Cape Town - For a city as magical as Johannesburg is, it takes a great deal of artistry to capture the sound of the city through music in a way that is not contrived. After all, how does one take a Melville picnic, or a wine session in Rosebank and wrap the experience into a song?
Music legends have succeeded at this in the past, but there is not a vast pool of music that captures the millennial's experience of the city today.
Thobeofheart (born Thobekani Dhlamini) is from KwaZulu-Natal, but the R&B artist wears the influence of Johannesburg on his life with unabashed candour.While he has managed to keep a low profile, Thobeofheart has four other projects under his belt.
He has left quite a back catalogue to refer to, before or after diving into his latest offering, III (three). On III, Thobe explores the highs and pitfalls of love and hustle in the big city. The Lebo Tladi cover art for III is an art piece depicting waves crashing on half of the image and plain white on the other – capturing turbulence in the middle of the structure.The album starts off on a high note with Again.
The Juice the Giant-produced track uses soul interpolations on an instrumental that literally feels like a fresh beginning. But Thobe's lyrics on Again, in sharp and perhaps intentional contrast, are a lament of tired arguments and the mundane slog and grind of Jozi life.In Summer, has found the December of 2019 as an ideal point of entry, as the album's left-field party jam.
A dark synth that hovers over the OA-produced beat, reminiscent of sonic landscapes from past kwaito records. So Many Words keeps the momentum up. Right after that, the listener is thrust into Chasing Blues, a tearful monologue interlude with a guitar solo. The listener hears the voice of a man leaving multiple voicemails for a love who has long since forgotten about him. He learns how over him she is in slow, heartbreaking pieces. Start Again is the musical highlight of the entire album, even though it is written and performed like a reprise. Longing follows, maintaining the high standard. The forlorn vocals on Be Without You are a fitting outro to a brief but fulfilling, well-thought-out album. R&B and neo-soul fans will love this unapologetic Jozi R&B, which spins stories but does not forget that it ultimately needs to sound good.Those who are familiar with Thobeofheart's catalogue may prefer another of his albums for sentimental reasons, but III is Thobe at the hitherto heights of his vocal, sonic and creative powers.
Photograph by Lonwabo Zimela
Cover illustration by Lebo Tladi