Interview: Sibusile Xaba Shares The Creative Process Behind His Debut Album

South Africa guitarist and songwriter, Sibusile Xaba takes you on an enchanting journey through time and space on his new double disc album, Open Letter to Adoniah and Unlearning. The debut album, released via independent label and incubator, Mushroom Hour Half Hour is an amazing project rooted in the freedom of improvisation and spirituality which addresses issues of maturity and mythology. This spellbinding piece of music is definitely one of the most bewitching and exciting records you would hear for a long time to come.

Sibusile Xaba, approaches each melody for a sincere and honest perspective in his composition, such that no note feels laboured or rushed. Rather, he intentionally builds up tension in the skeletal nature of his songs so his lyrics reverberate deep within the listeners. Indeed, this “genreless” approach, as it is described, represent a bold shift in the direction of folk sing. With a unique and ageless sound, this album clears a sacred groove in the afro soul and folk soundscapes where transcendent sounds become sources of healing. You drift towards the serenading bliss in the artist’s voice carefully on each song as he examines and rearranges melodic patterns. Being a double disc project as well, each half complements the next. Where on one tape, Unlearning, you feel experience the process of sonic reduction and improvisation that led to the birth of the sound. And on other half, Open Letter to Adoniah, he finds the perfect utility by addressing the world vicariously though his daughter, the subject.

Due to the magnitude of the project and bravery exhibited, we reached out to Sibusile Xaba to share how this magnificent body of work came to be. He share’s with DANDANO the elements, from recoding outdoors to being spiritual at heart, that birth this brilliant musical journey below.


Dandano: How would you describe your sound in three words to a potential fan?

Sibusile Xaba: Heart to Heart (music)

Dandano: Listening to the project I found that both sides, Open Letter to Adoniah and Unlearning, are unique and connected. Where Unlearning to me is the process of discovering the sound and Letter to Adoniah is where you find the perfect utility of the sound you have developed. Everything is transient and peaceful sounds evolve quickly into rousing melodies. Where did this peculiar style evolve from?

Sibusile Xaba: The music literally came while I was asleep, I feel I’m fortunate or lucky to have heard the depth of the message and the importance of it been shared, also to “overstand” & accept the complexity of simplicity…I can’t really explain it, but I feel like it’s ok to be me, I’m not afraid to be me, that said music is just an extension of me…“It is I who decides which I is it I’m referring to when I say I” – One Giant Leap (just thought of sharing this quote, sharing is caring right 🙂 …)

Sibusile Xaba 9 (Photo by Harness Hamese).jpg

Dandano: Listening to both sides of the LP you get a sense that the music or inspiration for your sounds come from a spiritual perspective, particularly in the way they’re arranged. For someone who doesn’t understand, do your lyrics also reflect spirituality?

Sibusile Xaba: As an Afrikan child spirituality has never been an external factor… I feel spirituality is always direct and for me/us it’s just another way of everyday life (in the past, present and the future, spiritually is always there). My lineage has always embraced and acknowledged the existence / importance of the spirit hence we talk to the spirit consistently (we feed the spirit). So for me we share these messages (lyrics) to engage the spirit, to heal the spirits of mankind (or to simply give it its food)…

Dandano: Songs like Nomaphupho tend to be very skeletal and you rely on your vocal dexterity a lot on the tape to create counter melodies to your guitar. What other instruments did you use in recording and why were you drawn towards those sounds??

Sibusile Xaba: The setup was a trio, I love this trio, it has an amazingly big sound, sounds so full yet maintaining sufficient space for breathing. The musicians were Mwanganei Magagula – Djembe & Toys, Thabang Tabane – Congas, Malombo drums & Voice and myself – Guitars, Sounds & Nomaphupho (the pipe)…Other important elements used was nature (recording outdoor), I wanted to use the natural environment, specifically natural spaces as means to help get a particular energy, a certain feeling per say. I knew that specific locations would contribute a specific sound; and that’s exactly what we’re looking for…I guess nature has a certain frequency which we wanted & I believed we found in nature.

Sibusile Xaba 5 (Photo by Harness Hamese).jpg

Dandano: Where does this project stand in relation to the to the alternative Jazz scene in South Africa ? How do you feel your album would impact the genre?

Sibusile Xaba: I don’t see myself or my music in that regard, I really can’t say where does this project stands in the “alternative Jazz scene” in SA and how would it impact the genre, what I can say is that the project will have great impact in people’s inner dimensions (soul) and that’s all it’s about for me and the people involved in this offering (project).

Dandano: I doubt many listeners outside South Africa would be familiar with this sound but would be welcoming for the bravery and sheer brilliance you have exhibited. What are your expectations for the tape?

Sibusile Xaba: I hope people lend it an ear…The message is clear, just listen…

Dandano: The tape was also accompanied by an animated album cover. Will there perhaps be similar tech-inspired accompaniments to the tape?

Sibusile Xaba: Inshallah.

Sibusile Xaba 1 (Photo by Harness Hamese).jpg

Open Letter to Adoniah and Unlearning are out in South Africa but will be released internationally on July 14. Pre-order the album here!

Conducted by: Hakeem Adam

Photo Credit: Harness Hamese

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