CULT CLASSIC KABASA-AFRICAN SUNSET.
Cult Classic: Kabasa-African Sunset.
Kabasa was formed in Soweto by vocalist and bassist Tata “TNT” Sibeko and percussionist Oupa Segwa and guitarist Robert “Doc” Mthalane who previously, had been members of the iconic Afro-rock band Harari. The group had started life as The Beaters, but during a tour of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1976, changed their name to Harari. This was the name of a a township outside Salisbury the country’s capital. This change of name resulted in a change of fortune for the group .
The first album the band released after changing their name to Harari was Rufaro Happiness in 1976. Over the next couple of years, Harari’s popularity grew as they released Genesis in 1977 and Mañana in 1978. Their success was because of their unique and inimitable sound. Seamlessly they combined Afrobeat, Afro-rock, funk and fusion but other times took diversions into disco and psychedelia and this proved hugely popular. So much so, that they became became not just one of the biggest bands in South Africa but neighbouring countries. This resulted in Harari being the first ever local black pop band to appear on South African television. In apartheid-era South Africa history had just been made. Harari weren’t just a successful band but one that was breaking down barriers.
In 1979, the classic lineup of Harari recorded their last album together, Kala Harari Rock. By then, the group was enjoying the most successful period of their career and they were regarded as one of the best Afro-rock bands of the seventies. Despite this, percussionist and conga player Oupa Segwa and guitarist Robert “Doc” Mthalane decided to call time on their career with the band.
They joined forces with bassist Tata “TNT” Sibeko to form Kabasa. This was a new start for percussionist Oupa Segwa and guitarist Robert “Doc” Mthalane, who was regarded as South Africa’s answer to Jimi Hendrix. A confident and technically gifted guitarist he could switch seamlessly between genres and combine them in one genre-melting track. Their new group Kabasa offered a showcase for Robert “Doc” Mthalane and the other two members of the band to showcase their considerable skills.
Having signed to Atlantic Records, the new group began work on their eponymous debut album at Satbel Recording Studios, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The group recorded seven new tracks that featured everything from funk, fusion, rock and soul. Kabasa was a truly eclectic debut album from South Africa’s newest supergroup.
When Kabasa released their eponymous debut album in 1980 it was to plaudits and praise. The combination of the two members of Harari and guitarist Robert “Doc” Mthalane didn’t disappoint and critics agreed that the supergroup had a bright future in front of them. Their debut album Kabasa was the album that launched their career, and many critics awaited the followup with interest.
Just a year later, in 1981, Kabasa returned with their eagerly awaited sophomore album Searching, which they had also recorded at Satbel Recording Studios, in Johannesburg, South Africa and featured six new tracks. Just like their debut album, it featured everything from funk and fusion to rock and soul and showcased a tight and talented band. Founder and bass wizard Tata Sibeko found virtuoso guitarist and flamboyant showman Robert “Doc” Mthalane the perfect foil. The final piece of the jigsaw was percussionist Oupa Segwa whose contribution resulted in a very different and unique sound on Searching.
The album was released to critical acclaim and although Searching sold well locally. Kabasa’s popularity was growing and the group was going from strength to strength. Their third album looked like being a game-changer.
Before Kabasa began to record their third album African Sunset, percussionist Oupa Segwa left the group. This must have been a huge blow for the other two members of the group as he was an important and integral part of the group’s sound and success.
The search for Oupa Segwa’s began but didn’t take long. He was replaced by Mabote “Kelly” Petlane who was a percussionist and flautist and the new addition changed Kabasa’s sound.
When work began on what later became African Sunset, the songwriting and production duties were shared between the three members of the band. The songs the members of Kabasa wrote for African Sunset, touched on the political problems facing South Africa. However, they had to be careful as to avoid detection from government censors at the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Despite this, radio copies of one of the tracks, Mefeteng, fell foul of the censors. Mefeteng is a town in Lesotho, which at the time, was associated with political exiles and the censors deliberately scratched out and the track rendering the song unplayable. Other tracks on African Sunset are best described as progressive rather than being an album of music that was trying to bring about a revolution in South Africa. Proof of this is the album opener Rainbow Children which champions South Africa’s multi-racial dissidents with the lyrics; “we are the rainbow children-we run and hide.”
When African Sunset was released in 1982, on the short-lived Lyncell Records imprint, it was a carefully crafted, genre-melting album featuring musicianship of the highest quality and lyrics that featured political and social comment, but not enough to raise the hackles of the censors. African Sunset found Kabasa combining elements of psychedelic rock, jazz, funk and traditional African music. Sadly, African Sunset wasn’t the success that Kabasa had hoped, and very few copies were sold.
Nowadays, original copies of African Sunset are rarities, although the album is quite rightly recognised as being a timeless, cult classic that showcases that talented trio Kabasa, at the peak of their powers.
After the release of African Sunset, the members of Kabasa went their separate ways. Their legacy is a triumvirate of albums including African Sunset, their finest hour and undoubtably a timeless, cult classic which sadly, was also Kabasa’s genre-melting swan-song.
Cult Classic: Kabasa-African Sunset.