Phelo Bala, the youngest of the famous KwaNobuhle-born Bala brothers, has finally come out of hiding to release his latest musical offering, Ndim’Lo (“Here I Am”). Phelo, 26, was last in the media when he made the controversial decision in 2015 not to go through with his calling of becoming a sangoma, but instead to focus on his Christian faith.
Like both of his elder brothers, Loyiso and Zwai, Phelo studied at the internationally renowned Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School in KwaZulu-Natal.
Knowing music was his passion, a 15-year-old Phelo sent eldest brother Zwai a demo of himself singing. Impressed, Zwai got Phelo involved in the Bala family’s gospel project alongside his two brothers, mother, sister and cousins while he was still at the Drakensberg school in 2006.
The success of the Bala brothers as a brand saw Phelo performing on stages all over the world, including in England, Scotland, Japan, Australia and, of course, all over Southern Africa, as both a soloist and as part of the ensemble.
In 2011, Phelo joined the multi-award-winning Joyous Celebration choral group, which also launched his song writing career.
During an early morning telephonic interview, a sleepy Phelo chatted to Weekend Post about his journey to making Ndim’Lo.
What is Ndim’Lo about?
It’s basically about me. I’m introducing myself to the world through the songs on the album, because they are all about my journey, what I’ve gone through and where I’m at in my life now.
How long did it take you to complete the album?
I worked on it for four months. I started in November last year. It was a really short process because I already had all the songs and I just got into the studio and started recording.
Why did you call the album Ndim’Lo?
First, it is a track on the album and it’s also about self-discovery.
How would you describe Ndim’Lo to your fans?
I would say it’s a mixture of Afro-soul, fused with jazz, pop and instrumental. It’s a more mature type of sound that I’ve never done before.
Is this your first album?
No, I did my first album back in 2011, but it was never released.
You took a break from the industry for a few years. What inspired that decision?
I needed to because we’re not in control of our lives and I’m grateful to do what I do now. There’s so much that I’ve learnt. I’ve grown spiritually, mentally, and I feel like I’m ready now; I wouldn’t have released the album if I wasn’t. I love doing what I do and I feel like the break was what I needed in order to get to this point where I am able to appreciate things more.
You were part of Joyous Celebration for a while, performing gospel songs. Do you have any on the album?
I’ve got two gospel tracks on the album.
Are you still part of, or performing with, Joyous Celebration?
I’m not part of JC any more but I still help them out with songwriting.
Do you have any collaborations on the album?
I haven’t featured any other artists other than Gugu Shezi, a vocalist who is signed to the same label as me.
How long have you been signed to the label?
As long as I’ve been working on the album (chuckles).
Are there any producers that you have worked with who stood out?
Khaya Mthiyane, who was the producer of the album.
Do you have any plans of performing Ndim’Lo in Nelson Mandela Bay?
I would love to even start touring the album there, since it’s where everything started for me. But the album just came out; everything is still new and no dates have been confirmed yet … but definitely.
Where are you in your faith?
I’m still very much a Christian, I don’t conduct sangoma acts and I’m still going strong in my faith. It’s not always the smoothest relationship, but it works and I’m still a believer.
Where can people get the album Ndim’Lo?
It’s available on all digital platforms and a release date will be announced soon.