The bottom and top of this review is that this is a fantastic record but it’s not going to be for everyone. If music, to you, should be a three-and-a-half minute pleasure cruise, look away now; if you sometimes enjoy a discombobulating nine minute white-water rapids rush into the unfamiliar, Ngo Ma by IzangoMa is a must.

Ngo Ma by IzangoMa

Ngo Ma by IzangoMa

Like many children of the 80s, much of my experience of South African music pre Die Antwoord was Paul Simon’s Graceland. While I could write a whole article about the questions of cultural appropriation and exploitation of the South African musicians involved, there’s no question that Graceland opened western eyes to the quality and diversity of musical styles and the talent in the country at the time – including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, PJ Powers and Johnny Dyani.

It’s this kind of diversity which really strikes me about this album – each track has a real distinctive identity of its own, born out of different grooves, lyrical styles and a huge amount of musicality and range of instrumentation and deft arrangements, including more percussion than you shake a drumstick at, some great bass playing and everything from theremin, thumb harp, horns, solo saxophone, trumpet and flute to guitar, piano, synths and choral vocals.

Opener Agenda Remember starts with a piano and vocal drop like Fatboy Slim’s Praise You but swiftly develops (or degenerates?) into a sparse and shifting collage of isolated vocals, dissonant music and a field recording that sounds for all the world like your partner eating crisps next to you during that really tense part of the film.

We continue with the lo-fi vibe in Birds of a Feather where the beat drops like early Streets or Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, with the track overall sounding like an illegal rave in a working sleighbell factory. Time signatures mean nothing here and the word “hypnotic” does not do it justice.

City Lights makes good use of syncopated stereo clapping to give the track a frantic air, pulling the listener’s attention left and right in a baffling whirl. Think “the camera spins around our antihero cop, who has just lost his suspect in the back streets of 1970s Harlem” – that is until the vocals and horns take this more into the realm of Afrobeat (a la Fela Kuti) or a jazz jam over a shuffling highlife beat.

Le Nna Mfana has a much more direct and transparent proselytising vocal, addressing inequality, faith and the human condition. Accompanied by a Ron Burgundy-style jazz flute solo, it has the lyric-focussed intensity of a beat poetry recital.

Mgung u Ndlovu (no relation to former Coventry City striker Peter Ndlovu) takes us into BladeRunner territory, with jazz guitar and b-movie saxophone alternating over a bed of synths and atmospheric noise. It conjures images of intoxicated night-times in unfamiliar surroundings, possibly shortly after the AI apocalypse.



Q&A is a really interesting format for a song – it is exactly what the title suggests – the vocal lines are spoken word with the artist reading out and answering questions, like “what do you think of children?” “can you swim?” and “what colour are you?”. It brings a rare openness and insight into the person behind the music. While many artists aspire to connect with fans, particularly on social media, this format brings a real feeling of connection with the artist as a person and oozes honesty (whether that’s genuine or not).

Ngo Ma is the most tender and touching song, a well-developed narrative of multiple characters confronted by the tragedy of losing their mother, and realising too late “I wish I took the time to tell you I love you”.

I really enjoy the overall positivity and light of the lyrical content contrasted with music that is, much like our modern environment, over-stimulating, confusing and difficult to follow, but it’s a great listening experience that will continue to develop as the listener explores the dense textures and well-crafted songs.

Ngo Ma by IzangoMa will be released on 26th May 2023 via Brownswood Recordings.

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.