TSHEPANG RAMOBA – Single Review: “Bana Baka”

Tshepang Ramoba (aka RMBO) is a singer, songwriter, drummer, producer and film music supervisor based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He’s also a member of the South African alternative band BLK JKS (pronounced black jacks). He discovered his love for music and drumming rather serendipitously while in detention in high school. One day the detention teacher was absent, so the detainees were sent to the after school contemporary music class. Ever the showman, Ramoba went over to the drum-kit and started banging away in an effort to annoy his detainers, only to have his remaining detention sessions turned into contemporary music lessons by the school principal. He later studied African music and jazz at FUBA School Of Drama And Visual Arts, eventually earning a diploma in sound engineering there. He began studying for a post graduate music degree at Tshwane University of Technology, but left to embark on a world tour with his band BLK JKS.

As his music career advanced, he’s received several accolades, including being voted Best Musician by Billboard at the SXSW festival in Texas, winning the SAMA for Best Alternative album as part of BLK JKS, and doing a collaborative performance with Alicia Keys for a World Cup opening concert. He’s also played alongside The Roots.

Ramoba has an eclectic sound, in which he melds Afrobeat, alternative rock and electronic with traditional South African and World music. He’s released quite a bit of music as a member of BLK JKS, as a producer in collaboration with other artists, and as a solo artist. In 2019, he released an enchanting four-track EP Sešate, and has just dropped a wonderful new single “Bana Baka“. The song came about when he was asked to create the new theme song for Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the children’s television program Sesame Street. On “Bana Baka”, he tells a story about losing his kids to a Giant named Ledimo, but his ancestors said he will find them at the farms. He explains his inspiration for the song: “The song was inspired by the fact that I always wanted children since I was 16; I actually dreamed of having 13 to be exact. Reaching the age of 35 without even one influenced me to record the song”.

Though Ramoba grew up speaking the Sowetan colloquial language Tsotsi Taal, he sings “Bana Baka” in his native language of Sepedi, which he learned from his grandmother. Though I cannot understand the lyrics, the colorful instrumentation and fascinating vocals he’s included make for a delightful and compelling listening experience. I love that beautiful repetitive guitar lick that continues throughout the track, accompanied by a subtle, pulsating bass line driving the song forward while all sorts of exotic percussive sounds and scratching dance around it. Ramoba has an emotive and pleasing vocal style that goes from baritone to near falsetto with ease as he sings his verses. I’m not certain who sings the lilting back-up vocals and choruses, but they sound like a mix of male and female voices.

Have a listen to this enchanting song:

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