Review – Loyiso Bala preaches to the unconverted

2012-07-06 07:38

“You didn’t know you were coming to church today,” joked Loyiso Bala about two-thirds of the way through his once-off concert at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

He’s right, I make it a rule never to go to church. Though I don’t mind some great gospel music, I’d rather it didn’t come with prosthelytizing.

Most of the audience who bought tickets for this sold-out concert, mysteriously part of the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, was expecting a little sexy R&B before supper. What they got was something completely different.

In Bala’s defence, the official programme does say: “Known as South Africa’s ‘King of R&B’, Loyiso Bala has broadened his musical horizons to focus on gospel with his recent CD release. Though this might still lead the reader to expect a little of his new gospel tossed in among the seasoned R&B, with some pop on the side.

Bala, decked out in faded black jeans and a grey button-up shirt, took to the stage, joining his band of six and his trio of back-up singers as they set up a beat that promised his trademark sound.

The audience hooted and clapped in expectation. By the middle of the concert, people were starting to leave, one muttering about church and Jesus.

The second number introduced the theme of the evening, gospel.

Nice and up-tempo, it put a swing in the audience’s shoulders and a tap in their toes. So far so good, this celebratory number was catchy and the religious content comfortably couched in a killer beat, with fun lyrics delivered in Bala’s smooth, well-trained voice.

The next number, Sisonke, also had the audience good to go for the first verse or so; then it started to really get into hard-core gospel. By the fourth track I could close my eyes and imagine what it might be like to visit an evangelical church.

It is tough to not like Bala, despite the fact that the songs from Love Complete, his imminent gospel release from which these tracks come, deprived us of what we bought tickets to see.

There was a little personal history thrown in that made it almost worthwhile. For one, this is his first visit to the National Arts Festival, though he visited Grahamstown once before for a wedding.

He was, however, born and bred in the Eastern Cape town of Uitenhage and he tells the story of how he came to be a graduate of the Drakensburg Boys Choir.

He and his siblings were taken in by a distant cousin – a petrol attendant who was named as the best in the country. This accolade led to his bosses taking an interest and then giving the Bala children scholarships.

Bala, an award-winning singer, will probably be up for Samas next year for this offering, Love Complete, and his loyal fan base might well forgive him for replacing the sexiness with godliness, but it was disappointing to have a singer turn his stage into a soapbox without putting a warning on it first.

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