Madala Kunene SOUTH AFRICA

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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.
This signaled Madala's single-minded and uniquely unconventional nature.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. 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. Madala went to work in Johannesburg, where he worked with his own band called Songamasu sharing the stage with Doc Mthalane, Shawn 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 'Madala Line' style of guitar playing, combining blues & soul with African folk, and eveloped the trance - like quality of his Zulu folk singing.

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. In 1989 Madala recoded an LP produced by Sipho Gumede for SA label TUSK – a rare recording which is difficult to find on the market.

His international recording career actually started 1994 when Madala participated in the legendary Outernational Meltdown recording of then label B&W Music that brought Airto Moreira, Jose Neto, Byron Wallen and Andrew Missingham to Joburg and Cape Town to collaborate, preform and record with some 120 local musicians and choirs over a period of 3 weeks. As a consequence of Outernational Meltdown, Sipho Gumede was commissioned to produce a compilation album called Freedom Contdown with Madala Kunene, Mabi Thobejane, Mandla Masuku and Barney Bophela.

1995 Sunday Times headline describes Madala’s the meeting with Nelson Mandela after a great concert at the Durban Technicon when Madiba sent for Madala to tell him: "It's you again. I wish you could play for me everywhere I go.

Madala’s first interational solo album for B&W Music/M.E.L.T. 2000 was Kon'ko Man meaning 'the Strong Man'. Recorded in 1995 and produced by Airto Moreira, Pops Mohamed and Robert Trunz his classic album features many of his friends, including Busi Mhongo, Londoner Zena Edwards, , Jose Neto, Gary Brown, Giovanni Hidalgo and Flora Purim, to mention but a few.

Following this debut solo album, he joined forces with Swiss guitarist Max Lasser in 1995 during the second Outernational Meltdown recording for the album 'Madamax' followed by a second album named Bafo. Max Lässer is well known for his musical directorship with Andreas Vollenweider who is a great fan of Madala Kunene.

From 1996 on Madala and Max toured several time through Switzerland and the Southern region of Germany with the jewels of Swiss musicians mainly from the Andreas Vollenweider stable. Around 2001 the MADAMAX project was joined by two more South African artists; Bernard Sibusiso Mndaweni and Lungiswa Plaatjies.

1996 Madala travels to Denmark, Sweden and Austria performing together with Kora legend Djeli Moussa Diawara and Moussa Diallo as guests on Lars Stock’s DRUMS ACROSS project.

1997 and 1998 saw three legendary performances in Nantes, France with his own band and in the UK where he performed in Brighton and London with Brazilian legend Airto Moreira, Cuban master Changuito, Mabi Thobejane and Cameroonian drummer Brice Wassy.

1999 another album is being released on MELT 2000 with Madala Kunene, Bernard Mndaweni, Mabi Thobejane & the late Baba Mokoene Serakong titled First Double 1 & 2
2000 Bafo performed in frozen Norway playing at night to the spectacular nature phenomen of the Nordic light on Artic circle with Munkje , Chico Shange & Bernard Mndaweni.

2001 Performance with Petty Nokwe in Buffalo USA

2003 Bafo travels to Denmark together with 18 other South African teachers passing on their knowledge. The educational sessions cumulated in a series of major live concerts. Meanwhile JAM SANDWICH TV Series produced an hour long feature with Afrikaans singer and guitarist Valiant Swart and Madala Kunene.

2004 MELT 2000 releases Bafo Bafo – a collaboration between the late Syd Kitchen and Madala Kunene. Institute Francaise in collaboration with Alliance Francaise and MELT 2000 organized a Heritage Festival in Pretoria where Madala worked on three different projects involving Greg Georgiades, Ernest Mothle, Ashish Joshi, Ntombe Thongo and members of Kwani Experience.

In 2005 Madala recorded two film scores, one with Andreas Vollenweider in Switzerland and one for South African producer A. Singh called YESTERDAY nominated for an Oscar for Foreign Films.

The same year the South African live concert business hits rock bottom and musicians go even more hungry. After Madala made a comment in the press his comments are published out of comments context and a war of words amongst old friends in KZN erupts. Hearing about it Robert Trunz and Mabi travel to Durban and record an unplugged session in nature titles UXOLO. This was followed by a CD and DVD release named UXOLO. The UXOLO DVD content was filmed and recorded at Bassline featuring two concerts of Madala, one with members of KWANI Experience and one with Greg Georgiades, Ashish Joshi and Bernard Mndaweni. During an earlier show at a Heritage Festival they were joined by the late Ernest Mothle.

2006 the First Lady invited Madala to perform at the Presidental Gardens in Pretoria
2007 travels to India to work with Linda Bukhosini.
2011 Bafo collaborates with Indian legend Debashish Bhattacharya at the KZN Univesity.

2005 Guy Butterly, gutar and sitar player works with Bafo on JAM SANDWICH - a show on SABC 3

2009 Mabi Thobejane and Madala Kunene are in a month long residence at the yearly Festival de Printemps in Montpelllier, France.

2012 travels to Oslo for a gig with Mabi and then to London for a performance at the Olympics.

2013 sees the beginning of a long term recording project called 1959 featuring appearances of a string of friends including Bra Hugh Masakela. The album is due to be released with SONY South Africa.

2014 A team of Joburg based documentary makers headed by Darren Gorden and Alan Irving embark on a two year long filming Madala and interviewing countless friends of Madala and public figures. The first trailer appears in August 2015 and a full length feature film is planned for 2016.

In July 2014 Bafo teaches traditional music at Forest Jam in Switzerland and records another film score with long standing friend Max Lässer. The same year he meets new fans and Hollywood star Keanu Reeves whilst performing at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York. Madala also writes the music for a troupe of Thai dancers before traveling to Bangkok ending the year with two shows at the Playhouse and the Rainbow in Pinetwon.

2015 Madala tours the country performing gigs with his long time friend Mabi Gabriel Thobejane under the banner of CONCERT SA – a SAMRO and Norwegian government sponsored effort to bring live music back to the public. Whilst performing in Joburg Madala also rehearsed intensely with young students of FOREST JAM at a farm in Cullinan where he records a new album with members of the FOREST JAM band including Mabi Thobejane, Matthias Abächerli, Gontse Makhene und Lerato Ntsane Lichaba. In April 2015 Madala travels to Madagascar for a month for his second FOREST JAM educational teaching sessions involving 20 local and international musicians. In June Madala presents his new FOREST JAM group during the Sakifo Festival in the Reunion Islands and a week later at its sister festival in Durban.