The transformative artistry of Bongeziwe Mabandla

The release of the single track, Noba Bangathini, reminded me of why I revere Bongeziwe Mabandla. His music is genius, pristine, evoking, and timeless. Like a moth to light, you are likely to be drawn to his music regardless of your lived experience with the topics he addresses through his music simply because, as humans, we gravitate to authenticity and vulnerability albeit hard to maintain our own.

I am personally intrigued by my long-standing relationship with Bongeziwe and his music. Like many others, I’ve made friends through his music via our shared interest in the craft. His voice is distinct and uniquely his. [His writing steadfast and unmistakably his]. If you’ve listened to his music long enough, you know his signature and will probably be able to identify a song of his from the first bar. The tone is different, the harmonies, if ever, are synonymous, his pacing is unique.

Bongeziwe’s music also shows that lived experience is often shared experience, and that’s where community is formed. In his vulnerability, you find a confidant – a friend who makes you feel seen. Flaws and all.

His stories aren’t fairytales. They are a reality many have experienced directly or indirectly. He gives words to feelings and courage to start conversations otherwise often left unsaid. His sound is unique to him, just like his genuineness, and maybe that’s what contributes to the pull one has to his music. In some instances, he is you, he is your brother, your son, your friend, your confidant, your reflection (mirror), your escape. 

He has mastered an element easily overlooked, which is packaging and presentation. His projects follow a pattern/theme, and the theme is carried out in the visuals as well. Simplicistc. Clean. Effective.

I once attended one of his shows, it must have been in Pretoria, and a lady in the audience held her hand to her chest, drink in the other hand and belted out every song, eyes closed as if she were picturing all the moments in her life where his music played in the background, as she gently smiled. I marveled at her because she looked like how I felt – nostalgic, whole, and joyful. Now granted, at the time, I was holding my tears back because the venue was packed to capacity – something I had wished for Bongeziwe for a while. See, the guitarist had been selling out venues abroad way before most of us caught the wave locally, and I’m grateful to you who have now caught the wave, even if it was at iimini, because without you, we would have had less opportunities to enjoy the WONDER of Bongeziwe on [live] stage.

As much as we see things through the lens of our experiences, we connect with music through the chord of our experiences, lived or perceived, or even the missed experiences. Even so, I’ll dare talk you through some highlights from his discography.

There comes a time in life where effort and reward are out of sync. Where the harvest doesn’t match the seed, and that can be a dark and frustrating time. It can take every ounce of energy to get out of bed and keep going even though the destination seems out of reach. At times, even the struggle doesn’t make any sense because in your risk-weighted calculations, the worst case scenario was nothing compared to your reality, but even so, there’s a glimmer of hope. A ready to continue striving for the win even though your bucket is filled with L’s. At that point, you probably wrestle with every ideology you’ve ever subscribed to in an attempt to find answers. 

You’re at Crossroads, really. You wonder whether everything you have come to know is real. You wonder if God is real because the pain outweighs the praise tenfold. And at that breaking point, love holds you up. In that brokenness, a higher power comforts you, and your belief is revived. You learn to swim in the deep until you reach shore. You survive. You emerge from the battlefield bolder, wiser, and kinder, and if you’re one of the brave ones, you emerge more determined to live. [because you’ve realised that glory outweighs anything you had unduly given attention to]. With time, the wounds heal, and you realise that indeed glory outweighs suffering if you have the will to hold on. The sober nights become a distant memory, and happiness knocks at your door more frequently. This is the miracle of life.

This journey is a narration of Bongeziwe’s work in his debut album Umlilo and sophomore project Mangaliso.

The glory outweighs the suffering
The glory outweighs the long story
The glory, the joy, outweighs the suffering
Put it on a scale…

Wena by Bongeziwe Mabandla

Love and relationships is a topic that needs no introduction. Like gym, the only way to be good at it is to keep showing up. Iimini tells the story of love, from inception to demise, and least I say I have never heard an ending as beautiful as isiphelo. And that’s probably because hindsight is a good lens to view any experience. In the heat of the moment, emotions are high and its tense but with the gift of time, you can appreciate the good attributes of your ex because truth be told, those attributes didn’t dissolve because you had a fall out. 

Not all things are gloom though, life is full of colour and butterflies; and if you’re brave (or not) enough to admit that your heart pumps chocolate because of a certain person then zange is the song for you, along with masiziyekelele. The fact remains, we’re all searching for love and belonging in some shape or form. We’ll go to the ends of the world looking for it, and some may even trade their prized possessions for a moment to feel like they’re loved and accepted. And so when you find that love, treat it right, be loyal to it, block out the noise, and let the heart lead (take your brain with though, I strongly recommend that).

My point is simple…

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re seeking, Bongeziwe Mabandla is there for you, all you have to do is listen.

Shot by Dan Carter