Urban Village; A legacy in the making

18th March 2021 BY Ivis Ngwenya

Soweto based 4-piece band, Urban Village, have released a new EP, UBABA, their debut for Parisian label Nø Førmat! (home to Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy & Mélissa Laveaux). Marrying the day-to-day experiences of black South Africans with ebullient elements from traditional Zulu music, Urban Village is the alias of four experimental musicians all born and raised in the township of Soweto at the tail end of Apartheid; singer/flautist Tubatsi Mpho Moloi, guitarist Lerato Lichaba, drummer Xolani Mtshali and bassist Simangaliso Dlamini.

Urban Village’s UBABA 4-track EP is released with a new single and visuals carrying the same title. The video created for Ubaba (which translates as ‘father’) by fast-rising filmmaker Justice Mukheli is an evocative rendering of daily life in one of the many Soweto hostels which in the 1900s housed black male South Africans, forcibly separated from their families whilst working in the city’s mines. Speaking about the video, Urban Village note; “Justice is our brother from Soweto. From the moment we discussed his vision for the Ubaba video we trusted he would bring the song to life on the screen. The video shows the different roles played by fathers in society; to nurture, to care, to love, and to protect their families. Salute to all the Ubabas out there present in the house”.

How long did it take you guys to settle on the name Urban Village and why that name? Did you guys have any other names in mind?

In a simpler way, the name Urban Village had already been formed by Lerato Ntsane Lchiba in 2013 when conceptualising on the vision for the music. It took the first thought on the name to settle on it and the name came from an inspiration of our residential field in Johannesburg- Soweto location and there were no other names prior that we ad tried before.

 How long have you guys been a group and how did the group form? 

The concept for the ban was formed in 2013 as you know. Lerato Ntsane Lchiba (Guitar and Backing vocals). He invited Tubatsi Mpho Moloi (Lead Vocals, flute, mbira and guitar) whom he met as a teenager at local jam sessions, Xolani Mtshali (Drums and Backing Vocals) was next to join, with Siman Galiso Dlamini (Bass) the final ‘villager’ to come into the group. Each member was originally friends from childhood coming together to pursue their musical dreams together in this lifetime.

 What was it like growing up in Mzimhlophe in Soweto?  

Growing up in Mzimhlophe has been very interesting due to its a place that was politically driven and most old artists and leather gurus spent their time. It also overlooks the landscape of the city of Johannesburg and thus has the township’s vibrant energy and vibe.

 How would you describe Maskandi to people that have never heard this style of music?  

Maskandi music is one of the traditional music forms of South Africa sound scape, it’s genre mainly played by zulu culture people and it’s musical language amongst the Nguni people. 

How would you describe Urban Villages sound because I see that you guys like to blend a lot of genres together?  

The sound of the Urban Village is layered with elements of folk, maskandi, rock, jazz – a blend of the modern and the traditional. Growing up in Soweto played a major role on how we merge the folk/ indigenous sounds and the experimental modern world music sound. Keeping the identity is the deliberate delivery as we are messengers of the values of our culture.

What is the story of your ep, what is UBABA about?  

With our first Ubaba EP, we took inspiration from the rich musical heritage of South African soil. A totally original synthesis of Zulu guitars, indie- folk, maskandi, South African choirs, and jazz, all carried along by an undoubtable energy and charisma. The project opens with the powerful folk of “Ubaba”; then comes “Izivunguvungu” with its poetic sanza loops and harmonious choruses borrowed from the Zulu music style Isicathamiya; “sakhisizwe” follows with its contagious riffs and maskandi guitar melodies and message of “building a nation”. Finally, french DJ and producer Chloé has revisited Izivunguvungu with a trippy and techno twist – to spread “the spirit of futurist indie-folk through nightclubs”. This EP is a journey through all the colours of Soweto, a dormitory town designed to better monitor those who were sent there, that has become the laboratory of music where the hopes of an entire people resonate, even today.

Explain the visuals of the UBABA video.  

This story is a period piece that captures everyday life in a Soweto-based hostel during the 90s. The song, entitled Ubaba (Father) and the inspiration behind the film is centred around a place that was predominantly for men, most of them Ubaba’s (Father’s). During the apartheid regime, hostels were a tactic from the regime to separate  Ubaba’s (Father’s) from their families, most of them working themselves to an early death in Johannesburg’s mines. The visuals explore those spaces and all the activities that happen in the environment. We see all aspects of emotion from vulnerable male figures, unity, love, dedication, and talent.

 If you could describe Soweto in 3 words what would they be?  

Soweto is vibrant, cultured and legendary   

What are your hopes for the future of SA music? 

Our hopes for the future of music SA music is to grow more and get more opportunities in our media space for alternative traditional music    

Our hopes for the future of SA music is to grow more and get more opportunities in our media space for alternative traditional music.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

In 10 years we see ourselves running an art based initiative of sharing skills and engagement to empower young aspiring arts. Feet in the tradition, head in the future.

Listen to their EP here;

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