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It’s been the talk of the music industry for the past year – and this February sees the long-anticipated launch of the debut album from The Bala Family.
Titled Genesis this landmark recording is produced by Zwai Bala and reunites the singer, songwriter and producer with his brother, Loyiso, as well as his mother, Nowatuse, and his sister and four cousins, Notuna, Pinky, Yolisa and Vuyokazi.
This gathering of singers from one of South Africa’s leading musical families is proof positive that musical gifts are indeed genetic and that this country can now boast a group comparable with America’s famous Winans family.
Adding their weighty talents to this already peerless release are Hugh Masekela, Allou April, Puppa, and My Man as well as some of South Africa’s most accomplished musicians, among them Khaya Mahlangu, Randall Skippers, Lawrence Matshiza, Jimmy Mngadi, Sello Montwedi, Tlale Makhene, Rhino Horns’ Bez and Adam of BOP fame as well as Guffy [Malaika producer and songwriter].
But it’s not just the line-up of supremely talented individuals that sets apart Genesis from any other Gospel album released in South Africa: the astonishingly diverse and inventive songs on the album ensure it stands out from the mass of throwaway recordings that seem to flood the South African music scene at this time of the year.
For Bala, it took several years after TKZee’s demise for this Uitenhage-born producer, songwriter, singer, music director and performer to finally gather his family together to record. Now running his own record company, Bala Brothers Records, [in a joint venture with Chissa Entertainment Group], Bala has been in-demand as a producer, working with the likes of Tsepo Tshola and Hugh Masekela among others and has also become a staple on television, judging, among other things, the Popstars talent search content. Brother Loyiso has also risen to the top of the South African music industry with a set of albums that easily mark him out as one of the country’s most gifted R&B performers.
“The timing had to be right for the project,” Bala says of the decision to bring his various family members into the recording studio in 2005. “I am now in the right space, the right frame of mind to undertake a Gospel project and I think it’s obvious on the album just how natural this process has been.”
Both Zwai and Loyiso come into their own as songwriters on Genesis, with Zwai contributing several original songs [among them “Akaphumli”, “Sihamba Ngeves’”, “Never Forget” and “My Everything”] and Loyiso penning the moving “Ithemba” which features him on lead vocal. There are also several new arrangements by Zwai of traditionals, like “Bongani”, “Mvana kaThixo” “Lukhangela Kuwe” and “Njengebhadi”.
“I had written many Gospel songs over the years and so I took these out, along with some written by my father and then spoke to Loyiso about material and before we knew it we had a strong set of material for the album,” Zwai says. And, like everything Zwai and Loyiso do, there is a surprise on the album – one of Genesis’ standout songs is an exceptional version of “Love TKO”, made famous by Teddy Pendergrass and here transported, through some lyrical twists into a Gospel song with a real South Africa flavour featuring Pubba on additional vocals.
It is elements like this that move Genesis from just another Gospel album into the landmark achievement that it is: From deep, deep traditional Gospel chants, to R&B Gospel ballads, songs with distinctive dance beats and jazz grooves, the Bala Family album is poised to cross generational and musical boundaries. Heralded by first single to radio “Akaphumli, Genesis marks nothing less than the birth of an exceptional South African recording ensemble and a whole new way of approaching Gospel music!