On one of the coldest days in winter last year, 20 women were summoned to Constitution Hill to shoot a music video for a song we had never heard and to our surprise, wouldn’t hear until the release of the album and music video. It was our trust in the brilliance of both band and director that led us to participating with not much to question about the vision and the music.
Urban Village, a South African band signed to French label, No Format Records, consists of Tubatsi Moloi (lead vocals, flute, mbira and guitar), Lerato Lichaba (guitar & backing vocals), Simangaliso Dalmini (Bass) and Xolani Mtshali (drums & backing vocals). They have been performing on local and international stages for many years and have critical acclaim from international platforms such as Uncut, which is why this album, Udondolo, is highly anticipated. The album is a mixture of songs that we have heard as they graced the stages of AfroPunk, Fête de la Musique and more intimate spaces such as Untitled Basement in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. These songs include ‘Sakhisizwe’, ‘Izivunguvungu’ which was released in 2019 and ‘Ubaba’ whose music video was released last year.
Justice Mukheli was entrusted with directing both ‘Ubaba’ and ‘Dindi’ on very cold days that followed each other. He called upon Kwanda 'MacPherson' Hlatshwayo as Director of Photography (DOP) to execute the vision to celebrate dark skinned women who are often overlooked due to whitewashed beauty standards. The song and music video is a series of moving portraits in Justice Mukheli’s signature photographic style and the women are showcased in their diverse personalities, cultures and style. The album and ‘Dindi’ music video were released today on Youtube and other major music services.
We asked Urban Village, Justice Mukheli and Kwanda Hlatshwayo a few questions about the album, Udondolo and their latest ‘Dindi’ music video release.
We have seen Urban Village perform for several years on local and international stages, including some of the songs on this album, which makes it an uncommon occurrence, as most artists are secretive with the progress of their upcoming projects. How did you navigate the process of making the album and how long has it taken?
As you mention, we have been playing live around South Africa and Southern Africa for several years and our fans have been asking for a full-length album (we independently released an EP ‘Bantu Art’ in 2017 on a limited CD run), we didn’t want to feel rushed and wanted to follow the organic process of the band. When we signed with Akum Agency at the end of 2018, it was one of the first conversations we had about ‘steps forward’ as a band, around the same time we started talking with Laurent and Thibaut Nø Førmat! a French label who has worked with amazing artists such as Oumou Sangare, Blicky Bassy etc. We were excited to be the first Southern African artist to sign with the label, throughout the whole process from then to now they have been supportive of our artistic vision and creative process.
In March 2019 we had two weeks pre-production at Nirox Foundation with French producer Frederic Soulard, where we shortlisted songs that South Africa fans have loved seeing live and started writing new songs to round out the album. In May, we had another 10 days at Figure of 8 Studio in Randburg and the final recording session was split across two weeks in June/July 2019 at the renowned Downtown Studio in Johannesburg CBD and Figure of 8 once again.
Originally the album was planned for release in May/June 2020 but then COVID came into our lives and we had to adjust. Pushing back the album allowed us to gather all the assets and team in place for a strong release. We are excited for ‘Udondolo’ to be released into the world this Friday 22 Jan.
What is the significance of the walking stick (Udondolo) to the band? Is there a journey that you are taking the listeners on?
The significance behind “Udondolo” is to resemble wisdom that we have gained as a collective in the different journeys we have travelled to get to where we are currently. Yes, we don’t only take them on a journey but to also to encourage, motivate, entertain as well as awaken cultural and traditional consciousness.
The meaning behind the title of the album is a resemblance of maturity and everlasting growth in wisdom. As our first offering to the world, we wanted to take listeners on a journey of Southern Africa, with Urban Village the bridge between the ‘rural’ and the ‘urban’ in a celebration of the cultures, identities and languages of our home Soweto.
For the sake of oral tradition, and keeping the history of Sophiatown and Kliptown alive, please tell us the history of the term “Dark Dindy”.
"Dindi" more accurately put Dark-Dindi was a colloquial term, which describes people who are dark-skinned, during apartheid, it was a term used a lot in the townships, largely towards women.
“Dindi” is a celebration of dark-skinned women, embracing and celebrating their dark complexion. Why did you feel the importance to address the issue of colourism with this song?
This song is about Black Pride, an awakening for people being raised and brought up under a certain oppression, where dark-skinned people, especially young women, attempted to bleach their skin in and whiten their pigment to be accepted as beautiful. The song promotes pride in the very skin that they are in, no matter the shade and texture.
In 2021, colourism and race is still an issue in South Africa and across the globe. As Urban Village, we see our music as a role to not only celebrate our cultures but to address key issues we are facing.
There are heavy Maskandi, Mbhaqanga and Marabi elements mixed with electronic touches in the album. Who were your greatest musical influences when making the album?
The sound of Urban Village is layered with elements of folk, maskandi, rock, jazz, a blend of the modern and the traditional. Growing up in Soweto played a major role in how we merge the folk/indigenous sounds and the experimental-modern world music sound. Keeping the identity is the deliberate delivery, as we are messengers of our culture's values.
As a collective, we are all influenced by different artists and genres, but just to mention a few: Busi Mhlongo, Dr Phillip Tabane, Madala Kunene, Oumou Sangare, Fela Kuti, Mahlatini, Makgona Tsohle Band, Lady Smith Black Mambazo, Paul Simon, Bakithi Khumalo and many more.
We often see artists and bands writing songs that are dedicated to mothers as you have in Izivunguvungu, but you have also dedicated one to fathers in “uBaba”. You have chosen to celebrate fathers who are present in their children’s lives. In what ways do you hope that highlighting the positivity of paternal presence in Black lives will disrupt and change the current state of Black fatherhood for the next generation?
Ubaba highlights that Father figures are not just the paternal Father, in a lot of instances it is an Uncle, Grandfather or other relatives filling the breach. South Africa has a lot of healing to do from apartheid, one of the key issues of healing is the having Fathers who are present, who show love and care to their children and families.
Our aim with this song and the video from Justice Mukheli is to shine a light on the different roles Fathers play and we hope by shining a spotlight back to them, it will challenge the current and next generation of Cuba's to be present and to love.
Justice Mukheli (Director): Dindi Music Video
Justice, you showcase a variety of Black women in “Dindi”. What was the inspiration behind not only celebrating dark skinned women but also showcasing them in their different African nationalities, cultures and style? What did you hope to achieve when depicting them in their diversity?
Thank you for this wonderful question. To be completely honest, the premise of the idea came from Laurent. He played me the song and asked me if I would be keen to make a video for it but he also said that when he heard the song, he imagined my photographic portraits, but only this time they would be moving. Then I thought to myself that it’s such a beautiful approach. The concept could speak to the song so well without over conceptualising and complicating the idea. The song is so beautiful - the song itself is a celebration of black women and what better way is there to celebrate them? So from that point I connected to the idea of creating a simple film that is just a celebration of black women in all of their difference, personally and culturally.
The word ‘Dindi’ is so beautiful and powerful – I grew up using it ekasi, where we celebrate Black beauty. It’s such a strong, powerful and descriptive of our Black women. It was beautiful to breathe life into the word and the song, celebrating these beautiful women. My intention was to redefine what beauty is because beauty, in a lot of ways, is defined by what society says it should be. Beauty is diverse. Dindi is not one type of woman and I had to reflect that in the film.
The process of filmmaking has to have been affected by new precautionary procedures that took up time on set, spatial awareness that affected blocking and storyline, and strict hygiene. How did you stay positive and driven to finish the project when facing brand new challenges brought about by the pandemic?
At the time of shooting, because Covid was so worrying, the world had not yet come to grips with how to move around it, but I had a supportive team, you know? My team from Bomb Commercials: Mark, art director Bobby, Shelly the stylist, Kwanda and Motheo (Moeng) came also… Everyone on the team had already worked under the constraints so we took the lessons from previous jobs and applied to this music video’s approach and process. When we were writing, we also had that in mind because it all happened at the height of the pandemic so I was aware and prepared for the challenges. It didn’t affect the storyline because we were writing in light of the times. It was an interesting time to work.
Kwanda MacPherson (Cinematographer): Dindi Music Video
Kwanda, your technical skills and Justice Mukheli’s artistic vision come together to create a visual narrative in the “Dindi” music video. What is the essence of your point of view and how does it influence how you depict Black women?
Justice and I are very technical with our work but when we come together, we lean more towards what feels right and what best represents a moment we’re trying to capture.
My memories and the past are the essence of my work. I know and I'm aware of how my mother and sister are depicted in society. My work aims to dignify and change the narrative of how the world perceives African beauty in all shapes, shades and sizes. Most importantly, it aims to impact how we see ourselves and aspire to do great.
What did you enjoy most about telling the story of dark skinned women when making “Dindi”?
Most of the people on the set are friendly and funny, we had a great time working together and I learned a lot about resilience from the women and team. I enjoyed the various challenges of shooting in a wrecked building on one of the coldest day of the year. The building’s character gave us an opportunity to unearth each individual’s uniqueness in frame.
Interview: Thando Khumalo
Photography: Justice Mukheli