BILALA

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10min1320

It was record executive Dino Woodward who bestowed the nickname Black Moses on Isaac Hayes. Woodward believed Hayes’ music had the same effect on people as the leadership of the Biblical figure, Moses.

A then devoted Christian, Hayes found the juxtaposition sacrilegious at first, but later titled his album with the same name, seeing it as a symbol of black pride. “Black men could finally stand up and be men because here’s Black Moses; he’s the epitome of black masculinity. Chains that once represented bondage and slavery now can be a sign of power and strength and sexuality and virility,” Hayes said in an interview.

Isaac Hayes Black Moses Vinyl LP Cover.
Isaac Hayes Black Moses Vinyl LP Cover.

Over 40 years later, a queer young man from rural KwaZulu-Natal in Ndwedwe has resurrected the Black Moses moniker and taken its ownership. “Though I grew up hearing his music around the house, I never really paid special attention to him,” admits Thoba Ndlovu, who recently dropped his debut project Black Moses.

“It was only in 2014 while reading an old Rolling Stone Magazine that I came across his story about having desires to liberate the black people out of the ghetto. This reminded me of our own leaders in post-colonial Africa who like Isaac Hayes have promised the black masses liberation by postulating themselves as saviours yet similarly became disillusioned by money and power. This prompted me to write the song Black Moses which later became the favoured title for the EP.”

Thoba Ndlovu, the modern Black Moses. Photo by Amun Sun
Thoba Ndlovu, the modern Black Moses. Photo by Amun Sun

It’s not so much of postulating himself as the saviour and leader to the promise land, but the Ndewdwe-native understands the importance of representation. “Growing up in an environment that was not very accepting of not only my sexual orientation but as well as my gender, performance means that visibility is very important to me. Not seeing images of people that look like you can be very detrimental for children. It is thus my mission that I tell my story as loud as I can be it through visuals or vocals. So being from e Ndwedwe has allowed me to appreciate representation so much more because I was starved of it as a queer child growing up,” Thoba says.

The six track EP is produced by Juice, Dave Audinary as well as Lance Romeo and the production heads served their purpose. Thoba has solid vocals and compelling lyrics, but had he recorded on lethargic beats which are more on the Afro-pop side, the album would have limited reach. “I have been getting a lot of positive feedback, people really seem to be vibing with it. What is more exciting is the varied audience as people have different favourite song. It’s made me very happy with the direction we decided to take in terms of sound as this means that it responds to various music tastes.”

The beats on the project are the stuff that could be ridden by Hip Hop group Las Days Fam or Neo-soul singer Bilal. The songs Ungowami and Buyela are gems that should be fixed on radio station playlists across the country.  The project’s songs were written over a period of time, with some tracks being jotted down over five years ago. “The recording was a much quicker process though. Recording with Lance Romeo was one of my best experiences in studio. I was so comfortable and felt like he actually listened to me while pushing me to do more with my voice.”

Thoba is currently based in Joburg, having moved from his beloved KZN last year for a gig as a Grade R teacher. “Since it was a year of firsts (first time in JHB, first time teaching Grade R as well as finally working on a project). I really needed to make sure I settled in to all of these roles. It is only this year that I am beginning to venture out by putting my music out there and looking for opportunities to perform. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions being away from home and everything familiar, but also knowing that you need to get your act together ’cause you are far away from home. So there has been a lot of growth.”

THE Grade R Teacher: Thoba Ndlovu. Photo by Amun Sun
THE Grade R Teacher: Thoba Ndlovu. Photo by Amun Sun

He studied Psychology, then went on to do his honours in Industrial Psychology at UNISA before returning to University of Kwa Zulu-Natal to do his Post graduate certificate in education.

The independent artist is using this EP as a vehicle for inspiring other queer boys and girls who might not have enough bravado to be themselves. “The album is of course the goal however it is one of the goals, alongside exploration of other avenues that can lead to the hypervisibility of a queer body in order to combat false narratives (like us being unAfrican) by living our truths. This is my more immediate focus right now. I therefore cannot say when an album will be available but it’s in the plans.”

BELTING IT OUT: Thoba enjoying his time on stage. Photo by Amun Sun
BELTING IT OUT: Thoba enjoying his time on stage. Photo by Amun Sun

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8min1260

In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.

In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.

Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.

Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.

D’ANGELO-Voodoo

YEAR: 2000

The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.

 

THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart

YEAR: 1999

This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.

 

COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate

YEAR: 2000

Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic.  While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.

ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun

YEAR: 2001

Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.

 

COMMON-Electric Circus

YEAR: 2002

Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.

 

What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?

 



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