About Madala Kunene

Madala Kunene: The True African Bluesman

The Genesis of a Musical Shaman

In the vibrant, bustling streets of Cato Manor, Durban, a legend was born in 1949. Madala Kunene, known affectionately as Bafo (brother), grew up in the traditional Zulu culture and its musical rhythms. His journey with music began at the age of 7, busking on Durban’s beachfront. It wasn’t a sophisticated start — his first guitar was crafted from a cooking oil tin and fish gut. But from these humble beginnings, a star was to rise.

Kunene’s music is more than just a blend of notes and chords; it’s a fusion of Zulu folk and township blues that he proudly calls his own “Madala-line.” It’s a reflection of a life rich in experiences, both joyous and painful, and a testament to the power of music in transcending the mundane.

The Road to Recognition

By the time he and his family were forcefully removed and trucked off to the newly formed township of KwaMashu in 1959, Kunene’s prowess with the guitar was already turning heads. He quickly became a local sensation, sharing stages with Doc Mthalane and Busi Mhlongo. It wasn’t just his skill that set him apart; it was his ability to tell a story with his music, weaving in narratives of ancestral dreams and Zulu folklore.

Madala Kunene’s first locally released album was produced in 1990 by Sipho Gumede for  3rd Ear Music and released on Vinyl and Cassettes. More than 30 years later, the album was released digitally, and in 2024, it was re-released on vinyl by Bella Union. 

Madala’s international debut album for MELT2000, Konko Man, co-produced by legendary Brazilian master percussionist Airto Moreira, Robert Trunz and Pops Mohamed, was a landmark moment. Konko Man features legends like Busi Mhlongo, Tu Nokwe, Mabi Gabriel Thobejane, Flora Purim , Gary Brown and Jose Neto. It wasn’t just an album but a cultural statement, a bridge between traditional African sounds and the global music scene.                                                                                                                                                                                       

Producing soundtracks for films and documentaries became reality when Madala first worked with Andreas Vollenweider. In 2004 his soundtrack for the film YESTERDAY earned him international praise. The film was written and directed by Darrell Roodt and produced by Anant Singh.

A Collaborative Spirit: Bridging Generations

Kunene’s collaborations, notably and more recently with artists like Guy Buttery or Mthuthu Ndebele represent more than musical synergy; they blend histories and futures. 

These partnerships serve as a bridge between the rich heritage of African music and the evolving contemporary global soundscape. Madala has earned massive respect from generations of young musicians who, over the past 30 years, have collaborated and joined his group. The trio SHANA ( with Black Coffee) joined Madala in 2000 as backing vocalists and his collaborations with artists like Mabi Gabriel Thobejane, Bernard Mndaweni, Busi Mhlongo, Andreas Vollenweider, Greg Georgiades, Olombelo Ricky, Baba Mokoena, Syd Kitchen, Max Laesser and Themba Mokoena are a testimony of his spirit of adventure into uncharted territories.

2014 was an eventful year. Madala travelled to New York to perform at the Carnegie Hall sharing the stage with the giants of South African music.  The event featured Abdul Ibrahim, Bakithi Khumalo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bra Hugh Masekela and Phuzekhemisi.          Madala Kunene then joined the non-profit organisation FOREST JAM for a week of mentoring young musicians in the mountains of Switzerland. The year after, he was touring Southern Africa and Madagascar with FOREST JAM, mentoring young international artists who have brought a new dimension to his music, blending different styles and generations. These collaborations, musical partnerships, and dialogues between different musical philosophies and eras are part of Madala’s never-ending collaborative spirit.

 Madala Kunene extended and opened up to electronic music as early as 1996  with a remix of his song Ubombo by Smith & Mighty (UK), which captured the youth from London to Johannesburg and from San Francisco to Tokyo. More recently, his work with Black Motion and in 2022, his collaborative hit song  SUKA with DJ Kabila hit the clubs from Ibiza to Las Vegas, played out night after night by the Greats of House Music like Dj Kabila, Mario Badbox and Black Coffee.  2023 the dedicated Electronica label M2KR started an extensive REMIXES Series with songs from Madala Kunene’s vast back catalogue.

The Spiritual Healer in Music

Kunene’s music isn’t just for entertainment; it’s a form of healing. His songs often draw from traditional Zulu songs, nursery rhymes, and lullabies, infused with messages from the ancestral realm. His approach to music is almost shamanistic, with each performance guided by the moment’s mood and spiritual energy.

In May 2023, the University of KwaZulu-Natal awarded Kunene an honorary Doctor of Music degree, recognising his invaluable contribution to developing indigenous music. 

This accolade is a testament to Dr. Mandala Kunene’s role as a cultural ambassador, bringing the Zulu culture and Southern African music to the world’s stage. Madala’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges. From the early days of Apartheid, where his music was a form of resistance, to the struggle to keep traditional African music relevant in a rapidly changing world, Kunene has faced it all with resilience and grace. His music is a reminder of art’s power to challenge, inspire, and heal.

As music promoters and enthusiasts worldwide anticipate more from this African Bluesman, Kunene’s journey offers an inspiring blueprint: that music can bridge worlds, cultures, and hearts – he is not just a musician but a musical shaman, weaving a tapestry of sound that captures Africa’s heart and the blues’ soul.

The Enduring Influence of Madala Kunene – A Beacon in a Changing World

In an era where the digital revolution has transformed the music industry, Kunene’s music remains a beacon of authenticity and tradition. His ability to stay true to his roots while embracing change is a lesson for artists and promoters alike. His music does not just entertain; it educates and enlightens, offering a window into the soul of African culture.

The Future echoes in Kunene’s Strings as the world looks to the future of music. Madala Kunene’s legacy serves as a guiding light. His journey from the streets of Cato Manor to the global stage is a testament that his music is not confined to the past; it is a living, evolving entity that continues to shape and influence the future of South African music and beyond. As artists and music lovers worldwide draw inspiration from his journey, Kunene’s legacy remains a vibrant and dynamic force in music


Madala Kunene is a true African bluesman whose guitar gently speaks the language of the soul, echoing through time and inspiring generations to come.

You, Madala, are The True African Bluesman !

Madala is a healer, an accomplished and individual acoustic guitarist and a singer. He – like Mali’s Ali Farka Toure – possessed the vibe of an African bluesman

MADALA KUNENE DISCOGRAPHY

Release Date
Madala Kunene Vinyl Release 1990
Outernational Meltdown - Free At Last Sanibonani with Airto Moreira 1994
Outernational Meltdown - Healers Brew Mamgobhozi - A Woman's Name 1994
King of The Zulu Guitar 1994
Konko Man 1995
Freedom Countdown Compilation with Barney Bophela & Mandla Masuku 1996
Madamax with Max Laesser 1996
First Double 1&2 with Baba Mokoena Serakoeng 1999
Uxolo with Bernard Mndaweni 2000
Respect - Robert Doc Mthalane, Madala Kunene, Mabi Thobejane & Busi Mhlongo 2000
Madamax Bafo with Max Laesser 2005
Bafo Bafo with Syd Kitchen 2006
Forest Jam Sessions 2014-2016
1959 feat. Hugh Masekela 2015
Khaya Records 7" Series Vol. III with Guy Buttery 2017
Durban Poison - At Last! with Themba Mokoena 2019
The Bootleg Tapes with Mabi Gabriel Thobejane and Forest Jam 2020
Bafo The Mentor with Forest Jam 2021
The 1990 Hidden Years Recordings (Digital) 2022
Live @ 2018 NAF Grahamstown Festival 2023
The Forest Jam Sessions Vol.2 - Live at The Orbit with Chico Antonio 2023
ELECTRONICA & FEATURED APPEARANCES YEAR
Music With No Name vol. 1 - Ubombo (Remix by Smith & Mighty) 1996
Music With No Name vol. 3 - What About? (Gum Drop Remix) 2008
Music With No Name Vol. 4 - Isiqomqomae (Remix by Monde Mkhizwana) 2009
Black Motion Album Ya Badimo - uGayo feat. Madala & Mabi Thobejane 2016
Fakazile - Mayine feat. Mandala Kunene (Single) 2020
iSambulo - Isangoma (feat. Madala Kunene) 2020
KoMama - Madala Kunene, Muzi (Clan beat Single) 2020
DJ Kabila - Suka (feat. Madala Kunene) 2022
Mthuthu - Bambanani (feat. Madala Kunene) 2023
M2KR Remixes 2023 REEL ONE with DJ Lineup with Syost, Black Motion x Osaze, Deeper Kings, OddXperienc, 3rio Symphony and Guy Buttery 2023
M2KR Remixes 2023 REEL TWO with DJ Zee Da Pro (feat Hugh Masekela) 2023
Spirit of Durban with Madala Kunene & Helge van Dyk 2023
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