One listen to Ethembeni and it’s clear: Siphokazi is hitting her musical stride late 2010 in a way that is bound to elevate her already considerable career to even greater heights.
Like her first few albums – including 2006’s Ubuntu Bam, and 2008’s Ndinovuyo - Siphokazi’s 2010 album ‘Ethembeni’ is deeply rooted in Afro-Trad musical stylings. But this time around there’s an air of real confidence in the 12-tracks on the album that’s adds considerably to its appeal.
Some of this stems from Siphokazi’s deep-seated spirituality. As she herself puts it, “I give the glory to the Lord of my life, God – and I thank Him for His awesome sustaining power and the strength He gives me to press forward.”
This belief in God’s power comes through in several tracks on Ethembeni – including “Uweda (You Alone)”, a song featuring music by Gabriel Stuurman and lyrics by Siphokazi with Hlalele M. Mohapi. “The song is calling on people to put their trust in God – not in men. It’s also about how God wants a one-on-one relationship with you,” Siphokazi explains.
Another deeply spiritual song is “Ndiyamthanda (I Love Him God)’” which features lyrics again written by Siphokazi – this time in collaboration with Tsepo Tshola. Tshola has a vocal cameo in the track – and the pleasure of hearing Siphokazi’s smooth yet gritty voice alongside Tshola’s trademark gruff vocals is nothing short of a treat for fans.
But her abiding spirituality is not the only force pushing Siphokazi ahead in her quest to develop a unique, signature sound that ensure she stands out from the crowd of female solo artists. Another is her sense of history and roots.
Dedicating Ethembeni to her late mother and grandmother, Siphokazi says “They taught me to stay focused in God and all the values that I live by.”
It’s her deep understanding of the importance of values and elders that feeds into tracks like “Imvelaphi”, one of the standout songs on the album. Featuring Jaziel Brothers – “amazing to work with”, Siphokazi says of the act – the song literally means “your roots” and it’s dedicated to encouraging listeners to be proud of their culture and background. For Siphokazi, her pride lies in her roots as a child growing up in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape – and her love for her own background is displayed all over this very special album.
Another of the standout tracks on the album is “Uphuma Phi?” – a song about the trust between married couples. The song features an infectious hook, bolstered by backing vocals and an acoustic guitar contribution by Bongai Nkwanyana that evokes the Mbaqanga feel that this young artist has never shied away from using in her music.
One of the most striking songs on Ethembeni is “Khaninqandeni” – a heartfelt cry from Siphokazi that urges people to stop animal poaching and take responsibility for keeping South Africa’s environment in a good state. “Everything that’s natural is so important to all of us,” Siphokazi says simply of this socially aware song. Another song that brings out the activist in this young woman is “Koze Kube Nini?” – calling on individuals to take part in the campaign against women and child abuse. Equally as affecting is “Siyagxengxeza” – “We Are Pleading” – which is “about people living in rural areas in South Africa who do not have access to clean water”. And Siphokazi’s take on the Princess Magogo composition “Ngibambeni” (“Pull Me Back”), about a woman deeply in love, is quite simply beautiful – and shows just how well she is able to convey the essence of love songs.
In bringing her potent messages home, Siphokazi has once again worked with producer and musician Lawrence Matshiza who co-composes many of the songs as well as plays guitar on and produces all the material on Ethembeni’.
That theirs is a comfortable creative relationship is easy to hear throughout the album – and in allowing Siphokazi to hit an increasingly mature sound, whilst never losing her freshness, Matshiza does a superb job. Also contributing is a line-up of stellar musicians, including Fana Zulu on bass, Rob Watson on drums, Yoa Agbodohu on percussion, and Barry Snyman on horns.
With the release of Ethembeni it’s clear that the woman who started off as a backing singer for Ringo Madlingozi, Pat Matshikiza, Simphiwe Dana, Zama Jobe, Stimela and Tsepo Tshola – who appears on this album – is all grown up. In the three years since her debut ‘Ubuntu Bam’ saw Siphokazi earn Best Newcomer and Best African Adult Contemporary Album at the 2007 South African Music Awards and turned her into a solo force to be reckoned with, she has developed into an artist who is ready to take on the world.