The new album by the King of Zulu guitar- Madala Kunene
Kunene was born in 1951 in Mkhumbane (Cato Manor), a vibrant mixed community just outside inner Durban (on the south east coast of South Africa). The son of a carpenter, Kunene was raised by his grandmother — a staunch academic who wanted him to be something of a bookworm. At the age of eight, in the year 1959, Kunene and some members of his extended family were trucked off by the Apartheid government to go live in the then relatively new township of KwaMashu.
“People can’t imagine what it’s like when you see bulldozers demolish your home in the middle of the night,” recalls Kunene. “The worst thing was that when they moved us, they came at night and packed my family into the back of a truck and then went to another area to pick up another family there and so on. So you were not just separated from your home, you were stripped of your friends and neighbours in the process. It was a very calculated act,” Kunene adds.
As a meditation on his history Kunene now releases his latest album 1959, the album explores dense and often melancholic subject matter, especially Kunene’s own history as a victim of forced removal. “I’ve never spoken about those experiences in my music in an earnest way. I wanted to recall them and most importantly make a personal album that was looking internally at my personal history rather than looking out,” says Kunene. 1959 is a blues album with slightly more muscle—a personal catharsis and an attempt to exercise the muscle of memory through music. Insistent and unrelenting, 1959 is Kunene’s urban war cry. It is a portrait of the artist as a not-so-young man of faith, a sonic investigation that tries to make sense of the gradual process of sanitizing history—how the real past is purged for the sake of a historical sound bite.
“Music is the best medium to record and tell history. As African people, the way we know and understand our past is very influenced by music,” Kunene says. “So if I can add one layer of context that can help in understanding this period in our history, then that is great.”
The album “1959” was co-produced and engineered by Marius Botha and Neil Snyman. It started out as a simple acoustic guitar and voice project but as soon as Madala’s many friends learned that he was busy recording in his own backyard things took on a life of their own. An outpouring of love for Bafo followed with everyone wanting to bring his or her love for Bafo to this project. Madala gratefully acknowledges the many appearances of friends amongst others Lu Dlamini, Bra Hugh Masekela, Sthembiso Hlela, Max Lässer, Vishen Kemraj, Sazi Dlamini, Steve Newman, Guy Buttery, Bernard Mndaweni, Paki Peloeole, Eric Duma, Sihlanga Zulu, Mdu Magawaza, Njeza Dlamini, Zamo Mbutho, Sipho Nxumalo & Smanga Ngubane.
Interest in Madala has extended into a documentary film currently in development. The idea for a film sparked the interest of Alan Irvin and Darren Gordon, a film production team based in Johannesburg, when Madala was invited to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall in November 2014. Initially the film was seen as an exploration of Madala’s life “from Cato Manor to Carnegie Hall”. However, through the process of getting to know Madala and the deep respect that surrounds him as a “musician’s musician”, worshiped by those with a discerning ear who have had the good fortune of crossing his path, the film has taken on a far more important role of recognition and preservation of cultural icons and their upliftment. Hence, the phrase “The king who is yet to be crowned” has become more apt. Alan, the films director says, “it’s been a journey of discovery into the magic of this man… a story that has unfolded layer upon layer, which will leave the audience enriched and inspired”
"It's you again. I wish you could play for me everywhere I go,”
- Nelson Mandela (after seeing Madala Kunene for the second time during a charity gig in Durban.)
“Madala Kunene is without doubt one of South Africa’s ethno-music stars,”
- Max Majapelo (from his book Beyond memory.)
“Music is immersed in Madala’s soul,”
- The late great Syd Kitchen
“Very much a musician’s musician, this unique Zulu artist has collaborated, recorded and shared the stage with some of the best in the business,”
- The Witness.
“Kunene has been part of some of the most distinctive sounds to have come out of Durban,”
- Paddy Harper for the City Press