I’m an avid listener of music, and I am constantly in search of a new sound. I first heard about Soweto born a capella group The Soil, from a young woman who was a friend and colleague of mine, Keitumetse Moalusi.
She told me excitedly about this new a capella group that was combining crafty vocals and poetry, and I distinctly remember thinking how wonderful it would be if they could become the mainstream cool. God knows, at the time we needed it.
It was to my absolute delight when I then came across their self-titled debut album a couple of years later. The intro to The Soil, I am slowly realising, was extremely spiritual.
“Decomposing the keys of pianos and guitars, we are reaping what the tapping of feet have sown.”
That’s literally what they’ve done throughout their three-album young career - they’ve managed to revive a style of music that has been the base of our popular culture, think here a capella fused with the undying spirit of Kofi-fi Jazz, the dazzling vocals and vintage fashion to match.
Catching up with the band’s front woman, Buhlebendalo Mda, is refreshing. After struggling to link up because she’s been feeling under the weather, she manages to take some time off her holiday in one of our neighbouring countries. Speaking to the “Soilsista”, as she’s known, is a treat and she sounds like she’s in good spirits.
The band has been named as one of the groups that will be sharing a stage with the likes of Louis Moholo-Moholo, Incognito, Corrine Bailey Rae, The Liberation Project and Simphiwe Dana to name a few, at the 19th edition of the Cape Town International Jazz Fest, that will be taking place from March 23-24.
Given that this is not their first jazz fest, the first thing I want to know from Mda is what she remembers from their maiden appearance in 2014 at one of Africa’s most respected jazz gatherings.
“Wow I remember it was one of the biggest performances we’d done. It was a milestone because we were fresh in the industry, every dream was starting to become a reality. We were excited and wanted to leave a mark. I think that year Erykah Badu was also performing, and I wanted her to see our performance but we ended up performing at different times.
"The performance was epic if I should say so myself. We were happy to be performing at one of the biggest festivals in the world and we were living our dream,” Mda said.
Three albums and a couple of awards later, that dream is alive and well. As with any journey of this sort, time has the ability to teach you so much about yourself, and your craft.
“We have three studio recordings, and one DVD, all of these have given us different experiences. What played the biggest role in all of this is the privilege of travelling, seeing different cultures and people, which we’ve incorporated in the music. It helped me personally understand my weakness and strengths, especially as a woman being in a space of male dominance.
“I’ve come to realise the role I play in motivating young girls in the townships, to show them that they too can make it. That empowers me personally and gives me the strength to empower other young girls and women”.
“I have learnt so much, to be true to myself. On this recent album, Echoes of Kofifi, we raise issues of dissatisfaction with the government, issues of self-love and love in general. That could have only happened through growth,” she said.
What this does is push The Soil into an orbit that we may not have previously considered them for: as activists using their music as a tool. Especially because a large chunk of their audience is young people - they become, through their music, a voice of the youth.
Which is something that their first two albums, Nostalgic Moments and their self-titled debut, may not have done as clearly.
“I feel like my break created growth for all of us, it was a break that was needed, for all of us individually, but it had to be through me. This makes me proud of having taken the step in the first place.
"If you are born in Africa, you have to be an activist, because there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed. You cannot just sit down and take on a despondent ‘Ke ntho tsa teng’ stance. You have to be someone that people can trust, so that if the elders and government won’t hear us, then we’ll put it down to a song, just like how Miriam Makeba used to do it,” she added.
Pushed to speak about her favourite song on this album, Mda answered; all of them. But when cornered, she singled out Uhuru and Mama ndiyahamba, both because of the content of the music.
With the album having been certified gold, it seems that the audience has responded positively to this shift of sound that The Soil gave in their third album that was more message-driven as opposed to being just about the good times.
For the fans that will be looking forward to the performances, Mda promised fireworks on stage.
“We know our fans still love the old tracks like Sunday, Joy and others, so we’ll definitely be doing the music from the first, till the third album. Just to give people the experience of our growth and evolution through our music.
“So old favourites, new work definitely and covers, of course. We’ve been doing covers forever. We have own favourites, including Lizzie, by Ntate Hugh Masekela. We want to keep his music alive.”
The Soil will be performing at the Cape Town International Jazz festival that takes place from March 23-24. For more details visit: www.capetownjazzfest.com