On a lot of the tracks on Izinyoke (translation: Snakes), the fourth album by Kwaito Y radio personality and popular enigma Mzekezeke, you could swear he was actually trying to sound scary. His raucous, hissing vocals often seem to deliberately scuff the edges of the danceable, beefy kwaito beats.
The stomping "Anglipheli'moya" and "Ratlala 2005" (featuring the super hot rap star Mdu) are a couple of real party highlights. Mzekezeke's hip status as a Jozi cultural icon, and his resulting crossover appeal means he'll be flooding the dance floors with all sorts... including those who don't have the faintest clue what he's saying.
Yep, there's not much English on this album. Well, there's a bit. On the opening track, a spoken word piece, each verse ends with the words "No, I don't touch English." To the linguistically disadvantaged among us, this may not matter. Mzeke's musical energy, combined with snippets of flailing comprehension, was good enough to hook me most of the time. They say a great tune conquers all, and it's true.
Not everything on Izinyoke is all that fantastic. "Mzeke I'm scared of you" (featuring the vocal talents of ex Coca-Cola pop star Zoe) is a rather clumsy romantic tussle of a duet that doesn't quite work despite amusing moments, mainly because it's just too repetitive and longwinded. Also the interludes and bits of recorded conversation - fun the first few times you hear them - aren't so much of a party on the tenth play.
But remember: Mzeke isn't just a muso, he represents much more.
In South Africa he never appears publicly without his mask, which he claims he wears to show it's not good looks and identity that make a star, but talent, hard work and active faith. In a brilliant public stunt, Mzeke's mother was also interviewed wearing a hood. In another, he's rumoured to have walked around without it in London with fellow Kwaito star Brown Dash. The fact that this nonsense makes the papers is some indication of how effective his publicity ploy has been.
Of course, an interesting side effect of the hood is that Mzeke looks like he might be about to hold up a corner cafe. And in keeping with this very "street" image, he light-heartedly embraces South African second language speaker's language and grammar (For example, check out the quote from the album sleeve text above.)
Mzekezeke will probably go platinum again with Izinyoke - as much for the music as because it's such a great conversation piece.
NOTE: Mzekezeke's "hood" publicity stunt is apparently partly copied from funky afrobeat star, Nigerian saxophonist Lagbaja - see second picture on the left. Just so you know.
- Jean Barker
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