Bongo Maffin is back and ready to turn your December into a vibe! Here they tell us about their new album
hit after hit and quickly rose to icon status in Mzansi. Bongo Maffin has always known how to get fans dancing throughout the festive season – and this year is no different.
After going their separate ways to spread their wings as solo artists, the band is back with a new album, From
Bongo with Love. “We are coming at a time where things have changed. We’re somehow newbies as well as golden oldies,” Jah Seed jokes.
It’s been over 20 years since he hooked up with Thandiswa Mazwai, Stoan Seate and Speedy to form Bongo Maffin and they all still look pretty much the same.
Their new album, however, has moved with the times. It can’t be pinned to one genre, they say, and it’s their experimental style that’s made the 17-track record cutting edge.
“When we created the album we had to settle on particular themes like love and Africa, and on an African rhythm and groove,” Stoan explains.
In true Bongo Maffin style, they have taken the opportunity to explore the African narrative in songs like One Africa, which addresses the senseless xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in the country.
“From back in the day with songs like Siyajabula and The Way Kungakhona, Bongo has been a conscious and PanAfrican voice of club or dance culture,” Thandiswa says.
The last time they worked together was on New Construction in 2005, and recording their latest album wasn’t easy.
“It was quite a challenge,” Thandiswa says. “We knew we wanted to do it, but it took some time to get in to a groove with one another.
“But there is nothing as beautiful as the bond that’s created while making music. It’s a real, genuine kind of love and acceptance.
“I fell in love with Speedy
on some of these songs.”
They have lots of love for one another, but they also had many heated exchanges during the making of the album. “We stress each other, caring about what we put out. We fight a lot, but there are no personal fights. It’s all about putting out good music,” Stoan says.
Their music hits all the right notes with fans but the bandmates have different musical influences. Thandiswa has a legendary Busi Mhlongo tone, Stoan is all about Setswana rap, Jah Seed has a reggae feel while Speedy lives for R&B and Afropop. “Without sounding like we’re blowing our own horn, there has never been a group like us in the country.”
FOR years they’d been talking about reuniting. It all started after a performance at the DStv Delicious Festival in Kyalami, Johannesburg, a couple of years ago. They had so much fun and it was so electrifying they decided they had to go back to the studio. It took a while to get all their schedules to line up, but they’re thrilled they made the time to make a new album.
“Coming together is always a good idea. Individually, we established ourselves and never fizzled out and that has kept the brand alive. When we make music it’s no surprise it’s going to be a hit because we have always made timeless music,” Speedy says.
Two tracks from the new album, Gimme Joy and One Africa, are already hit singles that are on high rotation. Gimme Joy, in particular, has a hint of the amapiano sound that’s causing havoc on dancefloors. “I think we have always been current,” Stoan says. “Sometimes we have been ahead. We were fusing hip-hop into our music way before it was cool.”
Jah Seed, who was born in Zimbabwe, says he was thoroughly impressed by Thandiswa during the making of this song. “It has gone to a level on how to lay down Shona verses,” he says.
The awesome foursome have great chemistry, which dates to the time they were discovered by Kalawa Jazmee, under the leadership of the label’s co-founder Oskido. Speedy recalls he and Oskido met at a club when he was 18.
“He didn’t know what to do with me. He would, however, ask my grandmother for permission for us to hang,” he says with a laugh.
Oskido decided Thandiswa and Stoan would fit in perfectly with the sound Kalawa wanted to explore at the time and Jah Seed was handpicked after his deejaying, rapping and freestyling skills at a wedding made an undeniable impression on the record-label boss.
“We are fortunate to work with people who are trendsetters at Kalawa, cuttingedge pioneers,” he says. T
HE only woman in the group, Thandiswa, has also had the most success as a solo artist.
“All of this success and longevity didn’t just happen. I had to remove myself from celebridom and keep a very clear distinction between the work and myself,” she says. “Another thing was allowing myself, from a very young age, to listen and learn from older artists who became mentors and close friends.
“In those mentorships I was taught to remain authentic to my experience, which pushed my music to become more and more about issues of identity, history, power, gender and memory.”
Time apart has allowed them all to grow as individuals, they say. “I have accumulated wisdom. I embrace the bad times as much as I embrace the good times. There have been valleys and hills, but the good times outweigh the bad,” Stoan says.
Speedy, on the other hand, admits he had more hard times in the industry. Going solo in 2000 served him a slice of “humble pie” but he says he wouldn’t change the past because it’s made him a better person.
“I mean, I was 20 and trying to figure things out [but] I’ve learnt you’re going to have people talking negatively about you, you’re going to be criticised. I’ve grown a thick skin. I’m not fazed by anyone, the brand is already made.”
Now that they’re back together, they’re looking forward to growing with one another. “You reap what you sow, if you put good into the world and you put dedication into the world, you will get good returns. But if you put in laziness, the world will give you exactly that,” Stoan says.
Judging by their latest offering, Bongo Maffin will get back nothing but love from their adoring fans.