IzangoMa - Ngo Ma (Brownswood Recordings) 5
Credit: Blunt Moya

IzangoMa – Ngo Ma (Brownswood Recordings)

IzangoMa are an experimental 15-piece collective hailing from Pretoria, South Africa. They are headed up by Sibusile Xaba (vocals/keys) and Ashley Kgabo (synths/snare drum/drum machine), and the project will release their debut album, Ngo Ma on 26 May via Brownswood Recordings. The album is guided by themes of creation, heritage and honouring female energy (both the collective’s name and the album title translate from Zulu as “from/by my mother“).  The collective is a link-up of Mozambican and South African musicians. Sibusile further expands:
“I had this idea of working with my students from Mozambique. When I first met them [during exchange workshops], they were young men. We’d return every year to find these great human beings growing into these phenomenal musicians. n We felt like it would be nice to incorporate them into this thing that we were doing.”

The collective brings together township styles pantsula and bubblegum in an avant-garde approach and Ngo Ma blends traditional African instrumentation with a drum machine, Roland TR-8, MOOG Minitaur analogue bass and ARP Odyssey duophonic synthesiser. Their music’s deep-running, the perpetual message is wrapped up and delivered in layers of spiritual chants, healing harmonies, and various electro-analogue sonics transmitted in a big band style. 

 Ngo Ma opens with the ‘Agenda Remembers’, a piano-led track with pulsing beats which are reminiscent of bird song, the avant-garde approach is at the fore here but its followed by ‘Birds (of a Feather)’ a techno-driven instrumental but with a unique vibe.

City Lights’ was a single, and delivers a party. This is an up-tempo joyous affair, all dancing saxophones, off-beat keys and plenty of percussion joining in the fun.

What soon becomes evident on this album is the variety of styles. It’s extraordinary. ‘Le Nna Mfana’ has chanting vocals and wind instruments which lift the spirits. ‘Mgung u Ndlovu’ heads more towards the jazz end of the spectrum, with the saxophone being given the freedom to go wherever it chooses. And yet the title track ‘Ngo Ma’ is electronica, albeit with the twist given by the collective.

Out of the World’ brings back the piano, accompanied by clapping and vocals full of light and happiness. And then a complete handbrake turns with ‘Phew’, which combines a traditional vocal style with a distorted, ghostly layer. The echoey call and response is like a prayer, or perhaps a request for answers. The percussion gives it the rhythm throughout but this ebbs and flows.

Q and A‘ has a soundscape similar to rainfall, the singer posing questions and answers and distorted static provided a backdrop of distraction, taking us to another single ‘Tribute To Johnny Dyani’. This is a dancey track – all horns and vocals, lightening the mood again.

And to the final track ‘Wathint’ Imbokodo‘. “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo” was the war cry made famous by a group of women who knew the power of their voices as they marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria 64 years ago. It means “You strike the women, you strike the rock.” As is utterly fitting this closing song is sung in traditional language and is a fitting end to a body of work full of joy, talent, surprises, variety and a passion for life.

For more information on IzangoMa please check out the website for Brownswood Recordings here.

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