Life Soundtrack: Blk Sonshine ‘s Building

A friend was heading out for the night to the legendary Club 206 in Orange Grove to see ‘some new group called Blk Sonshine” and wanted to know if I would like to join him. I tagged along not knowing that this would be the start of a journey into the world of poetry and the Arts. I had been writing poetry for most of my life but it was more for therapy and never made it beyond my notebooks and the few friends I would let read.

Blk Sonshine ‘s Birth

Blk Sonshine was Malawian-American singer/songwriter Masauko and Soweto-born composer and librettist Neo Muyanga. Masauko was visiting South Africa and legend has it that the two connected at another legendary event, Monday Blues. Monday Blues, created and run by the late Peter Makurube, as a session that, over the years, ran in different venues around the city. It was the ultimate jam session and an open mic where, on any night, there would be poetry, music, and song, often intertwining and collaborating. As a side note, I once watched Moses Taiwa Molelekwa jam for over an hour on a Monday Blues stage at the Radium Beer Hall, also in Orange Grove.

Watching that first performance of Blk Sonshine had me hooked. Wherever they were playing in the city, I was there, entranced by the beautiful acoustic marriage of hip hop, pop, jazz, folk, funk and reggae sounds. Often, while they performed, artist Nico Phooko would be on stage painting, inspired by the music. The painting would then be auctioned off at the end of the show.

Building

There are performances that will always stay with me. One was a warm Sunday afternoon at the reggae club Tandoor in Yeoville – where I was staying at the time. They introduced the group Roots 2000 who performed before they did. Roots 2000 consisted of singer MXO and songwriter and guitarist SLIQ ANGEL, both from the Eastern Cape, with a sound similar to Blk Sonshine, but also infused with the uniqueness of MXO and Sliq.

The second performance was the one that started my short career as a performance poet. I had been commissioned by the Features Editor at Cosmpolitan magazine to write some music articles. I sold the idea of Blk Sonshine and, when I contacted Neo about doing the interview, he suggested we do it at a venue where they were going to be performing – Jungle Connection in Doornfontein.

Poetry In Sound

For those part of the early years of the Joburg’s poetry scene, after the first democratic elections in South Africa, Jungle Connection will always have a special place. It was the spot that put poets on and ignited a wave of shows – of which I ran a couple, at 206, Bassline in Melville and Cool Runnings. I also discovered that the person who ran the poetry sessions at Jungle Connection – Julius Makweru – was someone I knew from growing up in Maseru. This was the start of my poetry journey.

Blk Sonshine’s first, and self-titled album, will always have a special place for me. It reminds me of an era in Joburg’s art scene. The first single Born In A Taxi was infectious and opened a lot of people up to what it was the many of us on the ‘underground scene’ loved about them. Building was the second single and epitomised the spirit with which Neo and Masauko navigated the world – open, giving, creative, soulful.

While Masauko travelled between the US and South Africa during this, they were still able to release a second album Good Life. Since this period, they have each gone onto work independently of each other and, while I would love nothing more than to see them together, both their individual work and the legacy of Blk Sonshine are more than enough. I did get to see them come together some years back to perform at Bassline in Newtown. A couple of lifetimes had passed since we were all traversing the city, sharing, building and living. It was beautiful to reconnect with nostalgia but also to celebrate how we have all grown and created and live wholeheartedly.

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