Mmegi Online :: That hidden Mango Groove in your Freshly Ground
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Last Updated
Friday 07 December 2018, 14:23 pm.
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That hidden Mango Groove in your Freshly Ground

Staff writer TSHIRELETSO MOTLOGELWA finds uncanny similarities between the hit fusion band Freshly Ground and the legendary predecessors, Mango Groove
By Staff Writer Sun 09 Dec 2018, 22:38 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: That hidden Mango Groove in your Freshly Ground








There is a Mango Groove in Freshly Ground. I swear. If you listen properly right there in the crevices of the groups' contemporised mish mash of southern African sounds, I swear Mango Groove sits smiling cheekily like a child, no, an older sister sort of, with a lollipop under the left cheek feigning innocence. The group that has become the soundtrack to sophisticated and cosmopolitan southern African youth bears an uncanny resemblance to that legendary band that made the sound to not just express but also soothe the Apartheid gloom. Of course, that is metaphorically speaking and metaphors sometimes cloud things. For a fact, Mango Groove drummer Peter Cohen is not with the group any more. Well, he is still banging drums somewhere, with another band called...well Freshly Ground, of course.

The two groups share a distinct history. They are generations apart and it is an understatement to say Mango Groove-era South Africa and Freshly Ground-era South Africa are different. They are worlds apart. The former was fraught with baton-wielding, machine-gun totting, kidnapping-obsessed security infrastructure. In 1983 an eclectic group of musicians from different musical influences came together in Johannesburg. The lead singer, Claire Johnston, is said to have joined the group in her last year of school. Johnston, a South African of European origin, became the face and voice of the group that at the time was the very embodiment of all that was anti-apartheid; multi-culturalism. The group looked and sounded multicultural. That penny whistle of Mduduzi Magwazi and the crystal clear and often not un-seductive voice of Johnston mingling together expressed a South African youth not prepared to be bound by the petty divisions based on the possession, or lack, of melanin. Mango Groove, as their partner-in-crime PJ Powers practised the fusing of all the South African musical influences into one when it was almost illegal let alone en-vogue at the time. Mango Groove, of course, in modern times would look like any other band in the post-apartheid South Africa, but in the South Africa of that time, the very existence of the group was revolutionary and visionary. Their multiculturalism expressed itself in the way the group's music fused marabi, kwela, pop, mbube, and everything else. On their website, the group acknowledges the difficulty this posed for those who wanted to categorise their music into established groups. "Many people have tried to define the Mango Groove sound, and have resorted to a host of adjectives and phrases to do this; Kwela/Marabi, Pop, SA Pop, Bing Band Swing Pop"...arguing that the sound is certainly eclectic. "This eclectism is primarily reflected in the extent to which Mango Groove has drawn on the rich legacy of South African urban music form from the '40s and 50s'.

But the similarities between Mango Groove and Freshly Ground seem to lie in their very differences. Mango Groove became the voice of young South Africa musicianship as much as Freshly Ground is. Freshly Ground expresses the youthful exuberance tapered with excellent musical artistry of post-apartheid South Africa as Mango Groove did for pre-democratic South Africa. It would be unfair to compare the musical legacy that Mango Groove has behind them with what Freshly Ground has garnered. Boasting such greats as Don Laka, Ringo Madlingozi, guitarist Mauritz Lotz and others, the group is a giant beyond comparison. This is no indictment on Freshly Ground either because all these artists largely found their greater heights during the height of Mango Groove's greatness.

The two are more similar than different. They are both led by hugely charismatic female lead singers, who are the faces of the two groups. Whether this is by

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design or not, the band members seem to become the background, the landscape on which the lead vocalist spans and by expressing herself, expresses the collective voice and personality of the group. In other words, Johnston's domination of the images in Moments Away music video works for the group for the very reason that the group has confidence that what she is, is what the group is. Those steeped in racial thought may have raised eyebrows at the time with such a white girl leading a South African band. Zolani Mahola occupies the same position in Freshly Ground. Her lovable almost child's like face and charming smile is the very personality of the band. So Johnston is to Mango Groove what Mahola is to Freshly Ground in more ways than just the role of lead vocalist; they are the visual signatures of their respective bands. Freshly Ground music's 'feel good' factor is also found in Mango Groove's deliveries. The smiling crew of young people enjoying themselves with limitless abandon in Freshly Ground's Doo Be Doo video the full version is no different to the scene from Mango Groove's Island Boy where the group members enact a wild summer party in the streets of an island. Both Mahola and Johnston deliver the sad lonely voices of lovers denied the presence of their loved ones.

In Moments Away Johnson lament: "You always said you would leave me/ without turning back/ youre so sure I could never endure/ with my emotions in tact/ You've such a sense of your confidence/ in my obsession with you/ I'd like to question those assumptions/ but baby it's true/ Moments away from these arms/ you'll always be moments away from these arms/ 'cos no matter what I do, no matter what I say/ you'll always be moments away from these arms".

This is the statement of a lover denied the intimacy she needs but there also exists a hopefulness, either of the ability to get over it all, or the return of the loved one. She would love to get over it because her lover knows she would not but she also implicitly and secretly would love for him to return. It is loving in its most painful form, unrequited. 
Mahola watches helplessly as the person she loves and desires lives his/her life, unaware of the unknown, and thus unrequited, love within her. She wonders, "What would you do if I kissed you?/ What would you do if I held your hand and laid you down?/ Would you find me overly unkind to you?/ Would you call me insensitive, and say that I deserve to die?/ What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside?/ What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?/ I' d like to call you sometime...What would you do if you knew the truth?". She is in the same situation as Johnston finding herself wanting the unavailable.

Mango Groove in their hey-day sold more copies than many. Their success was unrivalled. On their website they indicate that they were the first to sell out the Sun City Superbowl and the Standard Bank Arena six times each.

There is no question that Mango Groove was the voice of apartheid and immediate post-apartheid South Africa's youth. When they came here, Freshly Ground sold out both shows at Maitisong and GICC. Some could argue that, were they to come here they would do that again, and again and again, because they truly express the collective musical identity of the sub-continent's cosmopolitan youth. And there lies the Mango Groove in your Freshly Ground. 

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