Thandiswa Mazwai Ibokwe Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Cements her position at the forefront of a new generation.

Michael Quinn 2009

Going gold within six weeks of its release in her native South Africa, Thandiswa Mazwai’s Ibokwe forcefully cements her position at the forefront of a new generation extolling the Urban Zulu sound.

Noticeably stepping away from the ‘slowed-down garage’ kwaito stylings of 2004’s Zabalaza, this new offering takes the Johannesburg singer-songwriter deeper into traditional Zulu and Xhosa melodies and rhythms – inked in here by flexing percussion and anthemic chants – to map out a route from past to present signposted with borrowings from jazz, funk and contemporary African influences.

Marrying the personal and the political, Ibokwe (‘Goat’) seethes with an elegantly voiced amalgam of compassion and complaint, Thandiswa tilting at targets that range from deep-rooted rituals (the unyielding title track) to political apathy – Ngimkhonzile’s agitation buffered by daughter Malaika’s affecting spoken call to arms – and the bittersweet unpredictability of love with Hugh Masekela providing characteristically fetching support in the ballad Ingoma.

But there’s more on offer here than just polemic. Chom’ emdaka is a sugar-sour slice of tongue-in-cheekiness about “a diiirty friend and a diiirty man”, Izilo sets a recurring dream in bristling widescreen splendour, and album closer Vakahina gloriously serves up a hip hop-laced echo of Thandiswa’s Kwaito beginnings a decade ago.

Guest appearances by a host of South Africa’s hottest instrumentalists – guitarists Dibanisile ‘Ntomb’ethongo’ Tutsu and Sunnyboy Mthimunye, Mthandeni Mvelase on keyboards and saxophonist Jeff Nomvete among them – all add colour, texture and interest.

Thandiswa has come far since she caught attention fronting Kwaito pioneers Bongo Maffin. On the evidence of Ibokwe, a long and illustrious road stretches out ahead of her.

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