From the grassroots developments in education to Bholoja’s sound of Swazi Soul, from the roots musicians to the hip hoppers, there is a groundswell of popularity and opportunity for Swazi music.
In 2004 when Bholoja (Mbongiseni Ngubane), a mechanical engineer, came on the scene with a performance at the newly constructed House of Fire arts centre in the Malkerns valley of Swaziland, near Matsapha, he sang in the local language of Swati, and the audience appreciated that. His lyrics preserve the cultural heritage and offer a social narrative on topics such as HIV and poverty.
Bholoja says, “It is all about being a messenger and preaching something that will build nations. It is about hope, motivating people and helping ourselves. For me, music is a calling, bringing hope, change and happiness to people and the community at large. The life we are living, the Swazi culture, and it must appeal to the world.”
With the assistance of Alliance Francaise’s then director Claude Gonin, Bholoja recorded his award winning and best-selling debut album Swazi Soul Volume 1 in 2006 in France with world class musicians and production. He also received support from Michael Temple who gave him a fatherly form of management. Michael had facilitated the success of Swazi’s first pro-golfer Joe Dlamini, and helped Bholoja to understand the business of music, such as meeting with SAMRO, becoming MTN’s brand ambassador and composing an election song for Obama.
Michael said: “Bholoja was probably one of the initial reasons that got Swaziland music on the map. He became recognised locally, regionally and internationally and was one of the pioneers in making it available to the outside world.”
Guitarist, performer, instrument maker and roots musician, Sibusiso Nkambule said: “We didn’t have popular music in siSwati, marketed in a world market, until we had Bholoja… mostly musicians were using English and Zulu.”
Bholoja takes much influence from the musicians that he has shared the stage with, such as Oliver Mtukudzi, Salif Keita and Angelique Kidjo.
Bholoja is a role model to the next generation. As director of Bholoja Art and Technology Entertainment Foundation, he is active in programmes teaching and motivating students in Swaziland.
Young up and coming Afro-pop acoustic guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Sandziso Matsebula said: “Bholoja has really done us proud by taking our music international. Now we have people wanting to come to Swaziland just to listen to music.”
The rise in Swazi music is not coming from one musician, but by all musicians, in all genres.
The most recent Bushfire Festival showcased 16 Swazi acts on a bill of 60 performers from all over the world.
The joyful performance of the enormous award-winning Swaziland Correctional Services Choir was authentic and moving. Muzi “Mozaik” Ngwenya, in collaboration with Kyle Deutsch, presented a pop song as a campaign to keep the rhino safe from poachers. Gospel songbird Nomzamo Dlamini, maskanda artist Fanaza, rapper King Terry, roots musician Sibusiso Nkambule and MC Anakhonza all impressed.
“The indigenous instruments, the textures of the voices, the emotion in our stories and the colour in our melodies – Swazi culture in its entirety has an undiscovered beauty that remains authentic across all forms of expression,” said producer and performer at Claiming Ground records, Muzi “Mozaik” Ngwenya.
Jiggs Thorne, director of Bushfire, says: “Exposure is the big teacher and a major catalyst for growing the arts in the region.”