Suthukazi Arosi
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Suthukazi Arosi


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The best kept secret in music


"Performance Review"

2005 Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Published: March 31, 2005
By Nils Jacobson

Suthukazi Arosi

It was African diva night at Kippie's Stage, and South Africa's own Suthukazi Arosi was first up. Not a lot of people made it to her show, probably more a reflection of the early hour (5pm) than her overall popularity here. Arosi likes to be known as a sort of renaissance artist—dancer, model, actor, and musician—and while I'm not familiar with her work in the other roles, she definitely brings a flair for drama, poses, and motion to the musical stage. (Especially when cameras are near, not surprisingly.)

Arosi's latest record, The Journey, placed her powerful voice in the hands of producer D-Rex for a polished set of moving, emotionally connected jams. I was curious to see whether she could make the studio act work in live performance; she brought back the magic, sure enough.

The backing musicians provided the necessary lush foundations but didn't intrude upon center stage, offering deference to the star of the show. But guitarist Phumelele Dolosi had an occasional sharp edge, relatively rare in a mostly smooth South African guitar world, which helped push the energy up a notch or two at key moments.

There's little compromise about Suthukazi Arosi's music, and its striking spiritual intensity—centered, of course, around her own piercing voice—has a glowing, magnetic quality. With her hyper-confident delivery, she's all about entry, sustain, and climax, but within a loosely rhythmic, gospel-influenced context it feels flowing and natural.

On stage, Arosi takes up a lot of space but doesn't waste energy with hyperkinetic motion. Posing with a big round black bowl (whose special significance I was unable to ascertain), she arched her neck and lifted her leg, then stepped away and twisted in a different direction. If you consider these moves dance, it's more interpretive and modern than the usual rhythmic sort. Still, not knowing what the singer would do next, you couldn't help but pay close attention.

Unfortunately the techies really screwed up the sound. Anyone who appreciates what Suthukazi Arosi does should know that she's got a piercing enough voice to get the point across without boosted treble and eardrum-splitting volume. After a few minutes it became clear that I was going to sustain hearing damage if I didn't do something about the situation, so I tore a ten-rand note in half in order to crumple up the pieces and create makeshift earplugs.

- All About Jazz- Nils Jacobson

"CD Review: The Journey"

CD Review: The Journey

by Dave Oliver, 07 Feb 2005

Suthukazi Arosi

Where’s the law that says that pop music as consumed by the astute listeners of these fair isles (that's you, by the way) should be either home-produced or from our special relationship chums in the good old US of A? You'll look long and hard before you find one, but the odd noodling of Euro electronica aside, that's generally what we get.

So Suthukazi Arosi is a name you probably won't have heard, and one you're unlikely to hear uttered on Top Of The Pops or outside of some 'world music' frame/stockade. For her fourth album under her own name, the multitalented South African singer, dancer, composer and lyricist has opted for a smoother, more sophisticated sound than 2001's 'Ubuntu'. While there are echoes of traditional rhythms and melodies, the production is strictly modern R'n'B. Smooth almost to a fault (it's not polished to quite the soulless shine of Destiny's McChild, but then, what is?), it centres around electronic drum patterns featuring African rhythms and the effervescent guitar of Bheki Khoza. The traditional instruments that featured on her previous albums have largely been left behind, and with them perhaps some of her edge.

That exceptional voice remains though, flexing from strangulated gasps on 'Soka Lami' to proclamatory cry on 'Shenxa', overdubbed as a choir on 'Gxum Ubhekele' and offering breathy, ethereal chants on 'Mama Yo'. The words are mostly in her own Xhosa dialect, but the stories of abused women and broken families outlined on the sleeve notes are belied by the rhythms which are upful almost entirely throughout, with a bounce and verve that rarely flags. 'Ulusana Lwami' has a hook that in a just world would be blaring out of every transistor radio or car window, as should the toe-tapping chorus of 'Africa Unite'.

The bling quotient is low, the soul spirit high, and it doesn't sound as exotic even as Paul Simon's ventures to the southern hemisphere. Seek it, and you’ll find a pop gem that deserves to be heard more widely.

- Playlouder

"CD Review: Ubuntu"

CD Review: Ubuntu
by Javier Antonio Ouinones Ortiz

Suthukazi Arosi

Mythical characters arise out of the aspirations and fears of people and such figures end up conforming the dreamy inroads of inspiration into music. On the cover of uBuntu appears a warrior-like personage that could very well sing her way into the pantheon of ancestral spirits that reigns, according to many honorable local traditions, over African music. Behold composer, lyricist and singer Suthukazi Arosi. It is hoped that her dark knobkerrie will not hit you in the head, like the literary character MaMsomi was, in order to take you into the cave of renewed musical tastes, searching for our fabled common humanity through this recording. That, after all, is what Arosi is looking for, a common humanity all the way through a sound that moves, pleases, inspires and soothes.

South Africans do not concern themselves too much with fitting their tuneful lives and lexis into easy labels, hence the stew of influences present in Arosi’s Jazzy and rootsy recording. Musically speaking this CD is a deft hunt for melody and harmony, through several stimuli. The sax lines on the opening cut, for example, are as embedded in Jazz as they are in the strapping Pop that thrives throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. An occasional acoustic piano, accompanied by superb rhythmic support throughout the album, serves Arosi’s indomitable vocalizations rather well. Her African /I> readily conveys passion, emotion, depth, happiness and hope. Tradition, most obviously expressed through the lead and back up vocal work, does not have to exclude the advances brought about by technology. Its sparse use in the album complements the colorful palette that this striking actress offers on a graceful acoustic bed made by musicians that can keep plenty of swing and groove going through it all.

As in any type of art, the touches matter most. Arosi’s production values infuse a breath of life into a program of implementation that, along with the support of Andile Yenana and Herbie Tsoaeli, shaped the musical feel or air of this recording. Such is the way in which mythical characters become living messengers of critical communications of hope, challenge, as well as life and fun. After uBuntu you will love Africa, people, life and Arosi much more. Her breath of life can touch you…
- All About Jazz

"CD Review: Ubuntu"

Review by Mark Hudson, 22 March 2004

Since the end of apartheid, the lid has exploded off South African music. External influences have flooded in, with a respectable flow of interesting music seeping out. Yet while white minority rule saw many great musicians exiled, its divide-and-rule policies allowed all kinds of neo-traditional sounds to flourish, from miners' choral groups and Zulu mouthbow music to the loping rhythms of township jive. Is internationalisation endangering South Africa's many distinctive musical identities?

Judging by this third album from Johannesburg diva Suthukazi Arosi, the traditional spirit is thriving - if far more knowingly than before. Arosi's ripe, powerfully soulful voice brings together elements of gospel, jazz and traditional singing over driving township grooves - slipping in phrases from the silkily jazzy to the throatily shamanic. But earthy this album isn't.

Arosi and her arrangers have drawn the many influences into a highly manicured and, it must be said, very satisfying whole. Yet the beautifully spacious and distinctively South African piano phrasing and Arosi's own superb singing make you constantly aware of how much precious distinctiveness this music has to lose.

"CD Review: Ubuntu"

Suthukazi Arosi


2001, Contributed by: Banning Eyre for

A new name in South African pop is giving that country's musical exports a run for their money. With a contemporary, jazz-informed roots sound, Suthukazi Arosi finds the beating heart of Zulu traditional pop translates it into modern idioms. Arosi's kicking opener, "Wemntomnyama Vuka Emaqandeni," is an appeal to global black consciousness lush and powerful enough to rival the best work of Busi Mhlonga, the reigning master of the sort of roots pop transformation Arosi is after on this release. Rich backing vocals support Arosi's blustery lead, and organ, guitar, and muscular bass and drums pound out a spare rendition of the Zulu traditional beat. Elsewhere, Arosi is more contemplative. "Somandla," a healing prayer with overtones of South Africa's soothing jazz tradition plays more like an update on classic Miriam Makeba, and a number of tunes--"Abf'azi Balelali" and "Ulele Ulele"--find her singing in the breathy tones of a romantic R&B diva.

Arosi has an amazingly versatile voice. She works in clicks, pops, coos and growls amid soft whispers and anguished gut cries. The jazz overtones often work well, especially when in minor or modal modes, as on "Vumani," a song for diviners, and "Ulele Ulele," a meditation on substance abuse. The latter features a tasty jazz piano trio backing Arosi and a soft chorus of backing singers. There are moments of other afropop genres here as well, a kind of South African take on highlife at the end of "Umziwasha," and a rich 12/8 groove on the CD's final track, "Uyakhala."

Arosi's engaged, probing lyrics and complex vocal style mark her as an important artist. Her first international release is a bold and gutsy work.




Fire: Duet with Oshakati (CCP, 1987)
Umziwatsha (CCP, 1990)
Ayeza (? 1994)
Abelungu Abamnyama (? 1996)
Ubuntu (Sheer Sound, 2001)
The best of Suthukazi (Sheer Sound, 2002)
The Journey (Sheer Sound, 2004)


Rebecca Malope: Uzube Nam (CCP, 1996)

Mahube: Mahube (Sheer Sound, 1999)

Sibongile Khumalo: Ancient Evenings (Sony International, 2000)

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi: Neria (Sheer Sound, 2001)

Mahube: Music of Southern Africa (Sheer Sound, 2002)

Various Artists: Afro Jazz- The Modern Era (Sheer Sound, 2003)

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi: The Tuku Years (Sheer Sound, 2003)

Various Artists: African Woman (Sheer Sound, 2003)

Red Buddha: World Music Cafe, Vol. 2 (Blue Flame, 2003)

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi: Oliver Mtukudzi Collection (Putumayo, 2003)

Various Artists: Drop the Debt (Wrasse, 2003)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Suthukazi, born in Cala, Transkei, Eastern Cape and was, from an early age, immersed in music. She studied ballet and modern jazz in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg to pursue a music career. Although Suthukazi stands before us today as one of Africa's leading voices she is also an accomplished actress having performed in many South African productions; skills that were honed by mentor with Gibson Kente.

Suthu's first recording was with Cheek to Cheek, on her first album, 'Oshakati'. The recording was followed by an extensive local and international touring schedule that included countries such as: Zambia, Zimbabwe, USA, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, United Arab Emirates to name a few. She has featured in many successful projects by the likes of: Chicco Twala, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Miriam Makeba. Among these projects, she featured prominently in Laduma that toured Japan for the World Indigenous Music Festivals, the FNB Vita Award winning stage production called "The Game", as well as the highly acclaimed, and SAMA nominated African big band Mahube.

Suthu draws her inspiration from many different facets of her life. "This is music of the people, indeed the people are most influential to my writing. Because of their everyday life experiences, I am able to put a song together. I have listened to so many kinds of music from childhood, some influences come from listening to such music and many musicians I have worked with" Suthu says.

Her first album under Sheer Sound "UBUNTU" released in 2001, speaks of many things from the struggles waged by South Africans, to the healing of the many wounds inflicted by our troubled past. Suthu says this of UBUNTU, "its about people's experiences in life, what they have gone through and what they have become. This is the music for the people. Each song on the album tells a story that people can relate to. It is healing, educative, as well as entertaining. We have lost that special gift that God blessed us with, that is ubuntu, humanity, and yet ubuntu is the key to our lives."

Her second album under Sheer Sound stable “The Journey” released in 2004, is a slight diversion for this amazing talent. Produced by D-Rex (David Campos), of Mapaputsi fame, as well as featuring the touches of maestro guitarist Bheki Khoza – with two additional songs produced by Joe Nina as well - we see an album that fuses modern urban African rhythms with the raw magic and rural flavour that Suthukazi is so famous for, and delivers so magically both live and in studio. A perfect blend that creates music that is danceable and holds appeal for all, whilst still maintaining its identity and integrity as truly African music with strong and conscious messages delivered with amazing power!


1997 - Kora Award for Best Southern African Artist (1st female to have received this Award in South Africa.
1997 - FNB Vita Award for Best Leading Actress, "The Game"
2002 – SAMA Awards for Best Xhosa Album

2002 – Best Traditional Adult Album
2002 – Shoprite Checkers Woman of The Year
2002 – Best Contemporary Album
2005 – Best Female Artist of The Year


First Duet Album with Oshakati

Worked with Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Miriam Makeba, etc.

Featured on projects with Chico Twala including “Staring in Laduma” which Toured Japan for the World Indigenous Festivals.

Afrovibes Festival, Holland and Germany

Raymond Vuyo Maintiyane Fundraising Project

Johannesburg International Joy of Jazz Festival, August 2002

Performed for President Thabo Mbeki & Government Ministries

Performed for Mr Nelson Mandela Birthday

Performed for the King of the Xhosa’s “ISITHWALANDWE” Ceremony

Toured USA with The Lion King

Performed & Conducted Workshops for Municipality of Endhoven, Netherlands for HIV AIDS Project in 2005

2005 - Heritage Day
2005 - Black History Month
2005 - Performed at South African Embassy
2005 – I.M.O Organisation