Sawa ya Matako: Inside South African song that captivates the continent

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Sawa ya Matako: Inside South African song that captivates the continent
The Sangoma album cover

Maj Gen Leo Kyanda is said to like 'Sawa ya Matako so much but don't confuse the sound because it is really 'shaya amathambo' (beat the bones)

MUSIC | Sawa ya Matako is not something you say out loud in any Bantu speaking part of the planet - worse so the Kiswahili speaking natives - around your elders.

Even those who do not click a word of Kiswahili understand Sawa ya Matako for the "time of buttocks/bums" it is. But there is nothing like Sawa ya Matako in this song, really.

The title track is iSangoma (sorcerer/native healer) in Zulu. It was co-written by 'Om' Alec Khaoli, Moses Mchunu and Frans Makai under the Jozi or Johannesburg group in 1995.

Sawa ya... I mean iSangoma was the lead and title track of the album recorded in 1985 by Alec Khaoli from his Fireworks Studios in Pimville, Soweto.

Mchunu and Makai worked on the production.

Khaoli was the first native South African to own a music studio in the apartheid regime. It gave him a lot of mileage and freedom as well as good business as he went on to work with several artists.

While Sawa ya Matako gave many the impression that the song is obscene, Jozi's iSangoma is actually a mournful ballad that narrates the suffering a man says he is going through.

Khaoli's acoustic plucking opens the melody but it is when the keyboard comes in that you feel the sadness in the melody that is accentuated by the slow mournful sounds of Mchunu with Khaoli and Makai and probably David Makhize backing him up.

'Om' Alec Khaoli

The man says he has wandered around the mountain, up and down, for so long but now he has found someone who can help him in this kind of suffering.

Ideally, it would be that he has found a companion, but what comes next is the more reinforced voice urging Bhula, a sangoma, to get to work.

This suggests that the one found after wandering in the mountains is the sangoma, who is being urged thus: 'saphuli zako' (let's break it), 'shaya amathambo' (beat the bones).

The song ends with a refrain, 'Isikhathi sokusebenza' (time to work hard).

Well, while it is easy with Congolese rumba where I easily get a translation for Lingala and French, this isiZulu thing has been a hardcore.

But that is iSangoma as it should be, not the Sawa ya Matako as we made 'shaya amathambo' convenient for our speak.

The album was distributed by Gallo Records.

Pineapple Jam

There is no cover version of Pineapple Jam (that I know of) but this is one song that has been credited to so many Southern African artistes.

That a typical bubblegum music (in South Africa, bubblegum music was a brand and proudly promoted) has been credited to a dozen artists says a lot.

Yes, Pineapple Jam, where the keyboard seems to play the bend in the kitchen for making a pineapple jam, is that good.

Some say it is Paul Ndlovu's song but Ndlovu, who died on September 16, 1986, must have been gone when this one came out in the same year since most artists released songs toward the New Year.

Others say Steve Kekana, and a Ugandan daily even credited it to Pat Shange.

Pineapple Jam was released in 1986 by Jozi in a maxi-single (music single release with more than the usual two tracks of an A-side song and a B-side song).

Khaoli again recorded this one from Fireworks Studios with the B side carrying I'm In Love (With You) and Sangoma as a filler.

Like in iSangoma album, Khaol again did the recording with Mchunu and Makai working their magic on production.

Pineapple Jam hit double platinum with a second version released in Kenya in 1987 by Tshona Records.


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