Madala Kunene

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"Music cuts across the barriers" Madala Kunene

Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Cato Manor, moving to the township of Kwa-Mashu, near Durban after his family were evicted by the Apartheid government. Despite being born into a family of eminent and fervent academics he refused to spend so much as a day at school - even if it meant taking regular beatings because of it. This signaled Madala's single-minded and uniquely unconventional nature. Madala's unique gift and unselfishness have helped many artists to become famous when he introduced them to labels, the best example is the late Diva of Zulu music Busi Mhlongo who has risen to fame. The 1996 remix Ubombo by Smith & Mighty was first played in the South African clubs and radio YFM by Rudeboy Paul - it opened up the avenues for local remixers to pluck the courage and expose the heritage of traditional music to a new generation. 



 He started busking on Durban's beachfront at the age of 7, making his first guitar out of a cooking oil tin and fish gut for the strings, soon becoming a popular performer in the townships. "I started music when I was a boy at Umkhubane (Cato Manor) at Jippercoat Station. We were called 'Amanikabheni' (a name given to us because we would perform in open spaces and then be given pennies by the thrilled crowds". As a player for the African Wanderers FC, the teenage Madala was torn between his love of football and music, playing guitar at home after matches. In 1963, he bought his first real guitar and began to imitate Western music such as the Beatles. But Madala soon tired of imitating others and feeling dissatisfied and restless, decided to start playing his own music giving voice to the creativity that was welling up within him. It was friends such as the great Sandile Shange, who encouraged him to take his guitar playing much more seriously. He followed their wise advice and in the early seventies started to perform as a professional artist in the Durban townships, playing in variety of styles. In very little time he had become the hottest guitar player and was discovered by Sipho Gumede.alt Madala went to work in Johannesburg, where he considered himself privileged to share the stage with such luminaries as Doc Mthalane and his band, Songamasu, Shor Philips, Mankunku Ngozi and Busi Mhlongo. However, in the mid-1970's, violence erupted in rural areas. This led to Madala returning home to protect his family after their house was burned down. Deprived of the chance to tour internationally, Madala continued to develop his own musical style while playing low-key gigs in the townships during the mid-eighties. Encouraged by his friend Duze Mahlobo, he revived the 'Madalaine' style of guitar playing, combining blues & soul with African folk, and developed the trance - like quality of his Zulu folk singing. A guitarist on great albums by the likes of Sipho Gumede and Mandla Masuka, Madala's career has been, in his own words, "both exciting and rough", since he went solo in 1988. One such example Madala remembers: "I was rehearsing at a friend's house and the police came in and said we were making noise. They took all our instruments and smashed them. It took me a long time to find the money to get another guitar..." Despite the hardship he persevered and in 1990 teamed up with the dance troupe, Woza Afrika, where he wrote, sang and played guitar. In 1993 B+W (later M.E.L.T. 2000) gave him his recording break and he performed on Freedom Countdown (BW059) produced by Sipho Gumede. In 1994 Madala took part in the Outernational Meltdown jams with Airto Moreira that culminated in his part of the Healer's Brew (BW077). His traditionally deep-rooted guitar style is captured on the first in the bootleg net series, King of the Zulu, Live Vol. 1. (BNETCD001). Of contemporary music Madala says, "I like the fact that I am doing African music, even though here at home promoters are not that interested in traditional music. They are only into commercial music." Despite the pressures to copy Western music Madala refused to give in to commercial whim, " I was tired of trying to sound like other people. I wanted to be myself, to play the kind of music that came from within me." So he draws his influences from Zulu folklore and culture. With wit and clarity he relates the traditional Zulu folk tales we would otherwise forget. A proud Zulu and advocate of traditional Zulu music and folklore-Madala's first solo album for M.E.L.T. 2000 was Kon'ko Man (BW058) meaning 'the Strong Man'. Made in 1995 and produced by Pops Mohamed and Airto Moreira, this supreme album features many of his old friends, including Londoner Zena Edwards, Sipho Gumede, Mabi Thobejane, Busi Mhlongo, Mandla Mgabhi and Mandla Masuku, Jose Neto and Flora Purim, to mention but a few. Following this debut solo album, he joined forces with Swiss guitarist Max Lasser for the album 'Madamax'(BW2119).title There was an incredible creative affinity between the two and through the development of this project they made a profound musical connection between Africa and Europe. As Madala says, "I first met Max at a studio in Johannesburg in 1995, because of a session that Robert had organised. We sat together the whole night. I just took the guitar and played and everybody sang along." It was not yet obvious something big was going to come of it, "I was not expecting that this music would be released on CD. We were just playing together. We finished the session, and since that day we have been great friends, as if we'd known each other 20 years. I liked his heart - he was a fine man." After their initial sessions in South Africa, Max invited Madala to Switzerland to continue arranging the music, and to write some more songs. This collaboration was such a buzz that Madala and Max decided to take their unique sound on tour, a resounding success that also highlighted the unique vocal talents of Lungiswa Plaatjies.
Madala Kunene now performs to audiences around the world and often shares the stage with great names such as the inimitable Busi Mhlongo. This repertoire includes playing for Nelson Mandela at the show held in honour of his release. When they met again at another benefit show in Durban Mandela smiled and said, "It's you again. I wish you could play for me everywhere I go. In 2000 Madala collaorates and recorded an album with the late Baba Mokoena for MELT. In 2002 Syd Kitchen and Madala Kunene embarked on a project called BAFO BAFOalt which led them to play with many of South Africa's famous acoustic guitar players like Steve Newman and Tony Cox in a live project called World in a G
uitar. In 2003 created Madala created the soundtrack for award nominated South African film called YESTERDAY - the first ever full length feature film in Zulu. In October 2004 Madala joined forces with Bernard Sibusiso Mnaltdaweni on bass to perform two live performances filmed and recorded by MELT for release on DVD. The duo features Mabi Thobejane on drums plus members of LAP - a young collective of 3 percussionist from Soweto. LAP (Loose Arrangements Percussion) are Gontse Makhene, Bafana Nhlapo and Zwelakhe (Ragga) Zwane and a collaboration witih Greg Georgiades, Ernest Mothle and Ashish Joshi. That same night  members of Kwani Experience started a new venture with the veteran guitar player who went on to share the stage with them during a couple of Christmas gigs in Newtown, Jozi. 



In 2005 Madala launches his album/compilation titled UXOLO (Peace) at the Bassline in Newtown Joburg featuring friends like Umshika Shika Qabe, L.A.P.  Kwani Experience, Cameroonian Della Tamin and collaborators Bernard Mndaweni (bass), Greg Georgiades (guitar & oud) and Ashish Joshi title(tabla & percussion).   In 2006 Madala and Max Laesser released their second MADAMAX Bafo collaboration CD this time with bass player Bernard Mndaweni. He later expanded his own live band in South Africa by sax player Sithembiso Ntuli and Eric Duma on trumpet for a concert in December 2006 at the Presidential Gardens in Pretoria. On March 31st 2007 Madala Kunene performed a great set during the Cape Town International Jazz Festival with the same expanded group also featuring Barney Bophela on keyboards.

Kunene and his collaboration with different musicians from around the world is one of the best examples of what MELT2000 is all about - creative styles and talents put into the global blender to produce new enriched musical flavours. Madala's guitar playing blends Blues and African Folk, and is soulfully mixed with the transcendental quality of his healing voice. His music is deeply spiritual, derived from ancient divination music he goes into trance whilst performing. His music is magically mind-altering, more trance-like than traditional. Madala has developed a completely original style of playing guitar based on ancient divination music and most of his inspiration comes to him in dreams. He explains the influence his poetic dreams have on his song writing relating the inspiration for Abangoma on Konko Man. You know when you get a fright in your sleep and your body shakes and then you suddenly wake up? ThatÙs what happened with Abangoma. I must have been inspired by my ancestors because I just got up, picked up my guitar and wrote the entire song. Madala is profoundly connected to his ancestry, It was my ancestors that didn't want me to go to school. They gave me a talent so that instead of school, I played my music. It is somewhat ironic that Madala is now a teacher himself, sharing his musical skills with children and juvenile offenders in KwaZulu-Natal. Known as the King of Zulu guitar, Kunene is renowned for the transcendental and ethereal quality of his songs. Whilst performing he goes into a deep trance, and as he himself says, alt"When I am playing my brain is not there. Each time I go to a place I've never been before." As each dwaal (dreamtime journey) is very different, every single performance has its own distinct flavour. This is musical alchemy of a unique kind. This expression of spirituality doesnÙt merely touch his own people, but cuts through cultural barriers worldwide. MadalaÙs music has an ability to transport us into the dreamtime. Don't be surprised if you find yourself not wanting to wake up! Of the M.E.L.T.2000 and Robert Trunz he says in admiration, "The Company has so much respect for its artists. Here at home I have been playing this music for years until Robert noticed. He was the guy who took me to the top. Thank you very much Themba (Robert), strong man, Trunz." Of the future of African music he says, "In the future, African music can work, especially if M.E.L.T.2000 can have more power. M.E.L.T. has done so much to bring South African music to the world. Keeping our culture is very important. People like Robert are bringing our culture back into music" M.E.L.T. 2000 may have liberated Madala's musical magic to a world audience but, in turn, he liberates us with his trance-inducing, moving music.



Here is what I would like to share with you about  who I am & my spiritual beliefs:I am a person who deeply believes in my creator (UMVELINQANGI) and my ancestors (AMDLOZI). What I am today,  is because of the special Gifts my creator blessed me with such as music. There is another gift for the chosen few he gave me that keeps me in constant touch with my ancestors.  Lots of people believe that the dead are dead and that theyÙll never come back.  I think that comes from the religions which have no understanding of ancestors. The ancestors are there because of the creator  He who put bones together and gave  them life and that person visits you on earth if you believe EMADLOZINI.

As Madala I've been visited a lot in the form of a dream by my grand mother umaMntungwa my fathers  mother. The first time she visited me she politely greeted me and said son I don't have a place to stay   After saying those words she left .She visited me again. titleIt was like I'm meeting her somewhere and she said I'm so happy to see you alive and healthy like this because where ever you are,  I'm there looking out for you. For the third time she visited me and said I noticed that you now have your own place to stay.  Would you please bring me home to stay with you.  I could not resist that because  my company's  Robert Trunz  had helped me a lot in getting a house of my own.    For a long time I'd been renting at others peoples places  and I am forever grateful  to Robert for that. With a house of my own I fulfilled  my grand mothers dream traditionally I brought her home we now live together .  You might notice that I mention my grand mother a lot in this biography.   It is because she is the one who brought me up as a baby  to manhood. I never knew my grand father until recently when he visited me in a form of a dream. My grand father is the one who is encouraging me to utilize my second gift which is traditional healing. It didn't shock me to hear those words because for a long time I've helped people advising them about what to do  to get healed. Another person who encourages me about this work is my brother Sipho Mntambo who is also a traditional healer. Even though I'm still focusing on my music I haven't neglected my customs because I make sure that I fulfill every traditional need at home.In conclusion I would like to let you know that when I kneel down I pray to my creator then to my ancestors because it is my creator who brings bones together and gives them life that is (AMADLOZI, IZINYANYA, IZINDLONDLO ).  Those are my angels that look after me  using the power that they get from  Umvelinqangi whom we cant see but  has only been seen by the ancestors ( IZINDLONDLO )

Thank you

Madala Mzwakhe Kunene