Liber8 records - news

By: Liber8  11-11-2011

South Africa is littered with stories of the 'previously disadvantaged' – so much so that the term has become more of human resources and empowerment catch phrase than anything else. Every now and again, however, stories emerge that highlight starkly, once again, just how savage the old South Africa was, and  how easy it has been for people to get caught in the crossfire of democratic transition.

Joe Nkwanyana has such a story. A self taught musician, born in 1952 into the Eshowe world of farm labour, Joe was one of the first black South Africans to record live, has appeared alongside Whitney Houston, written music for radio shows and penned many songs that have been used in stage productions across the country. Amongst many other achievements, over the years Joe has worked with the likes of Tu Nokwe, Lilian Dube and Menzi Ngubane, and also worked as a teacher on the now very famous Umoja stage production during the 1990s. To get to this level of influence, Joe spent a long period of time living an indigent life on the streets and facing up to the demons of unemployment. Eventually, however, he got into a position where he was able to earn a subsistence living through his music. Tragically, despite his widespread musical influence, Joe stayed cemented to the life of subsistence, albeit of a musical sort.

Today, Joe is flat broke and suffering from a terrible growth on his throat. He has never received any significant (in the loosest sense of the word) remuneration for his work over the years. Having recorded with Gallo in 1984 and watched his Maskandi album go unreleased, Joe swore never to record again, despite being one of South Africa's foremost composers, performers and teachers of Maskandi music.

In fact, today Joe has stopped music altogether. The growth on his throat has gone untreated and, combined with a lifetime of a hand to mouth musical existence, the 55 year old has put down his guitar for good.

Joe Nkwanyana is certainly not the only South African musician to contribute massively to the industry as a whole, whilst still being crushed under the weight of his own effort. One thinks immediately of the Solomon Linda and The Lion Sleeps Tonight debacle, but there are many others, especially composers and musicians working in traditional forms and idioms, whose styles and abilities have been recycled (without recognition or payment) into the Afro pop music and theatre productions people around the world know and love.

Liber8 Records, BKO Magazine and Unity Design believe that Joe should not be lost to music lovers and would love to see him pick up his guitar again. Before that can happen, however, Joe needs medical treatment (which costs money). He also urgently needs some form of recognition – a South African voice that will tell him that the country recognises, and is grateful for, his decades long contribution to South African music.

To this end, the Liber8 / Unity / BKO collective have put together an album of Joe Nkwanyana's work, which can be downloaded via This 11 track demo album costs R25. All money from sales go directly into Joe's bank account. With enough downloads of this incredible music Joe will be able to secure some of the funding needed to begin the medical process to deal with the growth on his throat  Possibly he will eventually pick up his guitar and begin composing music, and ultimately performing, again. That's the hope, anyway.

Joe's story of national neglect aside, the album, entitled ISILILO, stands on its own as a work of art, and is well worth the purchase price.

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