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Phuzekhemisi (South Africa)  

Born Zibokwakhe Johnstone Mnyandu on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast at Umkomaas in 1963, Phuzekhemisi, which translates as “drink the medicine" is widely acknowledged as the king of the indigenous genre known as “maskanda" Maskanda is a literal translation of the Afrikaans word for musician, namely musikant and one could equate a solo maskandi as the local equivalent of the European “wandering minstrel"

Phuzekhemisi could, I suppose, be described as a neo-traditionalist. Despite his albums having sold in the hundreds of thousands of units he remains true to his rural roots, still choosing to live in his traditional Zulu kraal in the rolling hills around Umkomaas. Being a very humble man, whose upbringing revolved around tending his families livestock as a herds boy, Phuzekhemisi remains among the very few musicians from KwaZulu Natal to draw on the social ills that plague his fellow villagers in the songs that he composes.

Genre: traditional / indigenous, African

Throughout his long and prolific career he always seems to anger one or other party through the songs that he writes. He was banned by the Apartheid regime controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation. Supporters of both the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party threatened him with his life due to his outspoken opinions in the volatile early 1990’s. But, that he talks for the common people, his multitudes of fans have remained loyal to him. His music is relevant to their life experiences and he is rightfully dubbed the “people’s voice"

Phuzekhemisi’s first album Imbizo was released in 1989 with his brother Khetani and immediately the title track landed him in hot water with chiefs and the SABC bosses. Imbizo is Zulu for a traditional gathering and in the song the duo questioned the frequency that chiefs called meetings where the villagers are expected to fork out more money for this or that tax.

Another song entitled Udlayodwa the name of Phuzekhemisi’s dog questions why the people have to pay taxes for their dogs. He maintained that since dogs did not receive pensions, it was unfair for people to pay taxes for them. After people stopped paying dog taxes to the chiefs, Phuzekhemisi said chiefs confronted him and he had to compose another song Asithelele Izinja (Let us pay dog taxes) to save his skin.

And such has been the story throughout his recording career. After the runaway success of Imbizo, the duo released Emaphalamende in 1993, which featured the hugely popular track Udlayedwa which was to once again offend tribal and hostel leaders. The album was a success, but tragedy was just around the corner as Khethani was killed in a car accident later in 1993.

Phuzekhemisi © S.Gordon 2005
Picking himself up after his huge loss, Phuzekhemisi has gone on to release a string of platinum selling albums including titles such as Impimpi, Ngo 9, Izwe Alithuthuki and Imikhonto. Since 1997 he has made numerous trips abroad and has visited countries such as France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and Finland, exposing the maskanda style to a global audience. In 2002 he was one of the African acts invited to perform at the closing celebrations for the Soccer World Cup in Japan.

Besides politics, Phuzekhemisi tells of the stupidity of being a criminal and of muti killing to gain power. He does this in a song entitled Umalume (uncle). “My uncle killed his son for muti to become powerful. Everywhere he went people saluted him and called him boss. But he died like a dog and his body lay on the street," sings Phuzekhemisi.

The songs are driven by the immediately identifiable maskanda guitar sound that, in Phuzekhemisi’s band, is backed up by the concertina. The rhythm section of drums and bass guitar interacts with the five backing singers/dancers that complete the line-up. In the world of maskanda, the dances performed are rooted in the district or region from which the maskandi comes from and, in Phuzekhemisi’s case this is the Ugu District on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal. This is the folk music of KwaZulu Natal and with a de facto leader such as Phuzekhemisi, there is no reason why this music should not become known throughout the world.

Compiled by Neil Comfort
Bandwagon Afrika

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