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NTOMBI NDABA - 'Tomorrow'

Afrosynth Records AFS036 

SOUTH African music has undoubtedly been blessed with many fine female voices, too numerous to list here. During the 1980s a new generation emerged. For many fans of that era’s music, one voice stands out above the rest: Ntombi Ndaba. 

Eleanor Ntombikayise Ndaba was born on 28 February 1958 in Vryheid (Afrikaans for ‘Freedom’), in the Zululand region north of Durban. In the early 1960s her family was forced to relocate to the newly built township of eMondlo a few kilometres away, along with millions of other South Africans living under the notorious system of enforced segregation known as apartheid.

Ntombikayise (isiZulu for ‘Daddy’s girl) grew up in a close-knit family. Her father worked as a driver for a local furniture company, her mother as a domestic worker for a family in town. As a young girl Ntombi would sit glued to her radio, taking it all in. The first record she bought was ‘Ngiyabuza’ by Letta Mbulu, one of her biggest influences.

As a teenager she started singing for a local band in eMondlo called Shame. Hooked, she decided to follow her dream and make the journey, like so many others, to the City of Gold: Johannesburg.

 “I’ve always known I’d be a singer,” she remembers. “I was singing in church and in school. I wasn’t shy at all. I’m not shy, I’m an outspoken person. I don’t get nervous when I sing, I just feel free, and happy.”

In Joburg young Ntombi auditioned successfully to join the cast of Gibson Kente, the famous “father of township theatre”, in a production titled Hungry Spoon. In the same cast were two other young singers who were soon to become major stars of the ‘bubblegum’ era: Phumi Maduna (of Cheek To Cheek) and Brenda Fassie.

During breaks from Hungry Spoon’s schedule, Ntombi would return home to eMondlo, where she soon drew the attention of local entrepreneur A.T. Khoza, known to one and all as ‘Rubber’. So impressed was the wealthy businessman that he offered to put a band together for Ntombi, including paying for all the instruments they would require. 

“When I was with Hungry Spoon, we were moving around all over South Africa,” says Ntombi. “When I went home for holidays, thinking that I’ll come back again to Gibson Kente, that’s when Rubber suggested that he buys me the whole set of instruments. We came here to Johannesburg, to Gallo Studios [situated downtown on the corner of Kerk and Goud Streets], and collected the guys. Musicians were sitting outside waiting for jobs.”

Ntombi and Rubber made their pick: keyboardists Jerry Dube and Bheki Zulu, Bongani Sithole on bass, Enock Nkosi on drums. Hailing from various parts of the country, they drove around collecting their belongings before heading back to eMondlo. “That’s when we started to rehearse together. Rubber gave us a big house behind one of his businesses and we rehearsed there. That’s when the Survival was formed.”

Meanwhile, Ntombi and Rubber’s relationship soon flourished. “As a businessman he used to hire these guys I was singing with and ask them to do some shows for him. I happened to be there. And then we just fell in love…”

The band’s first opportunity to record came when a contact at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Durban put them in touch with Clive Riskowitz (aka Clive Risko), a successful producer who ran his own label, Reamusic. In 1985 Ntombi & Survival released their first two singles, including her breakthrough hit ‘Think More About Me’, a 10-minute ballad that established Ntombi as a star in the making, as well as a talented lyricist and songwriter.

“I never had any awards; the only thing I knew was how my fans reacted when I performed that song. They couldn’t stop asking for encore, again and again! People watched in amazement, some of them couldn’t believe I had that energy. They were so excited.”

The following year Ntombi & Survival’s star continued to rise with the release of the albums I Am Trying and Dance The Night Away. 

By 1987 the group had left Reamusic and signed to one of the biggest labels of the day, EMI’s CCP Records, also home to Brenda Fassie and her backing back The Big Dudes. At EMI Ntombi & Survival released two more albums in 1987, Sweet Love and What Is It With Me (Yini Ngami). As usual, songwriting credits went to Ntombi while Khoza was credited as the producer and arranger, although the band played an important role in crafting the songs, particularly Dube.

In search of more creative freedom and a healthier cut of the profits, Rubber and Ntombi soon parted ways with CCP to set up their own label, Anneko. The establishment of the new label saw the singer going solo and starting to work with a wider group of session musicians, and even branching out to producing other artists. 

She released her first album as Ntombi Ndaba in 1988: Mina Ngilijaji (isiZulu for ‘I am the judge’), the title track a powerful affirmation of her independence as an artist and a woman, and another hit with her fans. The same album also included tracks like ‘I’ve Got a Friend’, ‘Do You Trust Amajita’ and a cover of British singer Joan Armatrading's 'Weakness In Me' (originally released in 1981), a nod to one of Ntombi’s favourite international artists.

More solo albums soon followed: Mama Nature in 1989, then Will Power and Why Me in 1991, featuring a new version of her breakthrough hit ‘Think More About Me’.

At their peak, Ntombi and her band would perform up to 20 shows a month in every corner of South Africa. “We were always on the road,” she remembers. “The only memory I have is that, when people love you, they’d usually come to me. Some offered a place to stay, which I didn’t want, but they used to show love. Those are good memories.”

Just as quickly as she rose to fame in 1985, in the early 90s Ntombi disappeared. Following Rubber Khoza’s unexpected death, she sold their house in Soweto and returned to her family home in eMondlo, never to record or perform again. Since then she has been living a quiet life in eMondlo with her mother, far removed from the bright lights of Johannesburg and her former life as one of South Africa’s most loved and talented artists. 


VOLCANO - 'Vanonyana Lava' b/w THE BEAT GANGSTERS - 'Chappies'

Afrosynth Records, AFS035 

Hot on the heels the label’s debut release Burnin’ Beat, Johannesburg-based Afrosynth Records’ second release is a 12” of two bass-heavy cuts of obscure ‘90s kwaito from South Africa.

Founded in the early 80s by Richard Makhubele, Volcano’s signature brand of Shangaan disco made them one of the most popular bands of the ‘bubblegum’ era, releasing a string of big-selling albums with the Gallo label. But by 1993 things in South Africa were changing fast, both politically and musically. Volcano had left Gallo to join Eric Frisch Productions (EFP) in search of greater independence. On their 1993 album Tshigubu Tshanga they began to experiment with the new house-inspired sound of kwaito courtesy of producer Malcolm ‘X’ Makume, with one track in particular standing out: ‘Vanonyana Lava’.

The song, its title Shangaan for ‘These Women’, is according to frontman Makhubele a simple story “about women in a nightclub or a tavern… You buy the women their drinks, but when they’re finished drinking then they run away.”  More important than the lyrics is the song’s massive bass hook and distinctly South African groove, which 25 years after its original release have put it back in demand for DJs and diggers mining the South African sound for fresh inspiration.

‘Vanonyana Lava’ was a notable departure from the typical Volcano sound. “Kwaito music was becoming bigger, more powerful,” remembers Makhubele of the band’s foray into kwaito. “So we decided to do at least a track and see if people would love it, then we’d do more. By that time the Volcano sound was very popular, and that kwaito sound was slowly coming in the market. Our fans were happy for it.”

Volcano soon followed this early kwaito success with The Bold & The Beautiful in 1994, the year of South Africa’s first democratic elections. But with the drastic changes of the decade the band was soon relegated to history as a new generation of young kwaito stars became the voice of South Africa’s youth.

On the flip-side of this new release is an even more obscure track from the record bag of Afrosynth Records’ DJ Okapi. The Beat Gangsters were a short-lived studio project made up of Willi Mau Mau and Mad T Doctor, in-house producers for Mob Music, an independent label set up by Eric Frisch (after the demise of EFP) that put out a string of influential club releases in the mid-90s, among the last albums to be pressed to vinyl in South Africa. Named after a popular South African brand of gum, ‘Chappies’ was originally released on the 1995 album Mob Table Dance. 

With the music of South Africa currently gaining international acclaim thanks to a new generation of DJs, diggers and fans, Afrosynth Records continues to shine a light on the origins of South African dance music. Released as a 12” at 45rpm for maximum dancefloor satisfaction, AFS035 has been remastered by Brandenburg Mastering in Amsterdam and comes with original cover art by Cape Town-based artist and DJ Grant Jurius depicting the notorious okapi knife. It’s due out in April 2018, distributed exclusively by Rush Hour Music. Preorder here.

BURNIN BEAT ft. Olive Masinga – Burnin Beat (It’s Hot)

Afrosynth Records, AFS034

Arranged by: Enoch Ndlela
Produced by: Maurice Horwitz - for ‘Dream’ Productions
Engineers: J. Smit (Backing)
Remix: H. Hartmann
Master Cut: H. du Preez
Published by Roi Music
Licensed by Afrosynth Records from Maurice Horwitz & Enoch Ndlela
Transferred from the original master tapes by Rob Allingham & Ian Osrin

In 1978, a young musician named Enoch Ndlela was working behind the scenes in PR for an established independent label finding success in the apartheid-era South African music industry. A regular in the burgeoning multiracial nightclub scene on the fringes of Johannesburg that defied apartheid, Ndlela was in the midst of the new electronic disco sound that was taking over, the sound of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, as well as 10-minute epics like Santa Esmeralda’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. In a segregated South Africa, disco offered a ray of light. Already some local acts like Blondie & Pappa were following this new direction, while Trevor Rabin had a crossover hit with Disco Rock Machine, shortly before his departure for London and later LA.

Ndlela, wanting a release for the CTV label that would serve the nightclub market, teamed up with the label head Maurice Horwitz to pen ‘Burnin Beat (It’s Hot)’. The name of the project took on the same name: Burnin Beat. They hired a team of session musicians and a young singer named Olive Masinga to record the track, along with a B-side called ‘Searchin'’. Masinga was a young stage actress with a powerful voice that landed her in the cast of numerous productions by ‘the father of township drama’, Gibson Kente, including on the 1977 albums Heartbreaker, where she led the G Kente Voices, and Can You Take itThat year she also released a solo album, I’m For Real.

The result of the Burnin Beat recording sessions was a 12” that immediately disappeared into obscurity. Internal politics at the label led Ndlela to join a larger company. Without someone to promote the release to clubs and radio, CTV gave the album to another label, RPM, to distribute, but they soon lost interest. Following its release in 1979, copies of the Burnin Beat only seemed to make it into the hands of a few club DJs, and barely if at all onto record store shelves. Radio didn’t touch it either, and the song was certainly never performed live.

Sadly, Olive Masinga never found the fame she deserved. A few years after the release of her 1985 solo album Nobuhle, the singer met an untimely end in a car accident in 1990 on her way to join the production of Mbongeni Ngema’s Township Fever in the USA.

Nearly four decades since Burnin Beat’s ill-fated release, in recent years it has somehow made it into the hands of a few notable diggers, among them DJ Harvey, spurring an unlikely interest in this long-forgotten piece of South African disco history.

Remastered from the original master tapes, Burnin Beat is the first release on Johannesburg-based Afrosynth Records. Pre-order via RushHour.



Leopard/Hit City, LEO(H)020
Producer: Thomas 'Makhulela Endleleni' Motshwane
Engineer: RF Gumbi
Recorded at: Platinum

As was often the case with South Africa music, the best results came about when musicians and producers of various backgrounds defied apartheid rules and collaborated. So although the final product here is an album of Tsonga music, giving it that superior touch are top players like Felani Gumbi and Vuka Mbele who handle all keyboards, including plenty of spacey samples. Frontman T.S.D. Maseve plays bass and in his notes makes it clear that his music is for one and all: “My thanks to all the people who worked on this album with me. I hope all of you will enjoy my Tsonga Music.”

BIBBI - You Don't Mind (1992)

Diamond, DMD3
Producer: Sun
Engineer: Jorge Arrigone
Recorded at: Shandel Music Studios

New-school grooves produced by Poth ‘Sun’ Nkotsoe, formerly one half of Monwa & Sun and a popular solo act after his eponymous debut in 1990 and Looking For Love (1991). He surely could’ve put his own name on this four-track album, given that the early house beats take centre stage.

IZINSIZWA - Uthandabani? (1991)

Music Team, WHR(C)101
Producer: Bheki Ngcobo
Engineer: Danny Bridgens
Composer: Bheki Ngcobo
Recorded at: Kitchen Sync

Synth-heavy mbaqanga along the lines of the Soul Brothers, Abangani, Madlala Brothers and many others. Produced by Bheki Ngcobo (Ihashi Elimhlophe) and engineered by keyboard wizard Danny Bridgens. Best tracks ‘Isingehlule’ and ‘Intozami’ see Izinsizwa (the young men) replacing traditional Zulu guitar lines with uptempo synths for infectious, offbeat winners. 

  • Mint copies of this album are for sale here 

POOSH - Check Ups (1991)

Music Team, ETL(C)5028
Producer: Danny Mokoka
Engineer: Danny Bridgens
Composer: Vusumzi Keiser Dipu
Recorded at: Syntrax

Debut album from Pumla Mtengwane, with all songs composed and keyboards played by Keiser Dipu, former frontman of Chaka. Uptempo pantsula grooves with Poosh’s singing and rapping often taking a backseat to frantic beats and layers of synths, best on tracks like ‘Johnny Boy’, ‘Do It’ and ‘Sisi Rebecca’, a funky ode to rising star Rebecca Malope.

“From humble beginnings singing in a choir choir, talent competitions and shows, here is my debut album. Thank you to Keiser Dipu for always believing in me and my dream. Together we had made this album come true. Special thanks to Music Team for the chance in a million to record my album and for the support and encouragement they have given me. Everybody has a dream, and if you can dream it, you can achieve it.”

SYNDICATE SISTERS - Foolish Games (1991)

Producers: Marvin W. Moses, C. Ghelakis & G. Vardas 

Leaders of the new-school sound that drew influence from international trends like Eurobeat and New Jack Swing, the DPMC label struck gold with the Syndicate Sisters, a trio whose sound typifies the early 90s pre-kwaito sound, along with MarcAlex, J.E. Movement and others. All instruments and programming by Marvin Moses, featuring guest vocals by a young Ringo Madlingozi (on ‘Bad Boy’) and the late great Ronnie Joyce (on ‘Every Song’).

THETHA - Move Me Closer / Call On Me (1983)

Spinna/Roi/CTV, 12SPIN3328
Producers: Tom Mkhize, Glynn Storm & Thetha
Engineers: Hennie Hartman & Richard Mitchell

Armed with the most talented bass player in the business in Bakithi Kumalo, Thetha were one of the slickest early bubblegum outfits, alongside the The Rockets and others. The two tracks on this 12” are not their best however, with the band striving for an overproduced "international" sound with minimal local influence.

  • Mint copies of this album are for sale here 

TERYLENE - Listen to the Music (1984)

Jive Wire/Head’s, SV0079
Producer: Peter Moticoe
Engineer: Martin Moss

Obscure early 80s disco single on Emil Dean Zoghby’s Heads label, produced by the legendary Peter Moticoe and co-written by future bubblegum star William Mthethwa alongside J. Ramauwane and T. Lyn. Full of funky synths, best showcased on the B-side dub version.

THE BOXERS - The Fighting Prince (1986)

Spinna, 12SPIN(C)3336
Producer: Phil Audoire
Engineers: Phil Audoire & David Moloele
Recorded at: Orange 338

Promotional single for popular boxer Arthur ‘The Fighting Prince’ Mayisela, accompanied at the time by a music video. The song itself isn’t as bad as this might suggest, particularly the B-side versions (‘Ring Mix’ and ‘Video Mix’) with their stripped down synths, falsetto vocals and funky bassline. Featuring keyboards by Emil Dean Zoghby and ‘drums and computers’ by producer Phil Audoire. File under Sports along with the many South African soccer albums, next to 'Dingaan Thobela'.

* Mint copies of this album are for sale here 

T-GROUP - Luambo (1991)

Beat City/Tusk, QBH1143
Producer: Ananias Maphwanya
Engineer: Lee Short
Recorded at: RPM

Venda grooves driven my guitar and bass but underpinned by plenty of sweet synths and organ sounds, with infectious call-and-response vocals that work best on tracks like ‘Ndokondelela’ and ‘Wo Ndingelani’. Composed and produced by Ananias Maphwanya (Gift Brothers).