The Bala Brothers released their self-titled debut album with Warner Classics in March 2015, they perform an inspiring live program of music ranging from The Lion King to Paul Simon, with special guests The Drakensberg Boys’ Choir, in their hometown Johannesburg’s Lyric Theatre.
Songs on the album include the anthemic ‘Circle of Life’ from Elton John’s score for The Lion King, the Paul Simon hit ‘Under African Skies,’ from his seminal album Graceland, their own Xhosa-language love song ‘Masebuyelene’ and the album’s centerpiece: the anti-apartheid anthem ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’, a performance made all the more powerful by the presence of Winnie Mandela in the audience.
Three gifted South African brothers, lifted out of poverty through their sheer musical talent, and already stars in their own country, promise to become one of the most exciting new vocal trios to take the world stage.
It was older brother Zwai who forever changed the history of ‘the Drakkies’ when at age 12 he became the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir’s first black member. That is a dramatic story in itself, set in the darkest years of apartheid and pitting this young black child with an astonishing, once-in-a-generation voice against the wishes of some of the all-white choir, some of their parents, and the choir’s generally white audiences.
There was also resistance within the school faculty, but Zwai had at least one fierce supporter among them, Bunny Ashley-Botha, who was to become his music teacher. In the end, though, it was that voice and the boy with a personality like a force of nature that won him, and eventually his two very talented younger brothers, a place in the choir, and indeed, in the musical history of South Africa.
Growing up, the Bala’s home with its dirt floors and no electricity might have shown little promise as the birthplace of a musical dynasty, but if the family lacked in financial re- sources, it was rich with musical talent. The whole family sang. The Bala parents met singing in church choirs and quartets, the maternal grandfather was a choral composer who taught his grandsons basic musical skills at a very early age. By age five, Zwai was being called upon to help work out his grandfather’s arrangements. By age ten he had his own choir.
Before age 12, when he burst into the Drakensberg choir, Zwai had already won a national singing contest and was performing in his first professional stage production, making him the breadwinner of the family at age 13. At age 20 he was heading a million-selling rap trio and from there grew to become an all-round producer and arranger, recording artist and performer crossing many musical genres.
For second brother, Loyiso, also born with natural talent, it became clear that once he set his sights on a place in the Drakensberg choir, there would also be no way of stopping him. He joined the choir even earlier than his brother, at age ten.
Loyiso’s singing skills turned out to be matched by a talent for composing. So when at 16 he had a certified national hit performing his song, Girl Without A Name, it was to no one’s surprise; he had the Bala gift.
Loyiso has achieved his own place in South African music history by following his own path as a rhythm and blues and gospel singer/songwriter and producer. Loyiso serves as an official ambassador for Nelson Mandela’s charities and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ UNAids programme.
Third brother Phelo arrived in the family uncertain whether he had the same musical destiny as his brothers. Any doubt was laid to rest when he decided to apply to Drakensberg and won an audition. Phelo showed his own unique vocal talent, and became a valued member of the choir as a singer with an incredibly rich voice, and as the choir’s Head Chorister and Music Leader.
While his long-term ambition may arc toward performing opera and classical music, Phelo comes to the trio with already established credentials as a pop star in South Africa.
Combined, the Bala Brothers already experienced voices produce an authentic and joyful sound that transcends musical categories, in a wide range of repertoire, all grounded in their extraordinary African experience.