South Africa band Urban Village release sonic traditional Zulu infused EP ‘Ubaba’
Written by Qello Mapanya on September 25, 2020
Soweto-based 4 piece band Urban Village today release a new EP, ‘Ubaba’, their debut for Parisian label Nø Førmat! (home to Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy & Mélissa Laveaux). Marrying the day-to-day experiences of black South Africans with ebullient elements from traditional Zulu music, Urban Village is the alias of four experimental musicians all born & raised in the township of Soweto at the tail end of Apartheid; singer/flautist Tubatsi Mpho Moloi, guitarist Lerato Lichaba, drummer Xolani Mtshali and bassist Simangaliso Dlamini. The release of ‘Ubaba’ arrives alongside details for Urban Village’s debut album, titled ‘Udondolo’, which is due out on January 22, 2021. The ‘Ubaba’ EP is available to stream on all platforms from here, with the Justice Mukheli-directed music video now also out here.
Urban Village release music under a name which specifically references the blend of cultures, music & rites which were assimilated into the now 1 million strong population of Soweto, when black South Africans from multiple provinces were brought to the area during the establishment of Apartheid, under strict segregation from Johannesburg’s white suburbs. They came to dig the “the city of gold” (Egoli, the Zulu name for Johannesburg) on behalf of big companies, and formed the first urban proletariat in Africa. Everyone took pieces of their village to this new town, and an original culture was born, evolving Soweto into a sprawling urban village. Whilst others are still digging for precious metal, Urban Village are mining the mixed legacies of which they are heirs.
The video created for ‘Ubaba’ (which translates as ‘father’) by fast-rising filmmaker Justice Mukheli is an evocative rendering of daily life in one of the many Soweto hostels which in the 1900s housed black male South Africans, forcibly separated from their families whilst working in the city’s mines. Speaking about the video, Urban Village note; “Justice is our brother from Soweto. From the moment we discussed his vision for the Ubaba video we trusted he would bring the song to life on the screen. The video shows the different roles played by fathers in society; to nurture, to care, to love, and to protect their families. Salute to all the Ubabas out there present in the house”.
Born in the last years of Apartheid, Urban Village’s members plunged happily into house and dance music that turned the page of a heavy past. Until, on a street corner of Soweto’s Mzimhlophe neighbourhood, guitarist Lerato came across older Zulu musicians and their style of maskandi. From there he went on to mix styles from homelands and rural areas, all sharpened in club jam sessions (where he met Tubatsi) during which spoken word, hip-hop and jazz rub shoulders freely. Urban Village remained steeped in the cultural consciousness of South Africa’s troubled past, looking forwards with the same ‘ubuntu’ (common humanity) with which the likes of Mandela & Biko resisted apartheid. Elsewhere on the ‘Ubaba’ EP, the effervescent ‘Sakhisizwe’ – meaning ‘To Build A Nation’ – encapsulates this ethos in 3 irrepressible minutes, with lyrics which counsel urgently for a united and egalitarian African nation.
‘Ubaba’ – partially recorded at legendary Downtown Studios in the heart of Johannesburg and at Figure of 8 studios in the leafy suburbs of Randburg, showing the stark contrast of Johannesburg in 2020, with the energy of live music but intimately polished by Frédéric Soulard (Maestro, Limousine, Jeanne Added) – is a journey through all the colours of Soweto. This is where it draws its consistency, strength & identity. That of Soweto itself – a dormitory town designed to monitor those who were sent there, it has become a laboratory of music where the hopes of an entire people resonate, even today.