Urban rhythms set to a rural heartbeat on praise poet’s debut CD

Fusing Afro-jazz and Afro-soul elements with traditional Xhosa rhythms, this enterprising young artist and creative entrepreneur has crafted an irresistible medley of music and poetry steeped in the culture of her Eastern Cape upbringing.

Mbangeni will be performing tracks from her self-funded album at Niki’s Oasis in Newtown on Saturday, 2 August 2014 and at the Birchwood Hotel in Ekurhuleni on Friday, 8 August 2014, prior to her September CD launch at Gold Reef City’s Lyric Theatre.

She is also due to perform at the International Women’s Forum Conference in Atlanta in the USA at the end of October, when she will also be attending the CMJ Music Marathon as an independent artist and record label owner. Then, next year, Mbangeni will be heading to the influential South by Southwest music conference in Texas.

IGoli – meaning “in Joburg” – is a live album comprising 11 tracks, most of which were composed by Mbangeni, with one track (UmaXhosa) penned by the late jazz great Victor Ntoni, who passed away last year. The CD was produced by Ntoni, Gabriel Stuurman and Lawrence Matshza, and has been independently released through her own label, KwaNtu Entertainment.

With Mbangeni – who is South Africa’s only female imbongi or praise poet, and also runs a successful fashion and décor business producing exclusive African designs – on vocals, the CD features the crème de la crème of South African musical talent.

Her impressive list of collaborators on the album includes McCoy Mrubata, Fana Zulu, Sydney Mavundla, Phinda Mtya, Kwazi Shange, Nduduzo Makathini, Khanyo Maphumulo, Reuben Malgas, Bheki Mbatha and Khanya Ceza.

The poetic lyrics speak of the contrast between rural simplicity and the urban rat race, rites of passage, traditional practices and the importance of upholding one’s culture. “Most of the tracks are love songs – a kind of ‘African blues’, if you like,” relates Mbangeni.

“They are celebratory – such as those sung during initiation ceremonies – but also speak of pain and rejection, and are anchored in my personal cultural influences and experiences.”

In addition to the title track, another single that is being targeted for radio airplay is titled Afrika, a moving tribute to the late Nelson Mandela. The track is being released to help raise funds for the planned Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg.

Track number seven on the album, Emgodini, is a tribute to mineworkers and was triggered by the August 2012 Marikana massacre. She was commissioned to compose the song by “people’s poet” Mzwakhe Mbuli, and hopes it will go some way towards healing the nation’s wounds and instilling hope for the future of the African continent.

Mbangeni is well acquainted with the country-versus-city dichotomy: she was born and raised in Nqamakwe in the Eastern Cape, but now resides in Johannesburg, where she owns KwaNtu Afrocentric Designs, a thriving indigenous African fashion, crafts and décor boutique at the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg.

She is also in demand as a poet for corporate events – with praise singing and poetry remaining her first love – and has performed in Europe as well as at high-profile local events such as MaMbeki’s funeral, the fifth annual Thabo Mbeki Lecture, the FIFA World Cup draw and in the stage production Madiba – The African Opera at the State Theatre.

Over the years, Mbangeni has toured the world with the Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir, and has also worked with local luminaries such as Hugh Masekela, Sibongile Khumalo, Dolly Rathebe, Abigail Kubeka and Thandi Klaasen.

It has been a decade-long journey, she reveals, to draw together all the different threads and stories in a single musical package. “My influences on the album range from choral and symphonic to Xhosa a cappella sounds – together, they combine to create a sound that in Xhosa we call umngqungqo. It’s very rarely heard or celebrated in modern music.”

With IGoli, Mbangeni emphatically proves that she defies labelling or boxing into any neat category. She is a poet, singer, composer, businesswoman, job creator, mother and heritage activist who is passionate about ensuring that the world hears authentic African stories.

“I would really like people to sit up and take note of the content we produce as Africans, and how it relates to our culture,” she says.

Mbangeni has run cultural exchange programmes in faculties of anthropology, and wishes to use her insights to help the country embrace its sense of identity through the powerful tool that is music.

“I want to collaborate with universities around the world to preserve indigenous languages through jazz,” says this young trailblazer. “We need to promote indigenous knowledge systems to preserve our cultural integrity, sustain our heritage and maintain our traditional protocols.”

IGoli is available to purchase at KwaNtu Afrocentric Designs, shop C91 at the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. Alternatively, the album can be purchased online via iTunes and at all her live performances.

Jessica Mbangeni has been nominated for a phenomenal 10 SATMAs (South African Traditional Music Awards): Best Praise Singer, Best Poet, Best Afro-Soul, Best Afro-Jazz, Best Download, Best Female, Best Newcomer, Best IsiXhosa Album, Best Song of the Year and Best Video. For more news and information on how to vote for Mbangeni ahead of the awards on 4 October 2014, follow @jmbangeni on Twitter, or visit https://www.facebook.com/jessica.mbangeni on Facebook or http://www.kwantujessica.co.za.

For interview requests and access to high res photos or CD sampling please contact Dee’s on media@jtcomms.co.za or (011) 788 7632

Issued by JT Communication Solutions on Behalf of Jessica Mbangeni – http://www.kwantujessica.co.za