Amabutho – Sikelela

Sikelelais the eagerly anticipated debut album from these seven young men, who grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, and the dusty streets of the Johannesburg township of Soweto. Their name is taken from the term for a regiment of Zulu warriors, but Amabutho are, in fact, the gentlest of warriors. On Sikelela, they deliver a soulful message of peace and unity via the sweet sounds of marimba, percussion and effortless vocal harmonies.

Amabutho’s sound is built around the marimba. Most often described as a wooden variation of the xylophone, the marimba is a crucial component of many styles of South African music. In Amabutho’s skilled hands, it produces a sound that is simultaneously percussive and delightfully melodic. The group features lead, tenor and bass marimba players, augmented by conga drums, bass drums, djembe, shakers and cow bell.

Amabutho’s repertoire is called Imbube and Isicathamiya and is sung most prominently in Zulu. This art form originated from Southern African states who indulged in singing and dancing in the gold mine compounds around Johannesburg where they worked away from their homes and womenfolk.

On Sikelela, the group add a contemporary freshness to traditional South African music. Their original compositions (written by four different members) incorporate elements from Zulu, Xhosa and Tswana musical traditions. Lyrically, they deal with themes rooted in their daily reality, whether it be the crime that plagues their community, as on “Tsotsi (Gangster)”) or their spiritual faith, as on “Sikelela (Blessings). “That song is like a prayer, thanking Him for opening gates for us,” says Thabiso. The stirring message and uplifting music of “Theletsha Meropa (Listen To The Drums Of Africa)” possesses anthemic potential.