Obituary: David Masondo, lead singer of Soweto's legendary Soul Brothers

12 July 2015 - 02:00 By Chris Barron

David Masondo, who has died in Johannesburg at the age of 65, left his factory job in KwaZulu-Natal with two friends in the early '70s to seek fame and fortune in Johannesburg. Born in Hammarsdale outside Durban in 1950, he had been pursuing a music career of sorts performing with the Groovy Boys. But he was in his 20s and time, he thought, was running out. He wanted to make it big and was in a hurry.story_article_left1After enduring a penniless existence living in abandoned buildings, he and his friends met up with keyboard player Moses Ngwenya, who introduced them to the Soweto soul music that was becoming popular in the township.This was developed from American soul by local musicians who considered themselves too educated for the mbaqanga and isicathamiya that entertained hostel-dwelling migrant workers and the rural poor.Soweto soul was more socially aware and reflected the rising black consciousness philosophy of the student leader Steve Biko taking hold in the townships.Masondo and Ngwenya fused this new style with the mbaqanga Masondo and his partners, bassist Zenzele "Zakes" Mchunu and guitarist Tuza Mthethwa, had been playing back in KwaZulu-Natal. It found instant and fast-growing favour among their traditional migrant worker audiences and the new, more sophisticated and political generation.They formed Soul Brothers in 1974 and their first two singles, Mshoza Wam and Mama Ka S'Bongile, were not long in coming. They were both massive hits.The group became known for their social commentary-laden lyrics, flamboyant costumes and sleek choreography.Masondo, who moved from drums to lead vocalist, and Ngwenya were the faces of the Soul Brothers. In the words of the website, "Masondo's quavering soprano voice and Ngwenya's percussive Hammond organ gave the group an instantly recognisable sound" and the brand became a huge commercial success, spawning recording, publishing and entertainment companies.In 1983, they recorded an album with the already legendary jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who was in exile in Botswana.Along with the success came tragedy. In 1984, Mchunu became the fourth band member to be killed in a car accident. Masondo and Ngwenya continued, performing with an expanded group.In 1990, the Soul Brothers toured the UK and Europe. Their most popular hits included Idlozi, Intombi Yami and Jump & Jive. They produced 38 albums, which sold more than three million copies worldwide. In spite of their international releases, however, they remained essentially a domestic act.Masondo's fame and popularity survived revelations that emerged when his second wife, Wendy, filed for divorce in 2008 after a stormy 19-year marriage.In court papers she accused Masondo of being a serial adulterer, bedding a never-ending succession of women, including their domestic worker. She said things came to a head when she found the body of a strange man hanging from their balcony.She had endured "19 years of hell" with Masondo, she told City Press. "But to wake up to a dead body in the house was the final straw."In 2003, Masondo was arrested and charged with statutory rape after allegedly abusing his stepdaughter. She became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy when she was 16. In 2005, the Protea Magistrate's Court found that the evidence against him was inconclusive.Masondo is survived by two children.1950-2015..

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