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Muyanga, Neo (South Africa)  
Neo Muyanga

Over several years, and mostly through the extraordinary duo, Blk Sonshine, Neo Muyanga has established himself as one of South Africa's most singular and deeply impressive musical talents - so it comes as no surprise that his debut solo project is one of such depth and unlike anything released in this country before.

Titled The Listening Room (Mudra No. 28), Neo's project signals the arrival of an impressive musical voice, and one that is also difficult to pin down. The reason for this lies largely in the diverse musical terrain Neo chooses to work in - something that Blk Sonshine showcased through an eclectic bunch of hit songs, among them "Born In A Taxi", "Building" and "Crazy". The Listening Room is precisely that - a musical experience that opens the door on music from the genres of roots, jazz, pop, traditional, and trip-hop as well a plethora of sounds that Neo has created himself and that provide a sonic layering not frequently found in contemporary homegrown music.

For Neo, the album comes out of a particular journey this Sowetan-born musician has been pursuing over the past year.

Genre: African, fusion

"A year ago I took the decision to move down to Cape Town," he says. "Don't get me wrong - Jo'burg is great. My family is here but I also know so many people here and the business side of being a musician ended up consuming me - I felt like I was always in the car going to sessions and that there was very little time left to do any writing and recording. Every time I went to Cape Town I always felt very inspired to write - and it's the cheesy clich? It is so beautiful and it has really given me to space to expand creatively. Ultimately it has benefited the songwriter and the artist in me. I've been able to focus on creating new songs which is what I love."

on taking this incredible solo journey that the majority of The Listening Room was recorded, produced and performed by the artist in his home studio (using a Yamaha digital multi-track). Just two of the songs - "Sometime" and "You Say" - were written previous to Neo's relocation to Cape Town and the moment that his decision to lay down a solo work turned into a reality.

"I've been wanting to do something on my own for about four years - but of course most of that time was taken up with Blk Sonshine. When it came to recording the album, I played all the instruments, and then sampled myself and re-sampled myself. It's a home recording for sure but we also paid attention to the mastering to ensure it did not sound cheap. In a way it's the opposite to Blk Sonshine - where the focus is stripped down, simple melodies to this which is loaded with elements but the melody is there at the centre always."

Right off, it's easy to hear how opening track, "My World" could easily slide into radio rotation - a gorgeously evolved pop song (yes, Neo is unashamed about the way pop music fits into his overall musical vision) that has just the right dollops of groove and hooks to sit in the head for the longest while. It's already reached the ears of many, many South Africans as the theme song to the hugely popular SABC 3 "emotainment" show, All You Need Is Love.

But, just to keep you on your feet, comes a track like "Jwaneng" ("in the grass") that's jam-packed with sounds and beats and musical moments that skitter off into all kinds of directions while never losing sight of the essence of the song. And "Neverenough" (featuring Flow - in case you wanted to know a friend of Neo's whom he saw on the street one day and asked to come and do some spoken vocals) boasts a fabulous keyboard that jams along with just enough pace to get your fingers clicking. And The Listening Room has loads more magical musical moments - the seriously funky "Nna Hatshe", the utterly exquisite ballad "Nalete" and the drawling, trip-hop influenced "You Say". Neo's desire to create songs using unexpected and unusual sounds is evident on tracks like "Ba Dutse" (loosely translated as "they are sitting") which stands on a traditional music foundation but moves and swirls to the rhythm of quite contemporary musical elements.

Lyrically, The Listening Room is a feast. Although Neo is hesitant to place too much emphasis on his interpretation of the words (preferring each listener to experience the lyrics with reference to the place they find themselves in at that moment), it's easy to see why he has a reputation as a skilled wordsmith. And for those fans who like such things, the lyrics of each song are contained in the sleeve notes which also showcase Neo's quite lovely artworks (painting is another creative pursuit he has rediscovered by relocating to the heart of Cape Town).

"In the end the thread that ties it all together is just free expression," says Neo. "So there was no pressure about dates of completion. There was no pressure about the type of music it would by and no constraints on what could and could not be considered musical. I felt it was just exploring what could happen - if you listen carefully you can even hear mistakes! A guide track often became the end product because during mastering, with my friend Seed, I thought why change it - it sounds so great."

And the title? "The songs are all filled with different emotions - almost like going into a different room each time and having a different experience. It also came because I was doing research at the University of Cape Town to music that the Muyanga tribe made in Mozambique and that required quite literally going into ‘listening rooms' on campus."

Neo Muyanga

For the record, Blk Sonshine remain a thriving creative entity. Just as several acts before them have done, the duo will still record and create, but the space for pursuing other avenues is very much there. Neo himself is also getting more and more involved with other musical work - for films and, in particular, for dance. Recently he composed a piece for Cape Town's JazzArt Dance Theatre and there is more of this work coming up.

Additionally 2003 saw Neo performing with a heavyweight live band (going under the monikor Neo) - a lineup that boasts Concorde Nkabinde (bass), Barry Van Zyl (drums) and Priyesh who contributes to the sonic layering of the songs with instruments like the Indian flute and the harmonium.

This biography issued by BMG South Africa

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  Recordings : Muyanga, Neo
The Listening Room (mudra No 28)

The Listening Room (mudra No 28)
Blk Sonshine

Blk Sonshine

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