Moses Ngwenya

Moses Ngwenya

Moses Ngwenya

Co-Founder: Soul Brothers (South Africa)

MANY music fans remember Moses Ngwenya, the co-founder of the pioneers of mbaqanga, the legendary Soul Brothers. He is 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 is affectionately referred to by his contemporaries in the music circles tinkles his keyboards – it is as if music flows from his veins. It seems as if music takes control of him, for Moses has been a musician all his life.

AT the age of 12 he was already in a family band called The Crocodiles Souls who featured at weddings and other social events in his home of Dube plus Zola, Mndeni and all neighbouring Soweto townships.

THOSE who couldn’t get their hands on Black Moses’ solo albums released over the decades can now sigh with relief now that he is launching MI0 AFRICAN TANTRUM.

M10 is a dance album fused with mbaqanga. The music is accompanied by a Hammond organ and synthesizers and is mostly dance music. The album features songs such as African Tantrum, Feel the Power and More Black Moses.

Jimmy Smith, Booker T & the MG’s, Sankie Chaunyane (MOVERS). Rex Rabanye (TEENAGE LOVERS) Selby Ntuli (The Beaters) and Bheki Mseleku on a Farfisa organ (Durban Expressions) are Moses’ biggest influences to come out of the 70s. His elder brothers had a band which he joined at an early age. The band was aptly titled Crocodile Souls whose members included Amos (lead guitarist), Khehla (rhythm guitarist) and Dingaane (drummer).

WHILE the band earned some respect in the townships, it was the young Moses who recorded a solo project titled Black Moses with Gallo Records. This featured Vusi Khumalo on drums. Following his debut release, Moses’ name was on many a musicians lip and they wanted to engage his services.

MOSES was reluctant to join another band, preferring to play with his siblings. This was until the untimely death of their mother. Then the going got tough. Coming from a big family, the young muso was compelled to earn a living doing what he knew best – playing music. He started doing session work and he worked alongside guitar maestro Masike Funky Mohapi of HARARE and Tata Sibeko. He was playing drums and the band was called Muddy Bridge.

HIS second professional gig was as a session keyboard player for the then popular 70s girl group Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje. It was around 1974 when his elder brother’s friend, bra Willie, who worked next to the old Gallo Records building in Kerk Street, Johannesburg, told his brother that the company was looking for session keyboardist to play with a mbaqanga band.

BUT Moses, whose staple music was jazz and soul and heavily influenced by the likes of Booker T & the MG’s, Jimmy Smith, Moses was reluctant to play with an mbaqanga act. He didn’t know how to play mbaqanga with an organ because they were mostly using an accordion and a rhythm guitar. He wanted to be a soul & jazz organist like Jimmy Smith.

HE went to Gallo for the auditions. He passed and everybody liked him because he was a little boy. He worked with Amatshitshi Esimanje, also under Hamilton Nzimande. Solly Rametsi who was popular from a band called T’n’Ts was playing with a senior band Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje. After a year Moses was promoted to play with Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje. He worked with them for a year.

THE following year David Masondo, Zenzele Mchunu, Tuza Mthethwa, Mpompie Sosibo and American Zulu, calling themselves Young Brothers, had arrived in Jozi from Kwazulu Natal and were trying different companies to find a recording deal. Moses was a drummer and a keyboard player. Hamilton Nzimande arranged a meeting with me and the guys. He asked Moses to play the keyboard for them so that they must try to write something so that he could audition them. Moses didn’t know why, but he thinks it was because they were all young boys of the same age. The band was scheduled for rehearsal the next day. The next morning the band were rehearsing and they were doing a Tuza Mthethwa’s composition, Mshoza Wami with Moses on the Yamaha organ YC30, Hamilton Nzimande heard them, was immediately impressed and booked them a studio to record the single.

THE band did not have a name so Nzimande then christened them SOUL BROTHERS as he felt that they had made a fusion of soul and mbaqanga. The soul part of it is largely credited to Black Moses as most bands at that time did not have an organ player but mostly comprised of guitarists, accordions, drummers and horns.

THE band went on to be a runaway success. They have completed successful world tours and have over 40 albums to their credit.

DESPITE their hectic schedule which includes recording and tours, Moses still finds time to do his own projects. If not recording or on an extensive world tour, Moses spends a big chunk of his time in his home studio. He regards this time as horning his skills and he is forever exploring new sounds and once a week he attends classic music classes.

HIS mission is to marry these two art forms, mbaqanga and classical as there is similarity in how we write music, he explains. Moses is forever writing songs which he often shelves for later recordings. He is a perfectionist and this is the reason he wanted to have a home studio where he can work at his own pace.

HIS home studio has also benefited Soul Brothers as this is where they also do their pre-production. Soul Brothers are not the only band benefiting from the home studio, as artists under Moses Ngwenya’s indie label, Black Moses Productions, also record there.

ARTISTS under this label include mbaqanga act, the late Themba Ngwenya, Dennis Gumede (kwaito/mbaqanga), Impumelelo (some members of this band are the backing musicians for the Soul Brothers), Nhlanhla Ntsele (mbaqanga act) Oflende, with Sibusiso Mbatha from Soul Brothers rivals band Abangani. And Umashwabana is another Mbaqanga artst he is the younger brother of Sibusiso Mbatha, Nathi Mbatha uses the name Umashwabana. Also Soul Brass Band featuring Ikhehla (Lemmy Special Mabaso). These are some remixed Soul Brothers songs. and new songs plus the 18 piece gospel choir from Swaziland, Catholic Heavenly Voices.

THE organ maestro says he is content with these acts because they are not trying to emulate anyone. They are trying the best that they can, even if it means they will not sell thousand copies. Moses is happy that some people will realize the effort that went into their music.