Halftime Leisure

The Soil: God, soul-pop, and the culture of South Africa

September 3, 2015

While in Cape Town this summer, I heard the South African acapella group The Soil’s new album blaring everywhere I went, from the insides of taxicabs, to farmers’ market shops, to the elementary school where I taught. The songs are a unique blend of  English and South Africa’s numerous indigenous languages, such as Zulu, isiXhosa, and Cosa. Despite language barriers, the group has managed to attract quite the diverse following across South Africa.

A group of 25 high school students living in Soweto Johannesburg created the acapella group in 2003. Over the years its size has dwindled to three members: Buhlebendalo Mda and brothers Luphindo and Ntsika Ngxanga. The group claims to be comprised of four members, its fourth being God. Many of The Soil’s songs have a religious component, and the group views their music as a way to connect with God.

The Soil is referred to as Kasi Soul music group (Kasi referrers to the townships that exist throughout South Africa).  The group’s songs mix vocal styles of South Africa’s black townships with contemporary hip-hop, pop, soul, and jazz. Lyrics breach real issues and problems facing the townships, such as poverty and violence. The group also sings songs that are relatable throughout the world. For example, in their song “Inkomo” they sing of a father not wanting his daughter to marry her love, and in their song “Sunday” they sing of two strangers meeting and falling in love, but the girl having to leave later that day.

Even though many of the songs are in languages I don’t understand about problems I have never faced, I found it easy to connect with the music. The harmonies are beautiful, the beat-boxing is fun, and the songs radiate so much emotion and feeling that I was drawn in immediately to The Soil’s distinctive sound.

The Soil released their self-titled album in 2011. The album sold over 50,000 copies, achieving platinum status. The acapella group released their newest album, Nostalgic Moments, in 2014. The ten year olds I worked with had memorized all the lines to the album’s most popular song, “Susan”, and continually sang the song to me. The song is warm and harmonious, and embodies the feel of the whole album.

Ntsika says that The Soil sees its music as “melodic medication for people’s souls”.  In their song “We Are One (Celebrate Humanity)” they ask the listener to “Celebrate Humanity, And when you love, Love Unconditionally, Better World Begins with a smile, Go out there and give it a try”. The Soil is using their musical gift to create happiness and strength throughout their nation. And when I listened to their music for only an hour, I found myself to be feeling happier and more interested in doing good than I previously was.

Photo: afropopmag.com

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