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June 28, 2017

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The Soil, new wave of South African a capella

SOWETO, South Africa--Rhythmic and perfectly harmonized, South Africa's up-and-coming vocal trio The Soil promise to be the 21st century's answer to their countrymen Ladysmith Black Mambazo, though none of them can read a note of music.

Running fast in the tracks of their forerunners, this next generation of township a capella bring their laid-back fusion of hip-hop, soul, jazz and afropop for the first time to the 15th Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which starts Friday.

No instruments, no music lessons, just three voices and local jazz inspiration, because that's all these 20-somethings had during their childhood in Soweto, Johannesburg's world-famous former blacks-only suburb.

"Growing up in Soweto, you can't just find a house with a piano, it's very rare to find a home with a set of drums sitting there," said Buhle Mda, 26, the group's only woman member.

"You just use what you have," she added, sporting vivacious bright red lipstick and black thick-rimmed glasses.

Luphindo "Master P" Ngxanga, 27, is the human beatbox, pumping out the rhythms with his mouth while playing air guitar — bass guitar, to be exact.

His 25-year-old brother, Ntsika, joins Buhle on vocals to complete the trio.

Their sound is modern with traditional influences, their look cheeky and confidently urbane, reaching far beyond their native Soweto.

They write the lyrics together — "Majority rules!" said Buhle — in English and Xhosa, and tell the story of life in a country where most people are under 25 years old and many don't have work.

'People relate'

"One percent fantasy and 99 percent reality," they touch on love, family, and community.

"We sing about daily occurrences, and living in South Africa. You get exposed to politics, to whatever, to love and things like that," said Buhle.

"Maybe we sing about poverty and how it has struck our communities, and we bring hope from those sad stories."

"And when it comes to those love songs we joke about things," explained Ntsika.

"And we take from experiences that maybe Buhle went through and Master P over there, or myself and we just make the song of that."

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