BUSI MHLONGO / “Busi Urbana Zulu Mixtape”

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Well, I got negro in my blood so I’m not reticent about talking about stuff I don’t “know” what I’m talking about. By which I mean there is a way of knowing that has nothing to do with facts and figures. Instead, we are talking about feelings and responding to those feelings; or as we say in New Orleans: I feel to believe.

I feel to believe that recently South African urban Zulu diva Busi Mhlongo produced some music of the highest order. I don’t speak Zulu, so I can translate the lyrics or tell you in any detail what the songs are about. I don’t have a large collection of South African music (large as in more than, say, 300 albums). So, I can’t really compare Busi to her contemporaries. But I’ve got ears, heart, and great sensitivity when it comes to African heritage culture, and it is from this basis I’m responding.
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Here’s the basic deal. In 1998 Busi released an album that is now considered a classic: Urbanzulu. The album was so bad that shortly after it came out, it was followed by a remix album. The album remained so bad that in South Africa there is a live concert album of material from Urbanzulu. The album remained so influential that one of Busi’s last recordings was an album featuring a few more remixes from Urbanzulu. No matter how you look at it, if you want to get to South African music you got to get to Busi Mhlongo, and specifically get to Urbanzulu.

Victoria Busisiwe Mhlongo was born October 28, 1947 in the village of Inanda in Natal, KwaZulu-land, South Africa. She died of cancer on June 15, 2010. She spent over two decades traveling and living abroad as a result of conflicts with apartheid. Compared to her talents, her discography is slim, nevertheless when she returned to live in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, she made a singular artistic statement with the album Urbanzulu.
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Although it is undoubtedly not obvious to non-South Africans, Urbanzulu confronts the political and aesthetic tensions and contradictions inherent in black South Africa, especially the clashes between Zulu political formations and the ruling ANC front. Busi was no shrinking violet, nor did she try to minimize conflict by playing down her ethnicity. If anything, Busi went head on against the then prevailing winds. Urbanzulu is not your safe, Wal-Mart friendly pop album.

All of the songs on Urbanzulu were written or co-written by Busi. The album spoke about issues and social concerns. The aesthetics of the album fused numerous styles of black music with traditional maskanda Zulu guitar-heavy music. When you hear what sounds like house music, it’s South African kwaito, plus a jazzy instrumental is included, all to illustrate how far reaching Urbanzulu affected music.

The production chair for Urbanzulu was held down by Will Mowat, an Englishman who has successfully produced recordings and/or written for a plethora of artists ranging from the London-based collective known as Soul II Soul to Brazilian phenomenon Daudé, to Angelique Kidjo of Benin, West Africa. Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy established the rhythm pulse. Stellar Zulu guitarists were also recruited. The result is an album in a category of its own. Urbanzulu was my introduction to Busi Mhlongo.
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So what had happened was, I was going to take a stab at a Busi retrospective in honor of her important career. You know run down some biographical information, make selections from the five or six albums, hype the tracks that I liked—you know, the usual m.o. that we music critics like to pass off as informative guides. But then that old soul saying rang in my head: don’t fake the funk.

What I decided to do was take the Urbanzulu album and all the offshoots and give you originals and versions to enjoy. If you like, you can Google Busi and get the basic 411 or go here to read one detailed bio. However, I don’t think you’ll be able to find anything like this Mixtape in any one spot in this world or in cyberspace.
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This is some awesome shit.

A lot of artist are better in the studio than on stage, and vice versa. With the remixes, especially because of all the computer-generated, technical trickery, a lot of artists end up sounding better on the remix than on the original. Well, with Busi, it doesn’t matter how you slice or dice it, sister-lady is killing. In fact, I’m torn between the live recording and the original studio recording. Every time I think I favor one, I listen to the other and change my mind.

I encourage you to listen all the way through to this Busi Mixtape—the range of her music is breathtaking. Busi’s skill as a vocalist is exhilarating and her live stuff is riveting as the band ratchets up the polyrhythms til it sounds like they ‘bout to hurt themselves or at least go into a trance and levitate.

Busi Mhlongo—beautiful, fiercely beautiful.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

P.S. On my neo•griot blog I’ve posted a selection of Busi videos. Go here to check out the videos.

Busi Mhlongo Mixtape Playlist
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Good news. Bad news. Bad, only one of these albums is available from Amazon. Good, all four are available on iTunes.

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01 “Oxamu (The Crocodile)” - Urbanzulu

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02 “Oxamu” - Urbanzulu The Remixes

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03 “Crocodiles (feat. Soothsayers)” - Yehlisan'umoya Azania (In the Mix)

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04 “Yehlisan'umoya Ma-Afrika”Urbanzulu

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05 “Yehlisan'umoya ma-Afrika (instrumental)” - Urbanzulu The Remixes

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06 “Yehlisan'umoya Ma-Afrika” - Urbanzulu The Remixes

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07 “Yehlisan'umoya Ma Africa” - Urbanzulu (Live)

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08 “Zithin'lzizwe (What Are People Saying)” - Urbanzulu

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09 “Zithin'izizwe (Live)” - Urbanzulu (Live)

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10 “Awukho Umuzi Ongema Kukhuluma Kwawo” - Urbanzulu

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11 “Awukho Umuzi Ongema Kukhuluma Kwawo” - Urbanzulu (Live)

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12 “We Baba Omncane (If You Don't Obey Your Parents)” - Urbanzulu

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13 “WeBaba (Culoe de Song Remix)” - Yehlisan'umoya Azania (In the Mix)

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14 “We Baba Omncane (Live)” - Urbanzulu (Live)

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15 “Uganga Nge Ngane (You're Playing Around With This Child)” - Urbanzulu

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16 “Uganga Nge Ngane” - Urbanzulu The Remixes

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17 “Uganga Nge Ngane (Live)” - Urbanzulu (Live)

This entry was posted on Monday, June 28th, 2010 at 2:42 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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