Today Urban Village release a new single, ‘Umhlaba Wonke’, co-written with and featuring vocals from emerging South African artist Msaki, who has appeared on hit house tracks with the likes of Black Coffee, Sun-El Musician and Prince Kaybee, whose collaboration ‘Fetch Your Life’ was the most played song of 2019 in South Africa. The new track is lifted from Soweto-based 4 piece Urban’s Village’s forthcoming debut album ‘Udondolo’, due for release on January 22, 2021 via Parisian label Nø Førmat! (home to Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy & Mélissa Laveaux). Marrying the day-to-day experiences of black South Africans with ebullient elements of traditional Zulu music, Urban Village is the alias of four experimental musicians all born & raised in the township of Soweto at the tail end of Apartheid; singer/flautist Tubatsi Mpho Moloi, guitarist Lerato Lichaba, drummer Xolani Mtshali and bassist Simangaliso Dlamini. You can watch the audio video for ‘Umhlaba Wonke’ here, and stream across all platforms from here: https://idol.lnk.to/Udondolo.
With lyrics that blend Bantu languages of IsiXhosa and IsiZulu with English, ‘Umhlaba’ is a rallying cry for unity and peace. Speaking about the track, Msaki – a frequent live collaborator with Urban Village – says; “This song is a reminder to a brother, that he has homes everywhere and has the ability to build anything he names with his whole heart. Sometimes people don’t need to hear big things loudly for there to be an internal shift. Sometimes it’s just that you belong, this is home and you have the ability to create worlds.”
Urban Village release music under a name which specifically references the blend of cultures, music & rites which were assimilated into the now 1 million strong population of Soweto, when black South Africans from multiple provinces were brought to the area during the 1930s establishment of apartheid, under strict segregation from Johannesburg’s white suburbs. They came to dig the belly of the “the city of gold” (Egoli, the Zulu name for Johannesburg) on behalf of big companies, and formed the first urban proletariat in Africa. Everyone took pieces of their village to this new town, and from this friction, an original culture was born, evolving Soweto into a sprawling urban village. Whilst others are still digging for precious metal, Urban Village are mining these mixed legacies of which they are heirs.
Born for the most part in the last years of apartheid, the band members plunged happily into house and dance music that turned the page of a heavy past. That is, until on a street corner of Soweto’s Mzimhlophe neighbourhood, guitarist Lerato came across older Zulu musicians and their style of maskandi. EP track ‘Izivunguvungu’ is itself a homage to the Isicathamiya Zulu genre, whilst the slow-burning title track ‘Ubaba’ pays tribute to the older generations, the forefathers who head up not just families, but communities and nations. Lerato mixes styles from homelands and rural areas, sharpened in club jam sessions (where he met Tubatsi) during which spoken word, hip-hop and jazz rub shoulders freely.
Urban Village remained steeped in the cultural consciousness of South Africa’s troubled past, looking forwards with the same emphasis on ‘ubuntu’ (common humanity) with which the likes of Mandela & Biko resisted apartheid. ‘Udondolo’ – partially recorded at legendary Downtown Studios in the heart of Johannesburg and at Figure of 8 studios in the leafy suburbs of Randburg, showing the stark contrast of Johannesburg in 2020, with the energy of live music but intimately polished by Frédéric Soulard (Maestro, Limousine, Jeanne Added) – is a journey through all the colours of Soweto. This is where it draws its consistency, strength & identity. That of Soweto itself – a dormitory town designed to better monitor those who were sent there, it has become a laboratory of music where the hopes of an entire people resonate, even today.