Bafo Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Mkhumbane (Cato Manor), a vibrant mixed community just outside of inner Durban. The son of a carpenter, Kunene was raised by his grandmother — a staunch academic who wanted him to be something of a bookworm. At the age of eight, in the year 1959, Kunene and some members of his extended family were trucked off by the Apartheid government to go live in the then relatively new township of KwaMashu.
“People can’t imagine what it’s like when you see bulldozers demolish your home in the middle of the night,” recalls Kunene. “The worst thing was that when they moved us, they came at night and packed my family into the back of a truck and then went to another area to pick up another family there and so on. So you were not just separated from your home, you were stripped of your friends and neighbours in the process. It was a very calculated act,” Kunene adds.
As a meditation on his history Kunene now releases his latest album 1959. The first album recorded in South Africa in over 20 years. It explores dense and often melancholic subject matter, especially Kunene’s own history as a victim of forced removal. “I’ve never spoken about those experiences in my music in an earnest way. I wanted to recall them and most importantly make a personal album that was looking internally at my personal history rather than looking out,” says Kunene. 1959 is a blues album with slightly more muscle—a personal catharsis and an attempt to exercise the muscle of memory through music. Insistent and unrelenting, 1959 is Kunene’s urban war cry. It is a portrait of the artist as a not-so-young man of faith, a sonic investigation that tries to make sense of the gradual process of sanitizing history—how the real past is purged for the sake of a historical sound bite.
“Music is the best medium to record and tell history. As African people, the way we know and understand our past is very influenced by music,” Kunene says. “So if I can add one layer of context that can help in understanding this period in our history, then that is great.”
The album “1959” was co-produced and engineered by Marius Botha and Neil Snyman. It started out as a simple acoustic guitar and voice project but as soon as Madala’s many friends learned that he was busy recording in his own backyard things took on a life of their own. An outpouring of love for Bafo followed with everyone wanting to bring his or her love for Bafo to this project. Madala gratefully acknowledges the many appearances of friends amongst others Lu Dlamini, Bra Hugh Masekela, Sthembiso Hlela, Max Lässer, Vishen Kemraj, Sazi Dlamini, Steve Newman, Guy Buttery, Bernard Mndaweni, Paki Peloeole, Eric Duma, Sihlanga Zulu, Mdu Magawaza, Njeza Dlamini, Zamo Mbutho, Sipho Nxumalo & Smanga Ngubane.
Interest in Madala has extended into a documentary film to be screened in 2017 about his early work with the MELT 2000 label. Filmed, edited and produced by Dick Jewell the documentary is called MOVING WITH MADALA.
Musician: Madala Kunene
Venue: Live at the Bassline, Johannesburg