Musa’s Backroom

Nangoke umculo thina esakhula ngawo
Umculo ungadluli ongaphuphi noba thina sesafa
Kuyoba nguwona ozasikhulisela ingane zobaba

Sbu the Poet ~ Umculo by Musa

It is said that being a good artist or musician is as a result of talent, consistency, relatability, accessibility and good branding/marketing. If this be considered the yardstick, then Musa Sukwene is a magnificient artist. His latest album Backroom adds colour to his acclaimed discography. Although this piece is aimed at the new album, it would be a missed opportunity not to shed light on Musa’s craftsmanship.

For almost a decade, Musa’s biggest selling point has been his ability to make and perform songs that are relatable to the South African audience through sounds that play on nostalgia and familiarity. Another element that makes his music relatable is his lyrical relevance; his music often references what could easily be the reality of many, the mere concept of a backroom is testament to that. The song Buhle is the perfect exhibit of his craftmanship, in the song you can hear the mbaqanga influence in addition to him referencing lines that are all but too familiar.

He is not afraid to sing a Jabu Khanyile song (Umkhaya Lo) and make it his own through his soulful interpretation or lend from the lyrical genius of Mbongeni Ngema.

You can also hear influences of the producer he works with on respective projects, for instance, you catch glimpses of JR & The Cousins-esque’s sound on Backroom and likewise the Robbie Malinga distinct was hard to ignore on Mr Serious. Even so, there is a major thread running through his discography in the form of a similar (album) track list length, themed curations, the use of poetry as pre and interludes, the signing off with a gospel track with feature, the selection of acoustic tracks and the many other reoccurrences are all not coincidences but rather Musa’s formula to a fine album.

From The Dream days – arguably from his Idols days – to date, Musa has grown into his craft and found his sound. This is evident in the evolution from the semi-pop sound in The Dream to the now fully fledged Musa sound in Backroom.

Coming off the back of a difficult period as a people, it is so fitting that Musa’s fourth studio album, Backroom, starts off with a prayer of gratitude. Although we have suffered losses, we have also experienced wins which we ought to be grateful for. It is in the posture of gratitude that we are able to find acceptance in our hearts and gain the strength to hope for a better tomorrow. This is the message that Musa, alongside poet, Zamoh Cofi, narrates on Ukukhanya as they usher us into this Backroom.

It is wonderful to see that Musa has continued the trend of including spoken word in this craft; an element he introduced in his eponymous third album.

The swift transition into My Dali is so graceful that I cannot imagine any other song being track 2 on the album. The one consistent theme in Musa’s music is love. The singer is an advocate of love and it shows in his music. In Joanna, the singer belts out his love borrowing lines from Mbongeni Ngema while advising a new bride on the best practices for a successful marriage in Buhle.

Now, I need you to paint this mental image with me for a moment…

Imagine sitting outside a 4-room township house on a crate, vaskom foaming to the brim. One sneaker in the vaskom, the other secure on your left hand while your right hand scrubs vigorously to make it look brand-new. To get some music courage to complete this chore, you turn on the small battery-powered radio beside you. Can you guess the song that comes on? Yes, that’s right! It’s Musa’s Backroom. At least that’s the mental image that came to mind the first time I heard the song. Judging by the album cover, I think Musa had the same image too, and it is so fitting to the feel of Backroom.

If you are a supporter of Musa’s work, then you would already know that this was the first time we had to wait for longer than two years to get a new album from him. If the trend of his first three albums was anything to go by, then an expectation for an album to be released in 2020 was sound. Although there wasn’t an album back then, Musa released hit singles, Wozala and Thandiwe to keep us going. In this album, he delivers the acoustic renditions of both songs.

The award-winning musician collaborates with Idols alumna Zama Khumalo to deliver the heartfelt ballad, Xolele. In song, the duo admits to shortcomings and asks for forgiveness so the relationship can be repaired. So the next time you find yourself struggling to articulate your apology to your person, borrow a line or two from this song, that should get you going. And if it doesn’t, just send the song to your person with the caption “I echo their sentiments”, that should do the trick.

Musa’s mastery of his craft is most evident in his ability to incorporate various musical elements and influences of numerous genres into one body of work, and make it flow effortlessly. In Noma, Musa partners up with acclaimed musician, Mnqobi Yazo, to give a soothing account of loving someone earnestly. Arguably the percussion in the song could be a sonic representation of the heart beating, if you listen carefully. In true Musa style, this album ends off with a gospel medley featuring A cappella quintet Beyond Vocal.

Musa Sukwene continues to raise the bar with each offering. His ability to consistently narrate love in all its beauty and complexity while showcasing his vocal range and maturity is unmatched. Backroom is a timeless work of art that’s meant to be savoured.

The album is available on digital streaming platforms. Take a listen and let us know what your favourite song is from the album.