy turned kwaito superstar/ classical vocalist/producer, director and TV personality.
The Indigo Child is a reflection of a man who has single-handedly carved a fantastic niche for himself in South African music.
From the age of 12 he was treading where no black child had been allowed to tread before. He took kwaito from a basic beat to a melodious genre which has stood the test of time. He has been instrumental in changing white Afrikaners’ perceptions when it comes to who can sing their language and how well they can sing it. His innate understanding of musical stage production in classical and popular culture has ensured that great shows have been staged. Bala’s achievements are an essential part of the rich tapestry that is South African music culture. His love affair with music has enriched the lives of South African culture and therefore South African people.
Even though Mr Bala released a Christmas album some time back, he says he does see The Indigo Child as his debut solo album.
I was one of the lucky peeps to have received a copy a few months before he had wrapped up his deal with Universal Music. Since then, the album has been on continual rotation in my life.
Oh, and yes, this is the same Universal Music that is signing South African artists faster than cabinet are signing cheques for Nkandla.
However, there is very good reason for Universal to have signed Zwai Bala. This is a class album in the classic old-school way. It is how an album should be enjoyed. The Indigo Child has hits as well as songs which are to be enjoyed in the context of the album. It has depth, musically and lyrically. It offers fun, sadness, joy. It is cheeky, funny and sometimes cheesy. Above all the music is delivered with passion and Zwai’s trademark ear for perfection, ensuring attention to detail. The songs demonstrate his beautiful, effortless voice. Aside from his cousin, Akhona, Zwai does all the vocals, from the baritone to the soprano.
He features rapper Zakwe on the opening track and first single, Umlilo.
Bash’Abafana, which is a support track for Bafana Bafana, features the legendary Phuz’ekhemisi who gives the standard anthemic sport song an authentic African feel. There is also a fantastic climax to the song.
Then there is Play That Music which features the T in TKZee. The track is certainly a highlight in a giddy mix of great music. It features piano lead breaks, Tokollo’s sexy kwaito rap and Zwai’s harmonic, clear and precise singing.
Overall there is a strong African pop feel which is infused with a 1980s African-American retro keyboard feel. There is a deep Afro-soul track which gives his voice space to explore his Eastern Cape Xhosa roots.
“I didn’t know what genre to do,” he admits. “I had so many great songs just lying around and I thought I had no better time than now. It was so right. It just happened.”
He worked with close friend and producer, Terry Pinana.
“Terry and I just moved from one song to the next. There is no ego with us. We get a lot done. Doing this album is the best thing I could have done right now. In terms of the lyrics, even the romantic ones, I have a strong message. I am big into issues and on things that really matter.”
Africanism is a recurring theme. Zwai is quiet for a moment and then says: “You know, no matter what we do we are just black. We must be proud of who we are, but we must get over ourselves. We are black. In Umlilo I am saying that, but in the second verse I praise Africanness. We must not be taken advantage of.
“We must speak to the authorities. Let’s gather around the fire. We are African in our DNA so no matter what private school we went to we have to accept that we are black. Yes, the West has an influence on us, but the sooner we accept who we are, the sooner everyone else will, too.”
He gives his mischievous grin: “Blacks are noisy. That’s just the way we are. And if we live in a complex why should we conform to being quiet if in our culture we are noisy?”
Mr Bala, me thinketh you expresseth too much. Zwai shakes his head: “I am not scared of expressing my messages and beliefs. If I am taken to task about something I said it’s not because I said it by mistake. There are issues I would want to talk about. Joining Cope didn’t help so let’s put this another way.”
In terms of the music on offer, it is the full package.
“This album appeals to Metro and Kaya listeners, people who don’t get that music anywhere else. It’s adult contemporary music made for people who like Gill Scott and Baby Face, but at the same time it is definitely a South African album.
“This album is really me and what I have learnt over the years and I have learnt quite a bit.”
There is also a cover of Simpiwe Dana’s Ndiredi.
“I did a little show with pianist Andile Yenana for Samro’s 50th birthday dinner. He suggested we do this track and it was just piano and vocals. It went down very well. In fact, that song was one of the events which made me do this album.”