One love, one heart
With an impressive array of instruments at his beck and call, Mandla has charmed audiences for almost two decades with his skills as a master drummer and percussionist – a highly respected status given the title is passed down from master to pupil, after they have learned all there is to know about the African drum.
The culmination of his musical genius (he is also a skilled flute and double bass player), coupled with the talents of an impressive array of local musicians that reads like an image of a united Africa, has finally resulted in the much-anticipated recent launch of his music project AfroGong at Cool Runnings. This is the perfect setting for AfroGong’s full set performance, as it has been Mandla’s musical home since 1999 when the Thursday night drumming circle became an institution, providing a space for people of all walks of life to socialize and unite.
“My upbringing in the Eastern Cape has had a huge influence on my sound. I never grew up with drums. I only encountered them by chance as an adult when a friend of mine asked me if I could hang on to his for a while. Even so, the music was always there, always in my soul. I grew up listening to the radio, to the jazz my dad loved and I followed the changes in music over time, which brought about my greater appreciation for music.”
“Traditional music from the Eastern Cape is very distinct because it travels between extreme low notes and extreme highs; this is in my music too. In Africa we do not only dance when we are happy, we dance to protest, we dance at funerals and weddings and we dance for the sheer desire to release energy – this is the spirit that AfroGong music encompasses”.
‘Gong’ is Jamaican slang for ‘going’ and Mandla says that “the band’s name comes from this idea of ‘African going’, of working in African ways. The sound he and the band are creating is powered by a solid African groove, and mixes the influences of afro-rock, reggae, R&B, jazz, funk and even classical.
“The music has a lot of groove so people can get up and dance to it, but I also bring a sense of conscious lyrics to the sound. When I started playing the drums, the beat just resonated with my township upbringing, so many of the songs I’ve written have been done over a long period of my life and come together here as a kind of honest reflection of who I am and what I stand for. Just like my dreadlocks. They are symbolic of my Rastafarian religion, and the most proper identity I have.”
“For me, music comes from different things, but most of mine has been inspired by my icon, Bob Marley and a whole lot of real things. So as much as I am not a man who adores technology for technology’s sake, I carry my phone around wherever I go because the music comes at any time, and it’s one way of making sure I am able to record ideas or work on projects, lyrics and compositions while I’m on the go. There’s not really any other way to describe AfroGong other than saying that it is the music I do with the people I am involved with in at the time.”
And for every project, there is a different team. For the AfroGong Project it’s an eight-piece band led by Mandla on vocals, joined by Jaedon Daniel (keyboard), Alberto Chemane (drums), Wonder Jazz Hlubi (bass guitar), Sthembiso Hlela (percussion), Daniel Sheldon (trumpet), and Aristides Manhique (lead guitar). It’s all about what works best for each project or performance.
Locally, Mandla has worked with the likes of Madala Kunene, commonly referred to as the king of the Zulu guitar, and percussionist Njabulo Shabalala to name a few. On an international scale, he’s worked with the kind of musicians who are not necessarily renowned all over the world, but are recognised and much-loved, in their own countries, for their own set of unique offerings.
“I’ve travelled across Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Cameroon and Morocco on different projects with different people. Europe, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland too. These are all musical adventures I’ve been on with the people who fit best at the time. And the best part about each experience is the audience, Europe being my favourite purely because they are without a doubt one of the most appreciative audiences I’ve ever come across. You don’t have to be famous worldwide for them to listen, respect and love what you bring to them.”
With a home studio for recoding and the use of his garage for band practise, Mandla and his AfroGong family get together twice a week in the mornings to liven up the neighbourhood with the soulful sounds in preparation for the next big gig. His wife, Rachel and two young kids, Dali and Zola, are usually always within earshot of his sounds and offer a refreshing support system.
“Now that we’ve unleashed the magic of AfroGong to Durban’s aficionados, we’d like to spread it around Jo’burg and Cape Town audiences. I am truly so excited for this journey. And to think I used to want to be an architect. No… there is nothing more beautiful in life than coming together to make music and sharing it. This is the food of life. Like Bob Marley sang ‘One Love! One Heart!
Let’s get together and feel all right.”
Visit the AfroGong Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AfroGong031/ for more details or e-mail Mandla on firstname.lastname@example.org
Durban Get It Magazine Nobember 2018Kajal Maharaj : Soapie Star