“There are so many cultures. There are so many people like us, who adhere strictly to their heritage yet mix constantly. People are in contact with the world, but they are very proud of their ancestors and culture.” So says musician Zolani Mahola, explaining the vibe and focus of the band Freshlyground, in which she is singer and lyricist. The seven member band is from South Africa.
Guitar, flute, violin, percussion, mbira, voice, classical training and Americana influences, and tribal roots from Xhosa to Zulu and beyond: Freshyground do indeed bring a mix of backgrounds to creating their music, which they usually do together, working out jams and lines in twos and threes and then coming together to finish the songs, which often hold the groove of sunny Afro pop and spin of Cape Town jam along with lyrics that are equally likely to speak of love or politics. Guitarist Julio Sigauque heard his grandmother sing Moto, a song from civil war times in Mozambique, and the band took the idea to groove that is open and new, and distinctly African. Mahola uses call nd response form, an integral part of many sorts of African music which also finds a home in North American gospel, for her song Waliphalala’lgazi, written in the Xhosa language.
Kyla Rose Smith adds violin to the mix, drawing on background in Americana, bluegrass, and Zulu music. She uses traditional Zulu double stops and intervals in her playing. “The violin parts sound similar to the Zulu maskanda guitar style,” Smith says. “The sound is almost Irish, but the harmonies are uniquely South African.” Smith’s playing is well showcased on the piece Baba.
Even for multicultural South Africa, the seven musicians of Freshyround seem slightly unlikely pop stars. In a few years, thought, they have grown from having a small grassroots following to hitting the charts in their home country and singing with Shakira on the 2010 FIFA World Cup theme Waka Waka This Time for Africa. They have engaged audiences in Japan and Latvia, and on foot of their new album Radio Africa, they are making their first appearances in North America this summer. Freshylyground will play a series of dates beginning at the famed Iron Horse Music Hall in Massachusetts and finishing on the stages of the Vancouver Folk Festival in British Columbia.
photograph by Mischa Taylor