If a Soweto taxi driver is playing your tune, you know you’ve got something right. Budding music producers in the township would often give their tracks out to local drivers, hoping they would spread their sound to passengers. This community hype around music greeted the arrival of Soweto-based band Urban Village.
Already attuned to the house and dance music of his generation, guitarist Lerato Lichaba’s ears pricked up at the more traditional Zulu sounds he heard being played by his older neighbours, and his sound morphed into something new. Having lived through South Africa’s liberation from apartheid in the ’90s, Urban Village take pride in mining the cultural spaces that opened up as white minority rule finally ended.
The debut album Udondolo carries on the dialogue with their forefathers. It blends folk music, Zulu rock, Xhosa funk, mbaqanga and maskandi, overlaid with the soulful vocals that rang through their neighbourhoods.
The joyous track ‘Sakhisiwe’ – which translates as ‘to build a nation’ – is sung both in Zulu and English, capturing a shared rhythm that is carried across borders and states. Their subject matter is both specific and universally accessible, our literal understanding buckling to the incredible power soul music has to convey a message. My highlight, ‘Ubaba’, honours the older generations, accompanied by a video spotlighting the many Soweto hostels which housed working black South African men during apartheid. Udondolo transports us through all the colours of Soweto, inviting us to walk together towards a united world.
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