music

Avante

Gospel
Avante

Nearly a decade after they released their debut album, Sinethemba in 1997, Avante continue to create recordings that consistently provide plenty of reasons why they are considered a Gospel act at the top of their musical game.

Not that recording Hlalan 'Ethembeni was easy for this award-winning, platinum-selling group: Last November (2004) saw the untimely death from pneumonia of founding group member, Bongani Ngcobo who was just 31-years-old at the time.

Speaking just after Ngcobo's death, Avante group leader, Linda Gcwensa said the remaining four members of Avante were 'devastated at the loss'. 'We have been together for more than a decade so to say that Bongani was like family to all of us is describing the way we all feel about each other – his loss is unbelievable and we are still all in shock.'

It took a great deal for the remaining members of this acclaimed group to get back into the studio to record a follow-up to Kusile (the coming of the Dawn) but one listen to Hlalan 'Ethembeni and it's easy to see just what a strong tribute it is to fallen group member, Ngcobo. 'We thank God that He has fortified the group in Spirit and flesh,' Gcwensa says about Hlalan 'Ethembeni's recording.

Indeed, all members of Avante give praise to God for allowing the group to record its eighth album. 'All praises go straight to Him in good and bad times,' is this remarkable group's belief.

And rightly so. In spite of Ngcobo's absence being keenly felt during the recording process, Avante has, in Hlalan 'Ethembeni, recorded an album that uplifts, rejoices, and will inspire for years to come. Gcwensa, who together with Lucky Cele, Siphiwe Khanyile, and James Langa now make up Avante once again reveal their gift for a song throughout the album's 12-tracks.

This time around production comes from Jabu Nkabine and Avante itself with Percy Ingle weighing in on the album's title track. Like all Avante's recordings its production work that dazzles, the arrangement, the sound quality is nothing short of top-notch, and the inclusion of several live instruments, among them keyboards, guitar and bass, add to the recording's appeal.

But, alongside the quartet's impeccable voices,  the real revelation on Hlalan 'Ethembeni is the songwriting – the majority of the tracks are penned by Avante's members, with Gcwenssa, Cele, Langa and Khanyile all contributing original songs, revealing their maturity as artists and proving they are far more than gifted singers and performers.

'Songwriting has always been important to Avante,' Gcwensa affirms. 'We have made sure on this album that we co-produced as well, resulting in a recording that very much belongs to Avante.'

ABOUT AVANTE

Ask Avante what their goal is after so many years of producing albums that are among the country's best, and their response is unequivocal: "We really want to make an impact overseas. There is no doubt that there is an interest in our music from other countries and we plan on spreading out Gospel message far and wide."'

Indeed, it's always been Avante's intention to become a South African gospel group of substantial proportions. In fact, it was as five young lads, from the Durban township of Kwa-Mashu, that Avante first joined hands, with the sole aim of spreading the gospel of God. The fact that all five members hailed from different backgrounds and even different Christian denominations never proved an obstacle in Avante's creation and from that time – 1992 – to today, the group has worked together with ease.

Avante's first big break came in 1993 when they entered the Shell Road to Fame Talent Search Competition in Durban, ultimately making it through to the national finals where they were spotted by renowned songwriter and producer, Mbongeni Ngema, who utilised Avante in several projects until early 1995. Avante joined forces with Lebo M to contribute vocals to The Lion King soundtrack but all the while the group's heart was in becoming a successful, stand alone Gospel group.

At the urging of Bongani, Avante set about finding a producer. Alfred Sibisi, a Durban based producer, put them onto Vusi Mvelese from Hammersdale, and after a performance the group staged at Vusi's late mother's funeral, the producer was so impressed he decided came on board.

This led to the release of Avante's debut album Sinethemba (1997) which was followed by Eloyi, released in 1998.

During this time, the group was making people in the Gospel arena sit up and take notice, among them the Queen of Gospel herself, Rebecca Malope and Avante were soon featured as curtain raisers for most of her live shows before moving on to perform as her backing singers. Avante's impressive recordings and live performances led the Sizwe Zako team to come knocking at their door and 1999 saw the release of Yek' iJerusalema which sold gold (over 25 000 units) and earned Avante much acclaim and many thousands of fans. Another album followed in 2000 – titled Ayaphel' Amaqhinga it saw the creative involvement (either direct or through advice) of Vuyo Mokoena and Rebecca Malope.

2001 saw the release of Qina, which carried on with Avante's mission to spread the word of God through music that is beautiful, clear, original and truly special and this was followed with Bekezela in 2002. Their 2004 album, Kusile, saw Avante record with Afro-Pop king, Ringo Madlingozi.

GROUP MEMBERS:

LUCKY CELE: his musical career began in the church and has seen Lucky work with many different gospel groups as a lead singer among them Heavenly Voices, Foreigners and Mighty Stars of Tomorrow. Attended school at Kwesethu High School.

JAMES LANGA: started singing in a church choir and thereafter performed with Mighty Stars as lead singer.

SPHIWE KHANYILE: started singing with the gospel group, Stars of Tomorrow as a lead singer. Attended schools at Nhlakanipho High (Kwamashu).

LINDA GCWESA: began singing early and as a toddler showed sparks of brilliance by performing in front of a large audiences at church, school and wherever a chance presented it self. Linda took lead singer chores for Mighty Stars Gospel Group and Ekuvukeni Choral Society. Attended school at Kwesethu High School.