MANY a music fan always remember Moses Ngwenya, the co-founder of the pioneers of mbaqanga, the legendary Soul Brothers, as the musician who wears a beaming smile while tinkling away at those ivories.
As if they know it for a fact, fans of this world-renowned band always comment that when Black Moses, as Moses Ngwenya is affectionately referred to by his contemporaries in the music circles, tinkles his organ it is as if music flows from his veins. It’s like music takes control of him, they further say. For Moses he’s been a musician all his life.
At age 14 he was already in a band that was a common feature at weddings and other social events in his home of Dube and neighbouring Soweto townships.
Those who couldn’t get their hands on Black Moses’s solo album released over a year ago, have every reason to sigh with relief now that his re-launching M9.
This album comes in the heels of similar compilations by the same artist. The album was produced by Moses Dlamini who has also produced a number of albums for the Soul Brothers.
M9 is a dance album fused with mbaqanga, weddings songs, gospel music and the music is accompanied by an organ. The music is mostly laidback and is rooted in traditional African rhythms. The album features songs such as Don’t Slow Down, Sweet Memories, and the latter pays homage to Rex Rabanye.
Another song that pays homage to his idol is Second Time Around and is dedicated to Sankie Chaunyane. Rex Rabanye and Sankie Tsounyane are Moses’s biggest influence to come out of the 70s. And his elder brothers had a band which he joined at an early age. The band was aptly titled Crocodile Brothers whose members included Amos (lead guitarist), Khehla (rhythm guitarist) and Dingane (drummer).
While the band had earned some respect in the township, it was the young Moses who recorded a solo project simply titled Black Moses, featuring Vusi Khumalo on drums. Following his debut release, Moses’s name was on many a musician’s lips and they wanted to engage his services.
But Moses was reluctant to join another band, preferring to play with his siblings. This was until the untimely death of their mother, and the going got tough. And coming from a big family, the young muso was compelled to earn a living through what he knew best – playing music. He started doing session work and he worked alongside guitar maestro Masike Funky Mohapi.
And his second professional gig was as a session drummer for the then popular 70’s girlie group Izintombi Zesimanjemanje. It was around 1975 when his elder brother’s friend, who worked next to the old Gallo Recording company down in Kerk Str, Johannesburg told his friend that the recording company was looking for session keyboardist to play with a mbaqanga band.
But Moses – whose staple music was jazz and soul as well as being heavily influenced by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Teenage Lovers, Movers, Jimmy Smith Teenage Lovers’ band member Rex Rabanye(organ), Movers band member Sankie Tsounyane (organ) and the late Selby Ntuli of the Beaters – was reluctant to play with an mbaqanga act.
When he got to the studio he met David Masondo, Zenzele Mchunu, Tuza Mthethwa and American Zulu. The foursomes had arrived in Jozi a year earlier and were trying to find a recording deal. Moses who was also a drummer of note joined the band for a scheduled rehearsal and they were doing a Tuza Mthethwa’s composition, Mshoza Wami.
Gallo’s talent scout and producer Hamilton “Isibaya Esikhulu” Nzimande heard them and was immediately impressed and booked them a studio to record the single.
But because the band didn’t have a name Nzimande then christened the band as Soul Brothers as he felt that they’ve made a fusion of soul and mbaqanga. And the soul part of it is largely credited to Black Moses because then most bands didn’t have an organ player but mostly comprised of guitarist, drummers and horns.
And the band went on to be a runaway success as well as having successful world tours to this date and 35 albums to their credit.
Despite their hectic schedule which includes recording and tours, Moses still finds time to do his very own projects. If not recording or on an extensive world tour, Moses spends a big chunk of his time in his home studio. His regards this time as horning his skills and he’s forever exploring new sounds hence once a week he attends classic music classes.
His mission is to marry these two art forms, mbaqanga and classic “cause there is similarity in how we write chorus”, he explains. And Moses is forever writing songs which he often shelves for later recordings. He’s a perfectionist and this is the same reason he also wanted to have a home studio wherein he’ll do his stuff unhurriedly.
And his home studio has also benefited Soul Brothers as well because this is where they also do their pre-production. Soul Brothers are not the only band that is benefiting from the home studio, artists under Moses Ngwenya’s indie label, Black Moses Production have also benefited.
Artists under this label include mbaqanga act Themba Ngwenya, Dennis Gumede(kwaito/mbaqanga), Impumelelo(some members of the band are backing musician for Soul Brothers), Nhlanhla Ntsele(mbaqanga act) and the 18 piece gospel band from Swaziland, Catholic Heavenly Voices, Mashwabana.
The organ maestro says his content with these acts because they are not trying to emulate anyone. “They are trying to the best that they can be. Even if it means they will no sell thousand copies, but some people will realize the effort that went into their music”, comments Black Moses.