“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart.” Samuel 13:14
‘Acoustic, intimate and very African’ are the words Bongeziwe Mabandla uses to describe his music in an interview with Thapelo Mosuiuoa. Often headlined as the new face of Afro-Folk Bongeziwe’s first album ‘umlilo’ was nominated for two SAMA awards for best newcomer and best adult African album. Taking the stage at rocking the daisies, his sounds now play to global audiences, by some he is compared to the legendary Vusi Mahlasela. No doubt, the quality of Bongi’s artistry can not be questioned. Nonetheless It’s not his accolades I’d like to dwell on in this post, rather the deep sense of spiritual invigoration I have gained in the past few weeks from his latest album, ‘Mangaliso’.
It was midday, Sunday the 21st that we sat to listen to the sounds of Bongeziwe Mabandla. There’s a melancholy to his acoustic sound, a mixture of folk, storytelling, mild-rock, traditional African music, orchestra and purpose.
On this immersive May noon, the festive flair at the Old Biscuit Mill felt eclectic and inevitable. As the dark-skinned young man with sharp features and a fresh fashion sense took the stage women quickened to the floor, men unchivalrously rushed to do the same across the lawn. Oranges and glimmering yellow lanterns scintillating above the crowd.
It was daytime, yet it felt as though the sun was graciously setting over us. Bongeziwe stood before a ginger(y) and mustard backdrop patched with airplane patterns, this set a mood for the audience to take-off with him… And so we began to hum and sing along rhythmically.
The song that has continued to strike the hearts of many is ‘Ndokulandela’. The lyrics of the song reads as follows:
Phambi kwabantu bonke ndiyafunga (Before all men I vow)/ Oba bomi bendibuphila (that the life I have been living)/ ndibushiya emva (I am leaving behind)/ Lemini sisiphawulo (this day is a marker)/ Iyandazisa (to let all know)/ Andisenguye mna lo ndanidinguye (I am no longer the person I used to be)/ Ndokulandela wena (I will follow you)/ Noba wena uyaphi na (wherever you go)/ Ndokuhamba nawe (I will go with you)/ Zonke'imini zobomi bam (all the days of my life)/ zobomi bam, zobomi bam (the days of my life)/ Ntliziyo yami yonke (all of my heart)/ Ndiyibeka phambi kwakho (I lay before you)/ Andisenawo mna amandla (I know longer have the power)/ Ndincede bawo uz'undamkele (Lord help me, welcome me back to you)/uyikhombi'indlela ukuze ndihambe (show me the way, so I can walk in it)/ lizwe lingandijikela (the world may turn against me)/ bantu bandiflathele (people may turn their backs to me)/ Mna andijiki (I am not turning back)/ Ndoku Ndokulandela (I will, I will follow you)/ Ndide ndikhululeke(till I am freed)/
Loosely interpreted his first single on the new album, “Ndokulandela” is a pronouncement of his faith, a promise to follow, to leave his old life behind and follow the “guiding force on his life” to follow Him (It) all the days of his life. This is but one of the songs that reiterate this psalmist’s heart cry. Ndibuyile, track 4 of the album reaches out saying
"ndisengumntawana wakho" meaning (I am still your child),/ Andazi noba sewandilibala (I don't know if you have forgotten me)/Mhlawumbi wawusithi sozuphinde undibone (perhaps you thought you'd never see me again)/ kodwa ndihamba mini nezolo (but I have travelled day & night) Kuze ndifike apha kuwe (so that I would come back to you),/ Ndicela wena ukhangele (I ask that you find)/ Ndlela yokundixolela (a way to forgive me).
Be it that the guiding force that Bongi thanks in his album is the God of the Bible, then his dialogue with his maker can leave one slightly amused yet humbled, the thought that God could forget his own reflects our carnal conditioning, how much lower our thoughts are compared to His.
Almost as though God had known prior that when we err, we would suddenly believe that his grace has become insufficient to save us. Responsively, He had long made provision to save us from ourselves in saying: Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!
Throughout the performance, Bongeziwe briskly moved across the stage, exuding vigor and a tense passion for his craft. At times kneeling with his acoustic guitar hugged to his chest, sincerely gazing into the crowd, at other times he’d jump up throwing out a hip, his black and white shirt disheveled, most importantly his lyrics making their way into our souls.
I imagined God-honoring his public proclamation of faith perhaps saying “unto you Bongeziwe, I will show gracious love to thy thousandth generation.” I felt a sense of victory watching him spirit the audience to faith-filled music all the while keeping it vibrant. I felt a sense of godliness in the air as I tenderly contemplated the depth of his words, all the while swaying to the beat. His artwork is a victory for black people; sung in isiXhosa, the songs burnt into the souls of a multiracial crowd. The lyrics were sung unbroken, unedited and unexplained, all while conversing tenderly with his beloved maker.
That afternoon I was reminded of my personal covenant & journey with God. I remembered an afternoon at the end of my high school days, walking up the mound to return to the hostel I called home. That day, I didn’t care much to march up with the rest of the hostel crew in time to select a larger lunch serving as a senior. Rather, I was consumed with anxiety, wondering what my first-year post high school would be like? Whom I would be(come)? The deep, soul wrenching thought of gaining the world and losing my soul, filled me with worry.
I had been vehemently warned that many lost their faith along the way, ‘in university’. At the time, I had even contemplated going into missionary school for a year in the hopes of preserving my faith. I remember walking up that mound, my gutters had loosened, so my blue socks now cradled by my ankles instead of being knee-high. In that moment, I vividly remember pleading with God to never let go of me. Bongi’s track 8 Zunganikezeli takes me back to that moment of private prayer. The lyrics to this song read:
Mna ndiyazama (I try)/ Kodwa ndimane ndiphazama (yet I at times err)/ Ndincedise (help me)/ ndide ndibenguye lona ndifuna ukuba nguye (till I become the person I wish to be)/ Zunganikezeli ngam (do not give up on me).
I call Bongi a 21st Century psalmist cause Like David, his soul groans with a deep need for salvation. His music, an epitome of the verse deep cries unto deep. Bongi’s art is birthed from an authentic heart cry, acutely reeled from the depths of his spirit. The enormous symbol of his sacred work draws primarily from his journey and the harsh realities experienced by men in this troubled world. His words murmur the quiet cries of the soul, the deep longing for the eternal things of God set in the hearts of man. His ensemble of work could not have come at a better time, to remind us that there is a God in heaven/ phesheya kwemifula (over the rivers)/ Phezula enconc(oyini) (up on the peaks) / ezintabeni ezingcwele (up on holy mountains)/