In less than three years, South Africa’s The Joy has become known for its ability to spread instant euphoria with a unique sound that has the ability to transcend genre and continents alike.


If you’re secular, you might call it serendipity, while others might call it divine intervention – the moment that The Joy sang together for the first time. This was the day that saw five teenage boys from the South African township of Hammarsdale turned up to their school choir practice earlier than the other boys; early enough to spontaneously jam a new song into existence. In that moment came the realisation that something beyond their collective understanding seemed to happen when they alighted upon the same song.

Growing up in a part of South Africa, where the Zulu tradition of a cappella singing is central to the cultural identity of its people and Ladysmith Black Mambazo have been worshipped for decades – their Grammy-winning success an authentication of the fact that the magic of isicathamiya music isn’t restricted to the townships where it flourished – The Joy’s harmonies hark back to yet another vocal tradition.  Mbube means ‘lion’, which gives some indication of the elemental power its practitioners summon when bursting into song. This seems to be the lineage into which lead vocalist Duzie seems to be tapping when he cuts loose from the intonations of his co-travellers, as if compelled to commune with the ancestral spirits whose music he invokes.

In the right hands, these songs can open the gates of heaven, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that, for The Joy, they open up the gates to places they’d never imagined they’d see with their own eyes. First prize in a municipality-wide singing contest earns them something in the region of $1,300, which they divided in five and sent straight to their families, where it’s most needed. Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson pronounce themselves fans, the latter calling them “my favourite group” and inviting them onto her US talk show. Sessions produced by longtime champion Two Inch Punch amass millions of streams either in spite or because of the fact that they correspond to nothing else competing for your attention in the modern musical firmament. And, displaying the brotherhood that they say bonded them together from that very first session, they insist that the music speaks to them all with one voice, telling them what to do before they themselves are even aware of it.

Making their U.K. debut TV appearances last summer when the appeared on the BBC coverage of Glastonbury and as part of Jools Holland’s 30th anniversary Later… show it was instantly apparent here was a group able to summon with their music that holy shiver you feel when you drop the needle onto Sam Cooke’s version of Nearer To Three, Jeff Buckley performing Lover You Should Have Come Over or hear Buju Banton singing Untold Stories. These are the little epiphanies that feed our addiction to music. Moments that erase the invisible membrane between artist and listener. When everything else falls away and feeling lost in music becomes the same as truly finding yourself in it.



Amaqatha Amancane

You Complete Me