Urban Village

Urban Village

“The finest South African album to come along in a long time"Sunday Times

"Udondolo, an electronic-tinged take on maskandi folk music" The Guardian

★★★★ "Udondolo — a love song to Soweto"The Financial Times

"Capturing a shared rhythm that is carried across borders and states"Loud & Quiet

"This young quartet from Soweto may just be the finest act to emerge from the post-Mandela era"Uncut

When you have never known you’re the village of origin, how do you find your roots? For the four musicians of Urban Village, who have known only their gigantic township of Soweto, these traditional roots hidden by buildings and concrete are the source of their music.

Soweto, with its million inhabitants, is a city in the city where the black populations from all the South African provinces were penned by apartheid. Attracted by “the city of gold” (Egoli, the Zulu name for Johannesburg), they came to dig the belly of the earth on behalf of the big companies, and formed the first urban proletariat in Africa. Everyone took pieces of their village, their music and their rites to this new town, this new home and from this friction, an original culture was born, that which made Soweto a sprawling urban village. Whilst, others are still digging for that precious metal, the four companions of Urban Village have decided to dig up these mixed legacies of which they are the heirs and share them through music.

Born for the most part in the last years of apartheid, they, like all adolescents of their generation, plunged happily into house and dance music that turned the page of a past too heavy, and offered a new skin. But the past had other secrets, carpeted at the corner of the streets of Mzimhlophe, the Soweto neighbourhood where they lived. Because it was there, around a workers’ home, that Lerato the guitarist heard the Zulu musicians and their very particular style, called maskandi. Something to put him on the track, observing and listening to the “Malumes (Uncles)”, that is to say the neighbours of the neighbourhood. Lerato learned his instrument on his own, mixing styles from homelands and rural areas to make his own, sharpened in club jam sessions where spoken word, hip-hop and jazz rub shoulders freely. It was in this universe that he met Tubatsi, to which he entrusted a flute and all the dreams it can open, like that of the flute player of Hamelin. The man who soon became the lead singer of Urban Village tamed him, and ended up quitting his job at the bank to jam with the guitarist. He also begins to write, and penned the lyrics of most of the songs on their debut album “Udondolo (Walking Stick)”. This colossus planted like an untamed tree likes to navigate dreamlike spheres, a veteran bugler bugle, PVC rhombes, sanza or even electronic effects making his microphone a surreal vessel for his voice … Tubatsi seeks in all kinds of instruments the vibrations that resonate with the soul.

In South Africa, music has always been a vector of spiritual as well as political resistance and in the dark hours of apartheid, this powerful mixture took shape in the shadows of churches. This is where Xolani (aka Cush) formed and continues to play drums every Sunday, pushing the faithful into a trance like percussionists do in ancestral ceremonies. God and the ancestors live in the same house, each one wakes them up in their own way. Like Tubatsi, he left his job (he was a debt collector for a while, enough to disgust you for paid work) to devote himself fully to music. Urban Village was missing only one last channel and a bass to ballast their sound: Simangaliso, aka Smash. The youngest of the gang, born when South Africa got rid of apartheid, he studied sound. He too followed the paths of electro before being overtaken by the incredible heritage of Soweto where eras and genres mix: jazz, kwaito, amapiano, house, pop and hip-hop…

All these sounds of the city, these urban villages in Johannesburg, have help them forge a unique style. A powerful folk who carries parabolic texts, sometimes sibylline, as if the old ones had appropriated the codes of today and exchanged proverbs on Whatsapp. They are steeped in the cultural consciousness of yesteryear, including the famous “ubuntu (common humanity)” and Pan Africanism dear to the leaders of the struggles; Winnie & Nelson Mandela, Biko, Machel, Mathai, Nkrumah, and Lumumba.

As for their music, it sometimes borrows all its energy from rock, from jazz its swing and its free wanderings, from pop its irresistible gimmicks and from the South African soils of choruses and riffs as we do nowhere else. Their first album, recorded at home with the energy of live music and patiently polished in the studio by Frédéric Soulard (Maestro, Limousine, Jeanne Added), is a journey through all the colours of Soweto. This is where it draws its consistency, its strength, and its identity. That of Soweto, a dormitory town designed to better monitor those who were sent there, has become the laboratory of music where the hopes of an entire people resonate, even today. It’s their Urban Village. Hear it.

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