Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa.

Label: Soundway Records.

When 1980 dawned, little did the people of the Republic South Africa realise that this was the start of one of the most turbulent decades in the history of this proud and once great country. Over the next decade, there was political turmoil in South Africa which lead to repression, an increase in violence, poverty and unemployment  in parts of the country. Things got so bad by July 1985 that it looked as if South Africa was tearing itself apart from within. 

On the ‘21st’ of July 1985, the South African government declared a partial State of Emergency in thirty-six magisterial districts in the Eastern Cape and Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area. This was the first State of Emergency since 1960, and was a sad day for South Africans, whose political leaders were meant to be working towards a peaceful transition of power and equality. For the people of South Africa, this looked like a pipe dream, and they watched as their country descent further into chaos.

Following the partial State of Emergency, resistance grew throughout the country and eventually in 1986 the South African government declared a State of Emergency nationwide. The government tried to micromanage media coverage and imposed curfew times and movement for individuals, group and organisational was restricted. Soon, the government imposed a complete clamp-down of citizen’s rights which resulted in the house arrests of many influential anti-apartheid leaders. In total, 2,346 people were detained under the Internal Security Act in an attempt to end resistance to the government’s control. However, this was failing and causing further problems within an already divided country.

While, the government had succeeded in disrupting the anti-apartheid movement, they continued to protest. In townships,  fierce resistance and violent protests continued, and some parts of South Africa became increasingly difficult to govern. Meanwhile, tension was increasing and there was paranoia and distrust across the racial divide. 

South Africa in the eighties was what was later described in the nineties as a “rainbow nation,” but was tearing itself apart. There was paranoia and distrust between the white South Africans and black and Indian South Africans which meant that the instability increased. However, there was one industry within the rainbow in this divided nation where everyone worked happily side-by-side making music. Some of that music features on Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa which was recently released by Soundway Records.

Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa features fifteen tracks from The Survivals, Hot Soul Singers, Zoom, Ashiko, Monwa and Sun, Black Five, Starlight, Zasha, Peter Maringa and Ozila. They provided the soundtrack to life in South Africa during this troubled decade and regularly featured on the South African Broadcasting Company’s network of regional stations where listeners heard the message of tolerance, unity and understanding.

Opening Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa is The Survivals’ My Brother, which is taken from their 1989 debut album The Big Mechanics which was released on the short-lived Anneko label. My Brother is a fusion of bubblegum soul and boogie, where gospel-tinged harmonies accompany the impassioned vocal on this powerful track. It sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.

Stimela which is the Zulu word for locomotive, rose like a phoenix from the ashes of guitarist Ray Phiri’s previous band The Cannibals, in 1981. Three years later, in 1984, Stimela released their debut album Fire, Passion, Ecstasy on Gallo Records. It features the soulful boogie of Mind Games which opened the album and thirty-four years later is a timeless dance track. Nowadays, Stimela has become a musical institution who are revered in South Africa. 

The Tembisa Happy Queens were formed in 1975, and four years later changed their name to the Hot Soul Singers in 1979. Having released their debut Together in 1981, the Hot Soul Singers released the mini album Give Me My Love Back in 1986. The following year 1987, they self-released their sophomore album Desire. One of the highlights of Desire was Hlala Nami which features the Hot Soul Singers at their most soulful.  

When Zoom released their debut mini album on Priority Records in 1987, it closed with Wayawaya. It’s a smooth and soulful slice of boogie that is truly irresistible and has stood the test of time. 

Ashiko released five albums during the eighties, including their album Gumba Fire (Madlakadlaka) on Teal Records in 1986. One of the highlights of the album is Gumba Fire (Madlakadlaka where this six piece band combine elements of Afrobeat with soul, funk and boogie. The result is a potent and heady brew that is irresistible. 

Monwa and Sun collaborated on the album Tigers Don’t Cry which was released on the Cool Spot label in 1989, and featured Heartbeat. Straight away, there’s a bubblegum soul sound before the track incorporates elements of boogie and funk. It’s produced by Mally Watson who owned the Cool Spot label and is responsible for a melodic and catchy dance track. 

During the eighties, Ntombi Ndaba was one of the most successful South African female singers. Ntombi Ndaba released her eponymous debut album on the Anneko label in 1988. It features Ntombi Ndaba’s backing band Survival and the backing vocalist The Angels. They play their part in the sound and success of Do You Trust Amajita which features a powerful, sassy vocal on this carefully crafted example of quality bubblegum soul.

Black Five only released the one album during their career, Pula Ea Na which was released on Third World Music in 1983. The standout track on Pula Ea Na was Selallane, a boogie dancefloor filler which is funky, soulful and hook-laden.

In 1983, Starlight released their eponymous debut album which was released on the Heads label. It featured Picnicing which from get-go heads in the direction of boogie. Synths are to the fore on this instrumental which was penned by producers Emil Zoghby and John Galanakis, and play their part in this contemporary sounding track that was way ahead of the musical curve. So much so, that it still sound fresh thirty-five years later.

Only one group features twice on the compilation, and that is the Afro pop group Zasha. Their first contribution is Hayi Ngodlame which is the title-track to their third album, which was released on the Super Kurl label in July 1989. Zasha delivers their bubblegum soul vocal against an arrangement that sounds as if it’s been inspired by Hall and Oates’ eighties albums. Arrow Dub is Zasha’s second contribution and is taken from their debut album Love Target which was released on Teal Records in 1986. It’s a fusion of funk, soul, jazz and Afrobeat which is given a dubby makeover.

When Sabela self-released their debut mini album Sikiza in 1988, it featured Africa which is full of social comment. This catchy genre-melting track fuses elements of funk, soul Afrobeat and jazz, and is one of the highlights of the compilation.

By 1987, Condry Ziqubu was thirty-six and had previously been a member of The Anchors, Flaming Souls, and Flaming Ghettoes and was about to release his debut album Shut Your Mouth on The CCP Record Company. One of the highlights of Shut Your Mouth was the soulful boogie that is She’s Impossible.

The tempo drops on Peter Maringa’s Listen To Me where washes of a dusty swirling Hammond organ are accompanied by handclaps as a guitar weaves in and out of the arrangement. They set the scene for Peter Maringa’s bubblegum soul vocal while backing vocalists add the finishing touch to a beautiful track released in the late eighties.

Ozila close Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa with Wola Wola featured on their 1987 album S.O.S. Save Our Souls which was released on Teal Records. Three tracks from the albums were released as a 12” maxi single in 1987, including the bubblegum soul of Wola Wola. This quality cut bookends this carefully curated compilation.

Very few music fans will be aware of South Africa’s bubblegum soul and boogie scene in the eighties, which was a troubled time for this proud country. Sadly, there was political turmoil, repression, violence, unemployment and poverty in a divided country. Meanwhile, tension was increasing and there was paranoia and distrust across the racial divide. That was apart from in South Africa’s music industry, where skin colour didn’t matter and musician worked alongside each other creating the bubblegum soul and boogie Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa. 

These singers, songwriters, musicians, backing vocalists, arrangers and producers were part of a mini rainbow nation, who were only interested in making music, which was what they were passionate about. That music has stood the test of time, and features on the Soundway Records latest lovingly curated compilation Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa. It features fifteen bubblegum soul and boogie cuts that are funky, soulful and dancefloor friendly. Other tracks incorporate elements of Afrobeat, jazz, pop and social comment and are a reminder of time when the South African music was thriving despite the problems facing this troubled country. However, the rainbow nation with the South African musical industry trumped in the face of adversity and created the music on Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa which is the perfect introduction to this oft-overlooked period in the South African musical history. 

Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul and Synth-Boogie In 1980s South Africa.

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