A treat from Africa

Issue 

Sebe
Valanga Khoza and Safika
Larrikin Entertainment
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Sebe is South African exile, now resident in Australia, Valanga Khoza's debut album. It showcases Khoza's lyrical traditional and contemporary African folk music.

Singing in the range of languages that are spoken interchangeably by the people of South Africa's townships — Shangaan, Zulu, Xhosa and English — Khoza revels in the memories, good and bad, and the struggles of his homeland.

With his talented sidekicks in Safika, he weaves together beautiful voices, guitar, the fascinating strains and harmonies of the traditional mbira (thumb piano), marimba (xylophone) and the west African 12-string kora. Khoza creates amazing vocal effects, dredging clicks and glottal grunts up from what seems to be the soles of his feet.

I was lucky enough to catch Khoza and Safika performing live at an open air concert in Sydney earlier this year. The audience was transfixed. At one point, when Khoza began beating complex rhythms on his chest and singing a song full of the clicks common to many of South Africa's languages, a couple of irritating little brats near me were transformed into little angels — at least for six minutes — as they listened and watched. Sadly, it is simply impossible for the vitality and fascination created on that day to be captured on a bit of plastic.

An annoying thing about this release — something that is becoming the norm these days — is the failure of the record company to provide translated lyrics in the liner notes. Surely this is not too much to ask. Followers of world music are as much interested in the content of the songs as the music.

As a result we can only guess at the sentiments expressed in these songs by a musician who is also active in the movement that so recently defeated political apartheid in South Africa. Khoza remembers growing up fearing whites and being forced to call them "boss" and "missus". At high school he joined the movement led by Steve Biko. After Biko's murder, he was forced to flee. In the refugee camps of Swaziland and Mozambique, he explored his musical talents.

An ANC member for many years, Khoza joined the many Australian celebrations that followed the ANC election victory in April, culminating in his performance at the ANC presidential inauguration celebration at the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne.

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