(From the book story of SA Jazz Volume One)
Madala Kunene is a Zulu guitarist playing his own style of music Madalaline. It is based on melody and traditional composition. Madala is often given the title ‘King of Zulu guitar’, however his music expands far beyond the traditional maskanda. His music is of universal appeal. It has a jazz influence, a reggae influence and many other influences.
Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Cato Manor. He refused to spend so much as a day at school. He started busking on Durban’s beachfront at the age of 7, making his first guitar out of a cooking oil tin and fish gut for the strings, soon becoming a popular performer in the townships. He said: “It was my ancestors that didn’t want me to go to school. They gave me a talent so that instead of school, I played my music”.
Madala grew up in uMkhumbane, the cultural hotspot of the 50s. He grew up, amongst a plethora of other musicians. Musically this influence would have brought a massive variety of sights and sounds to him as a young child. Madala began paving his own path and creating his own unique sound from the word go. This is what he today calls Madalaline. He wanted to touch the world with his music. By the age of 7 he was playing a homemade guitar and about to begin a lifelong career as a musician. He began busking on Durban’s beachfront in the late 50s. Durban was at its most pristine.
It was a Cuba of that era with the sea running right up to the rocks that neighboured the roads. Durban beachfront was a multi coloured array of people and cultures trading and enjoying the lovely cool spray from the warm Indian Ocean as they walked the promenades, taking rickshaws, perusing bead craft and listening to the young buskers that Madala joined. To this day there is a tradition of busking on the beachfront. Madala and his great friend, Syd Kitchen shared an amazing history and lived experience that would eventually lead to an extended collaboration. The two Bafo’s (friends) performed and recorded together as Bafo Bafo. Unfortunately Syd Kitchen passed away shortly after he was married for the first time. He was in his fifties! “Death is life lived halfway!” explained photographer Peter McKenzie when we heard the news. At some point of both these musicians careers, they made their daily bread from busking on Durban’s beachfront. That takes incredible faith. But they did it. Madala’s music continues to tell his amazing story of the life of a true blue Zulu Gypsy musician, like Manu Chau. Madala can be recognised in performance throughout the world through his multi coloured and typically African attire. Madala was recorded extensively by Melt2000.
When record producer Robert Trunz arrived in Africa from England (and the Swiss Alps before that) he found an incredibly new world. He changed radically. He became a multi coloured man with an African understanding of spirituality and a flare for bright coloured dress. Madala gave Robert many great recordings and Robert gave Madala a house in Queensborough not far from where he grew up and where he lives to this day. This was a defining moment of Madala’s career for it was during these years that he formed a distinctive international presentation of his music that fits under the definition Madalaline.
Sometimes it may only be two chords, but it is the music of Madala, what he has been playing from his very first days as a musician. Madala is a Zulu word for old man, an indication of the wisdom of this man, more than the age because Madala has a youthful exuberance and a childlike humour. He is able to make one laugh and smile regardless of one’s age.