The Evergreen Soul Brothers
The Soul Brothers deserve a medal for sticking around when other bands were splitting up as if it were going out of fashion.
But it was inevitable that the storm clouds would eventually gather to threaten the group's existence.
You don't stay together for 36 years without at some point crossing swords with each other. Most of their fans reacted by saying it showed they, too, were human. And it's how they dealt with the challenge that matters.
Though the rumours suggested they were on the brink of breaking up, the Soul Brothers insisted it would not have gone that far.
“We appreciate our fans' intervention because it was instrumental in setting us on the right course,” founder and keyboardist of the group Moses Ngwenya explains.
“Not to mention our manager, Mike Maswanganyi, for persuading us to sit around the table and patch up our differences and reminding us that the Soul Brothers brand was bigger than our egos.”
David Masondo, lead singer of the outfit, concurs that the challenges they experienced were not serious enough to spark a break-up.
Ngwenya felt that whatever turmoil they experienced as a band was common to other groups too.
“For a while there was a situation in which some of us were miming to CDs under the name of the group,” he said. “We felt it was wrong and devoid of professionalism. We have since ironed out our differences and have agreed to disagree while protecting the family's integrity at all costs.”
Masondo says: “When we started the group as youngsters in Hammarsdale, near Pietermaritzburg, it was merely for the love of music. When the demand for our music grew we moved to Johannesburg for recording. Back then there were no studios in Natal.”
That was when they linked up with Moses Ngwenya.
This year sees the celebrated Soul Brothers release yet another compilation.
“We are supposed to release a CD every year but we always take our cue from the record company,” Masondo says. “Due to the demand from fans for our vintage classics, we decided to release a compilation comprising evergreens like Mama kaSibongile, Nilindeni, Hamba Phepha Lami, Hamba Ntombi.”
“Since those classics were recorded so many moons ago we will record a live DVD of them in October.”
Masondo and Ngwenya are the only surviving members of the original Soul Brothers.
The other members were Zenzele Mchunu, Tuza Mthethwa and American Zulu. Ngwenya laments the fact that their music careers began during the height of apartheid when a musician's popularity did not always translate into wealth.
The loss of founder members added to that was sad indeed.
“But we count our blessings that we met knowledgable producers such as David Thekwane and later Hamilton Ndzimande, who took us to our musical home – Gallo,” Ngwenya says.
“When we started we were very young,” Ngwenya says. “But we are grateful to God and our fans for keeping us grounded and together for 36 years. They keep us focused.
“Their loyalty is amazing and they have supported us from the word go. They repeatedly counsel us and caution us against breaking up. These are the people whose love flows from that of their parents.
They, in turn, have passed it on to their children. I suppose the Soul Brother brand has become much bigger than us.”
Affectionately nicknamed “Black Moses”, keyboard wizard Ngwenya says: “For people who started out rowing in the dark, not clued up about contracts, we have done well. We have our own publishing deal, Soul Brother Company, and labels where we nurture and produce budding talent.
“We also want youngsters to learn about mbaqanga so so they can grow it as a genre. Competition is good for keeping one on one's toes.”
A contented Masondo says it's been a brilliant 36 years
“For now the only fly in the ointment is the piracy situation. Were it not for that we would be selling more than we do.”
Groups will come and go but the Soul Brothers will forge ahead.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma has joined the people of South Africa as well as all music lovers – especially lovers of traditional music – in wishing the Soul Brothers well as they celebrate their 36th anniversary.
In a statement issued by The Presidency, President Zuma said: “The South African musical landscape, especially uMbhaqanga genre is richer because of the mammoth contribution of the Soul Brothers.
“I especially appreciate your messages of community building, social cohesion, respect for human life and dignity as well as their beautiful rendition of daily life chronicles that are always imbued in every song and every album since 1976, when the group was formed.”
The President thanked the group for putting the uMbhaqanga genre of music on the pedestal and among the greatest.
The Soul Brothers have recorded over 30 albums since their formation in 1974.
Initially formed in KwaZulu-Natal, the group has remained the slickest and most successful proponents of the uMbaqanga sound which dominated South African urban music for over three decades. – Sowetan-SABC