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Bongeziwe Mabandla

The Enigmatic Spirit of African Soul

Known as the enigmatic spirit of African Soul, South Africa’s Bongeziwe Mabandla is a multiple award-winning artist who has recorded four acclaimed albums, performed on an array of national and international stages, become a sought-after creative collaborator and expanded his talents into film and visual art.

Part of the Black Alternative sound that is staking its claim as among the most singular and compelling music forms around, Mabandla first came to the attention of music fans with his 2012 debut, Umlilo. Working with composer, instrumentalist and producer Tiago Correia-Paulo, he has since released a trio of albums – Mangaliso (2017), iimini (2020) and his latest, amaXesha (2023).

Umlilo saw Mabandla being called a “modern miracle” by Radio France Internationale (RFI)). ”His haunting, ethereal voice carries messages of heartache and healing from the Eastern Cape and yet captures the contemporary urban-African landscape,” said RFI referencing his childhood in the rural town of Tsolo where the singer, songwriter and musician grew up singing in church, at school and at home before heading to Johannesburg to study drama at AFDA.

In 2018, he won his first award when Mangaliso took home the South African Music Award (SAMA) for Best Alternative Music Album with iimini winning the same category at the 2021 SAMAs. His other awards include Best Music Video at the 2018  Capital City Black Film Awards and at the Jozi Film Fest for “Bawo Wam”, a collaboration with Spoek Mathambo. Both Mangaliso and iimini significantly expanded Mabandla’s global audience and sound, taking the latter into a realm of experimentation and creativity that simultaneously roots itself in the deep and fertile soil of his folk instincts and expansive electronica. 

Released in the opening months of the pandemic iimini made American Songwriter’s Top Albums of the Year in 2020. In its write-up, the publication said: “With each song acting as a chapter in the book of their story together, Bongeziwe brought out all the passion and pain that comes from opening one’s heart to another. His voice, the balm to calm and soothe even the saddest of hearts that, during a time of quarantine, had nowhere else to go but in.”

In the same year, Mabandla was included in Billboard’s Live-At-Home performance with the music publication saying “Viewers can look at him, whether they understand Xhosa, and channel his despair and desire for someone right through the screen that connects them from thousands of miles apart”. NPR’s All Songs Considered featured “masiziyekelele” off iimini on its Heat Check show describing it as “a gorgeous saving grace in trying times”. “The South African soul singer transports you to the streets of Johannesburg to tag along with him and his new love, creating a rushing montage of flirtation, harmonies and butterflies. It’s definitely a world worth getting lost in.” Mabandla also featured in ColorsxStudios’ HOME/BRED series during the global lockdown – a performance that later featured in the platform’s Best Of edition.

iimini charted on both iTunes and Spotify and inspired a series of remixes including “Ndanele (Dwson Dub Remix)” (nominated for a 2021 SAMA in the category Remix of the Year), Muzi’s version of “Mini Esadibana Ngayo”, DJ Lag’s remix of “ndiyakuthanda (12.4.19)” and a remix of “zange” by Guatemalan artist Mose.

With his fourth album, Mabandla is elevating his profile even further. In its April 28th issue, The Guardian named amaXesha Global Album of the Month, stating that “No longer just an interpretation of Xhosa folk music, amaXesha places Mabandla’s music firmly in its own lane, capable of transmuting the shades of tradition into something else entirely”.

Mabandla’s acclaimed live performances have seen him regularly sell-out tours in South Africa with his November 2021 outing becoming one of the fastest selling of a solo contemporary homegrown artist. In spite of the pandemic constraints of 2020 and 2021, Mabandla has continued to build his domestic and international live career over the past several years, with the sold out sign put up at shows in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland in 2021 and 2022. He recently played his first dates in Mexico and in June 2023 will play at two sold-out dates at London’s 100 Club.  Mabandla has also performed at festivals across the globe including the Reeperbahn Festival(Germany), Lake of Stars (Malawi), Afrovibes Festival (Netherlands), Womex (Finland) the Oslo World Festival (Norway) and at the last six Safiko Music Festivals in Réunion. I

A creative explorer of the highest order (in 2022 he made his film debut as part of the cast of BALOJI’s Augure) Mabandla’s sound circa 2023 effortlessly springboards his music into a rich and captivating terrain where synthesisers or drum loops are as vital as the acoustic guitar and warm, engaging melodies that were his early signature. “Everything I do is measured against how artistic and interesting it is – both for me and my audience,” says Mabandla, and each meticulously calibrated step in his journey is evidence of how seriously he takes that. 

Bongeziwe Mabandla tour dates