Mango Groove: Faces to the Sun
Extended Press Release and Sleeve Notes
Faces to the Sun: ‘’Memories and Moments’’
In Claire’s words:
‘’This is a project Mango Groove thought about for a long time, and it has been over four years in the making! We are beyond excited that it has finally come to fruition. Above all, we feel hugely privileged and honoured that all the artists that are on the album agreed to come on board. They are all iconic performers that we have a very personal connection with, and for whom we have the highest regard. It really is a dream come true that we are working with them’’
With regard to the song choice for ‘’Memories and Moments’’, and again in Claire’s words’’
‘’There are so many amazing South African songs that it was a real challenge to whittle the track listing down to 15 songs. The songs are all personal favourites of ours, and they have all been part of our own musical journey through the years. There are a couple of particularly personal choices, but overall these are great South African songs that have stood the test of time throughout the world, and that have touched the hearts of all South Africans for generations’’
‘’In different ways, these songs are all about ‘’being South African’’….What is it to be South African? Well, many things, actually: it is one of the beauties of this complicated, diverse and wondrous country of ours that to be South African can mean many things, and this album celebrates this. Music unites us, it creates national touchstones of memory, and yet at the same time we celebrate each song for the particularly personal effect it has on us. ‘’
The album was recorded, arranged and produced at Orangotang Studios in Bryanston by Andrew Baird and John Leyden. Andrew has worked with a host of artists through the years, including several albums with Oliver Mtukudzi, while Mango’s founding member John Leyden co-produced and was the major writer on all of Mango Groove’s previous albums.
In John’s words:
‘’Stylistically, we wanted the album to have a very distinctive sound….real music and sympathetic interpretations that hopefully do justice to the originals without simply repeating them. These were all iconic songs, and we were as attached to the original versions as anyone, so we had to treat them in a way that brought out those elements that made them great as well as hopefully bringing different nuances to them. ‘’
‘’This is unquestionably a Project of the Heart for Mango Groove. These were all songs (and artists) that touched us through the years, and that had a huge influence on our own musical development as Mango Groove.’’
A wonderful and unusual feature of the album is that Claire is singing in many different languages, including English, Afrikaans, Swahili, Zulu, Xhosa and even Tstotsitaal! This really is a project that reaches out to all South Africans of all generations, because it is simply about celebrating Our Music, Our History, and Our South African-ness in all its amazing and various forms. In John’s words, ‘’We have been very lucky as Mango Groove to reach so many South Africans through the decades, and that spirit of inclusivity is hopefully very much a feature of this album too’’
So what of all the songs? Well, in Claire’s words:
‘’Take a listen to the album and find out! Seriously, though, with the material choice we went very much for iconic SA tracks that reach back through our astonishingly rich musical history, and that touched the hearts of millions of South Africans through the decades. It’s difficult to choose a favourite, to be honest, because the songs all mean so much to us, and they all shaped our own musical development in very profound ways. Equally, being able to share the key songs with all the singers who came on board the project was a mighty honour for us.’’
‘’It has to be said: given the associations I have with these songs, and the effect they had on my life through the years, these are not so much covers as loving interpretations. It also goes without saying that the original versions of these songs stand on their own, and they will always serve as the benchmarks for these songs. I hope simply that we have brought a different angle to them, in a way that shows just how timeless and evocative these songs are, whatever genre they are performed in. This is a true project of love and memory, if ever there was one!’’
CD1 ‘’Faces to the Sun: Memories and Moments’’
1. Durban Road (Featuring Banza Kgasoane and ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole
The late, great West Nkosi: a towering figure in SA music history, and one of our greatest writers. This has always been a favourite of ours: so exuberant, such a stunning melody, and with that stunning, almost Boeremusiek-type groove, nogal ☺ We took West’s totally unique alto sax sound and gave it a penny whistle twist! The song features the late, great Banza Kgasoane on trumpet: Banza you always put your utterly distinctive stamp on all Mango recordings, so what an honour it is to have you on this track. We will miss you more than words can say.
2. Another Country (Featuring Zolani Mahola)
So let’s begin to look within, to where the future lies
And find the strength to live beneath another country’s skies
Forgive us, but we had to include this one. We always felt it begged a slightly different, lusher treatment, this is the result, and yes, we do prefer this to the original Mango Groove version! We were so chuffed and honoured when Zolani agreed to do the track with us, and she has really lifted the song for us to another level. Zolani, you have become such a powerful, positive and unifying figure in this country’s landscape, you are such a beautiful person, and you have such an astonishing talent: thank you for sharing the song with me.
3. Kinders van die Wind (Featuring Juanita du Plessis)
Swerwes sonder rigting, soekers wat nooit vind
En eindelik is almal maar net kinders van die wind
Always one of our favourite tracks, and a difficult one to do justice to, given the number of illustrious artist who have covered the song. A profound reflection on our mortality: Whenever we hear it, amazing, sweeping, filmic images of our country always wash over me. Having Juanita on board? Wow, beyond an honour. We have shared stages through the years, but never a song, so we were so delighted when you decided to come on board. Your achievements are so huge, and yet you exude nothing but quiet grace and humility, and this comes through so beautifully with your exquisite interpretation of the track. Juanita: thank you!
4. Malowe (Featuring Rebecca Malope)
Amaziny’ amhloph’ okweqhwezi
Unyathel’ unyathela ngabantwana
Ubuhle bemvel’ ubuhle bomuntu
We always loved the late Jabu Khanyile’s masterpiece: Such a pretty and evocative song, and so rich in pan African influences. How does one improve on greatness? Well, we decided instead to turn the song on its head, and we ended up with a pan African-SA-Tex Mex duet: go figure, but a testimony to just how timeless and universal Jabu’s song is. Rebecca: South Africa’s biggest-selling female artist of all time, and so gracious and modest with it. You have such a beautiful and unique voice and such a truly massive heart, and we are so touched and honoured that you agreed to sing with us on this song.
5. Under African Skies (Featuring Kurt Darren and ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole)
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the root of rhythm and the roots of rhythm remain
An honorary South African track off Paul Simon’s astonishing ‘’Graceland’’ album, ‘’mashed up’’ with ‘’Chakuma’’, a great penny whistle track written and performed by the late, great ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole’’. Again, the original Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt version was so perfect that we decided to interpret the song differently, and to blend it with a ‘50’s South African penny whistle classic. Kurt: what a joy and an honour working with you. I’m not joking: your vocal moved us all to tears on the day. ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole is an iconic SA artist, whose pedigree goes right back to the ‘50’s. In addition to all his other achievements through the decades, he was also very much a founding member of Mango Groove (featured on the first Mango album). We were fortunate enough to record and produce the last project he did before his death, so it is his soulful and melancholic tones you hear on this recording.
6. Emlanjeni (Featuring Njabulo)
Uzong’thola ng’blom’ emlanjen’
Uzong’thola ng’blom’ emlanjeni isoka lami
When we first heard Mafikizolo’s Emlanjeni (an interpretation of the old Miriam classic ‘’Meet Me at the River’’), we couldn’t believe my ears…what a beautiful and moving song, a multi-platinum seller, and made all the more poignant by the tragic death of singer Tebogo Madingoane. A transcendent new voice in our musical landscape joins us on the song: NJ. NJ, what a joy and a privilege to have you with us on the song: You really lifted us up!
7. Great Heart
I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart
To hold and keep me by
I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart
Under African skies
Our favourite Johnny Clegg composition (out of the many amazing songs he has written)…such a haunting melody, and words that capture the astonishing natural beauty of this continent. The song is so loved by so many people around the world that we simply had to do it. We very consciously didn’t want to repeat the original, as it is so iconic, so we turned it into a ballad…Johnny, we hope you like it!
8. Remember Me (Featuring Andrew Baird)
Whatever you do, remember me
And whatever you do, I love you
Lucky Dube’s song ‘’Remember Me’’ always stood out and moved us incredibly whenever we heard it during the many times Mango Groove shared a stage with this wonderful man…So mournfully melodic, such poignant lyrics, and the added pathos of knowing that Lucky is tragically no longer with us: a giant talent with the kindest of hearts.…The song also resonated hugely with me, Claire, on a very, very personal level, with my father having left me when I was a child, and my mother passing away two years ago. The vocal was very difficult for me, in fact, as many times I had to choke back the emotion and the tears. Andrew, you have been such a hugely important part of this journey with us, and it seemed so right that you shared the song with Claire: what a voice you have (on top of all your other talents!), and most importantly, what a dear and precious friend you have become to us.
9. Meva (Featuring ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole)
Jack: we miss you greatly as both a friend and as very powerful creative force in the long history of Mango Groove. This is an original Jack recording, composed by the late, great Spokes Mashiyane (The ‘’King of Kwela’’), and as celebratory as it is, we have also always found it heartbreakingly melodic and poignant. Bittersweet indeed…
Ningekuoa, mali we
Nashindwa na mali sina, we
An honorary South African track, if you like, in that it is in the gloriously phonetic language of Swahili. Such an exquisitely crafted and universal melody, and for us primarily associated with the Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte version. Vusi: what a privilege to work with you finally! We have shared stages around the world with you for ages, but finally we are singing together on this one! The voice of an angel! You have always called me, Claire, your sister through the years, so this one’s for the family!
It doesn’t matter now, it’s over anyhow
They tell the world that it’s sleeping
But as the night came down, I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring it was weeping
Dan Heyman’s absolutely iconic SA protest song, first recorded in the ‘80’s by our very dear friends Bright Blue: Peter, their drummer, went on to play with Mango Groove for many years before joining Freshlyground. This song was such a part of our own musical and political journey that we simply had to cover it. There have been so many great choral versions of the song that we decided to strip it down to its essence: a beautiful melody, and heart-stirring words.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Featuring Romanz)
In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight
In the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling, don’t cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight
We join a very long list of artists who have covered this song in so many different ways…We generally love most versions of it (you simply can’t keep a great song down), but –copyright disputes aside- the versions performed by The Tokens and Solomon Linda always had a special charm and magic for us, so this version pays homage to both. Romanz: now that was a fun session! They are such wonderful, humble, hard-working guys, and are ridiculously talented both as solo singers and as a collective. We first met them in an airport lounge in Namibia many years ago, and we have followed them ever since. Thank you, guys, for being part of this: onwards and upwards!
Utla a utlwa bostsotsi a re
Ons gaan nie ons pholayi
Utla a utlwa botsotsi a re
Ons dalk nie ons pholayi
Again, an oft-covered South African classic, loaded with pathos and historical meaning (the forced removals from Sophiatown), and a song we would often perform in the early years of Mango Groove. The song was always so associated with a ‘50’s swing feel, that we decided this to give it a sort of ‘70’s gospel meets country waltz feel…go figure!
Vulindlela wemam’ gobhozi
Ey’ unyana wami yelele uyashada namhlanje
Vulindlela wena manyawuza
Sukuba nomona unyana wam’ uthathile
Truth be told, this was a song we nearly didn’t do on the album. The original is so iconic, so distinctive, and so completely associated with the Brenda and Chicco version, that one almost feels it should never be covered! At the same time, though, it is such a great track, and we had so many associations with Brenda through the years, that we thought we could at least pay tribute to it in a way that was very comfortable to us: Brenda’s iconic ‘90s pop done a la Big Band Sophiatown! A bit of a curve ball, but we had a lot of fun doing it…Brenda, we hope you would have seen the respect and love in it!
15. Master Jack
It’s a strange, strange world that we live in, Master Jack
You taught me all I know and I never looked back
It’s a very strange world and I thank you Master Jack
I (Claire) remember loving this song as a little girl, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it was only recently that I looked into the meaning of the lyrics. This Dave Marks classic (made famous by Four Jacks and a Jill), is a very wise reflection on our attitudes towards authority and convention, and on having the strength to do what is right. Undoubtedly one of our country’s great protest songs…
CD2: ‘’Faces to the Sun: Here, Now and Forever’’
‘’While the ‘’Memories and Moments’’ album is very much about paying homage to great South African songs and artists from our history, the ‘’Here, Now and Forever’’ album consists of a collection of all-new and 100% original Mango Groove songs. The two CDs are of course creatively ‘’joined at the hip’’, and in John’s words:
‘’If the SA songbook album was about the songs and associations that shaped us as artists, then the ‘’Here, Now and Forever’’ album is very much a reflection on Mango Groove today. We wanted to show where we have come from while at the same time expressing ourselves musically in a completely contemporary context.’’
‘’In the course of looking back on and paying tribute to the amazing SA songs and artists that shaped us as Mango Groove, it seemed utterly appropriate that we were simultaneously writing our own, new songs…our ongoing reflections, if you like, on our ever unfolding South African Story. It goes without saying the tributes fed very strongly into this new collection of songs, but at the same time it was very rewarding to us to treat the entire project as very much a creative and mutually reinforcing whole. It’s so true that the past (and your memories) shape who you are today, but at the same time who you are today can redefine and re-frame how you look at your past and the processes that helped form you. Such is the strange circularity of life!’’
Is the new material distinctively ‘’Mango Groove’’ then?
‘’Absolutely! The Mango sound is certainly distinctive, so hopefully, in the midst of creating something fresh and contemporary, we have also stayed true to our musical roots and influences. The content of our songs has always been strongly South African, so it was interesting for us to write from this angle, given our history, our transition, and the challenges facing us all today. We have been so fortunate as Mango Groove to have been even a small part of South Africa’s cultural landscape through the last three momentous decades of her history, and this very inevitably fed into the new material. In the words of ‘’Faces to the Sun’’: ‘’where we’re from, who we are and what we’ll be’’….How our past shapes us and importance of memory, but at the same time forging a sense of how we move forward as South Africans’’
In the words of Claire:
‘’The whole ‘’Faces to the Sun’’ project is about paying respect to the songs that shaped us, both as artists but also as South Africans: in this context it seemed very natural that we also wrote new material from this platform, from this contemporary ‘’window on history’’. The new songs very much reflect how we are feeling today about South Africa: For all the challenges we face as a country today, we should never forget where we have come from, and the amazing things we have achieved (and continue to achieve) as South Africans. We hope all South Africans celebrate the album in this spirit. ’’
CD2: ‘’Faces to the Sun: Here, Now and Forever’’
1. From the Get Go
Summer smiles, blue skies, where you never feel alone
The Africa you love and a place that you call home
John, Carolyn and family: thanks for the inspiration, and thanks for the amazing memories ☺ John, you came to Africa a long time ago, loved it, and made it your home…I guess this is a story that could apply to so many people on this beautiful continent of ours.
‘’From the Get Go’’? Well, life is in many ways a dance, isn’t it? Up front, you seek joy, seize the moment where you can, follow your instincts and live life!
2. Faces to the Sun
From how we live, to how we die
The songs we sing, the flags we fly
The things we choose to leave behind: the chains of time
A battle lost, a battle won,
Another journey’s just begun
And yet when all is said and done, we turn our faces to the sun
South Africa is such a wonderful, unique and fractious place, isn’t it? As South Africans we often seem at times to swing between massive self-doubt on the one hand and utter conviction on the other, between extreme uncertainty and absolute euphoria. Whatever these doubts, however, we surely must ultimately turn towards positivity: celebrating who we are and what we have achieved and knowing that our journey lies in our hands. At the end of it all, we look upwards, towards that beautiful sky, that beautiful African sun.
Shout it out from the rooftops, tell the world what you feel
Love who you want to and live for your dreams
A world ever after, or a world that’s within
Never alone, but at home in your skin
You can be weak, you can be strong, you can be right you can be wrong
Take it all back, leave it behind,
But you’ve got to be kind…
Kindness is a strangely elusive and nuanced notion, and yet it is also something incredibly powerful, and possibly more important than anything. Whatever our differences and identities, I guess it is how we express ourselves and how we treat each other that is everything. A life lived without kindness is hugely diminished.
Aaah: the late, great, inimitable Spokes Mashiyane…we never met him (he died at a painfully young age in 1972), but his influence on Mango’s own sound has been enormous. How fitting, too, that the ‘’baton’’ for this song was picked up by another towering SA music icon, ‘’Big Voice Jack’’ Lerole. Jack, you were with us right at the beginning and you are so much a part of the long Mango story.
5. In Our Own Paradise
The sun on our skin, the air that we breathe
The cool of the water is all that we need
We’ll gather the sun, hold onto the moon,
A world within me, a world within you
Corny but true: ‘’Paradise’’ is so much about the space you create within yourself and the connections you make with others, and with the beautiful, natural world that is out there.
6. Sweet Surprise
Moon on the water, stars in the sky
We’ll find forever, just you and I
Mysteries and wonder, the love in your eyes
When every new moment is our sweet surprise
A very, very loving tribute to the distinctive style of Bert Kampfert: the German band-leader, and master song-writer and arranger who had a great influence on Mango Groove. The song itself: well, it’s interesting how much some of the joy in life is both fleeting and unexpected…those transient moments of contact and connectedness or alternatively those moments of beauty and wonder that take us out of ourselves.
So we trace the outline of a future, fill in the shadows one by one
And when we start to see the colours, we know the journey’s just begun
The colour of our fears, the colour of our sadness
The words are left unspoken, the sights are left unseen
The colour of our tears, the colour of our gladness
Of hearts as yet unbroken, the colour of our dreams
Memories and moments, like pictures on a shelf
But in the end we colour in ourselves…
Identity, memory, history…Who we are, how we frame and define ourselves, what we take with us, what we leave behind: Touchstones that are so much a part of our current South African story. Ultimately, though, it surely comes down to us defining ourselves through our essential unity and humanity, and those feelings we all share: our hopes, our fears, our joy and our sadness…the great and bittersweet human experience…
8. Durban Road (Father and Son mix, featuring the late Banza Kgasoane and Mo T from Mi Casa)
Mango Groove can now proudly boast of having performed with 3 generations of the Kgasoane family: The late Big Henny (Banza’s father), the late Banza (a long running member of Mango so pivotal to our early albums) and now Moshe (Mo T of Mi Casa fame). What a legacy! Moshe, you inherited your father’s incredible gift and (as we discovered in the recording), you also inherited his laugh. Patsy, Tshepo, Moshe and the whole Kgasoane family: we hope you like this.
9. The Road (Featuring Tapiwa Mugadza) In Memory: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013)
Who we are, what we’ll be
Where we’ll go, what we will see
We’ll be strong and carry the load
Because we’ll find our future and follow the road
There’s a road we can follow, walk together, you and I
It’s the road to tomorrow, love forever, never dies
I don’t think any South African (or global citizen for that matter) can claim not to have been profoundly touched in some way by the legacy of Nelson Mandela. His passing left a void that can never be filled, and this song was our very personal response to it at the time. When Taps agreed to come on board, it absolutely completed the song for us: A unique voice that touches you so deeply and so powerfully. Taps: the stars aligned, you were in Joburg for just a couple of days, and you brought us this wonderful gift…thank you.
In Loving Memory of Jane Johnston
Mum, with all my love: you made this whole project possible in so many ways, and I am so sad that you are not here to hear it, as I know you would have loved it.
Mduduzi Magwaza: Duzi, you have been such a huge part of the whole Mango Groove story. Thank you for the memories!
Never to be Forgotten:
In loving tribute to all those South African performers from our history who are sadly no longer with us, and whose legendary artistry inspired us on this project:
Lucky Dube, Brenda Fassie, West Nkosi, Miriam Makeba, Koos du Plessis, Spokes Mashiane, Tebogo Madingoane
Everyone at Warner South Africa: Tracy, Adrian, Jody, Prebashnee, Heath, Tania, Ayanda, Beulah, Hortense and Nkateko….What a team!
Jeff Boulton: Invaluable as always, Jeff!
Robert Schroder and everyone at Robroy: Lorraine, Mig, Andrew and Candy
Long suffering partners, friends and family: Randall, Li, Brandon, Elmarie, Gerrit, Andy and Tonya
Gerrit, Stones, Charl, and everyone at C Saw Media
Photography: Graeme Wyllie
Sleeve and Artwork: Red Flag (Marc and Caroline: a pleasure, as always)