I got a call from a friend recently who said she had a couple of musicians she wanted me to meet. Their names are Mongezi Ntaka and Kuku. I hear boisterous background chatter and laughter. She tells me she’s with them rightnow and do I want to talk to them?
My mind is making the connection of these names with two artists who came to VOA just last week for a quick television spot on the show Studio 54. Then Kuku gets on the line. The sound of his voice alone
convinces me to bring them back for a Studio 4 session before he even completes his sentence. A warm, wide, velvety smile. That’s what his voice projected, if one can imagine visually. We made the date for an interview session the following Monday.
That Monday’s session is featured below. The smile in Kuku’s voice is contagious as you will see by the happy mood of our interview. Kuku’s singing voice is simply beautiful and Kuku’s guitar provides the perfect accompaniment, along with Kuku’s subtle but fundamental ankle percussion that keeps time (seen in the photo below).
The group performed three songs; two features from the new album they’re working on (tentatively titled Ballads and Blasphemy), and one from Kuku’s 2012 CD Soldier of Peace — also arranged and produced by Mongezi. In between the music, they give us a quick language lesson on local greetings in IsiZulu and Pidgin English. They talk about the very first songs they learned as kids (think Blues Ntaka, South African jazz, Yoruba folksong) and give shining insight into Kuku’s new songs.
Before closing the session with their final song, each give a thoughtful shout out to Africa. “Play the music of the ancestors,” says Mongezi, while Kuku urges, “Tolerate each other…if you don’t like what you see, look away and just cut the fighting.”
Shortly after this interview, I was preparing a Mother’s Day special for my radio show and called Mongezi to see if he had any South African selections. He did — a song by Miriam Makeba called “Umama Uyajabula” from the Sangoma album. He also mentioned that Kuku had a song “Yeye” from Soldier of Peace that he had dedicated to his mother.
Yeye Sample. At the risk of playing too much of a good thing, I included Kuku and Mongezi’s song “Yeye” into the Mother’s Day lineup just one week after I’d featured the radio version of this interview in the show.
Stay on the alert for the release of Kuku and Mongezi’s newest album Ballads and Blasphemy. Though Kuku is currently back in Paris, he frequently returns to Washington to work in Mongezi’s studio.