The Joy’s self-titled debut is a visceral, beautiful piece of home

In the last two years, The Joy’s unprecedented rise to fame has taken them further and further from their special Hammarsdale, the place where everything started. They’ve been to North America, sharing the Coachella stage with Doja Cat, and more recently they were in North London’s famous Church studios to record their debut, self-titled album The Joy.

Listening to this record retrospectively, you almost hear the longing in their voices; Pastor, Duzie, Guduza, Sthombe and Marcus. Their nostalgia. It saddens me in a way, to think that music with such personal heritage would be estranged from its birthplace. But the voices we hear have not strayed too far from home. In fact, they’ve reached out closer to those green rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal.

The opening lines of “Uhlenge” immediately echo, with a kind of sanctity, The Joy’s visceral harmony. Save him, they sing.

“Amaqatha Amancane” – now a familiar favourite amongst fans – resonates with a rolling tempo and playful key changes, while “You Complete Me” is a more contemporary stab in the dark for The Joy. With tinges of pop, this might just mark a new direction for the band, and their growing international appeal.

Out via Transgressive, the album was recorded in one take to a live audience, with no repeats, no pick-ups and only one chance to get it right. “It was challenging,” the band tell me, “but what we loved most was that even people in the room who couldn’t understand the words we sang connected to the music.”

“Given the name of our group, we always hope that our music conveys the message that love is a beautiful thing,” they continue. “Keep smiling.”

A lot of people might say that The Joy’s genesis was certainly Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whom they grew up listening to. But the truth is that the Zulu vocal tradition we now call Isicathamiya was and always has been a part of daily life for the people of KwaZulu-Natal. Something you are taught from a young age, surrounded by at church and at home.

And so, when The Joy discovered their synchronicity five years ago before choir practice one day, having arrived a little bit earlier than everyone else, I think it was perfectly natural. Yes, there is a holiness to these songs, which naive Westerners might attribute to some occult African spirituality, but South Africans know that this is simply a matter of instinct, and of faith, for Pastor, Duzie, Guduza, Sthombe and Marcus. The Joy have given us what their fathers gave them, and in turn what their fathers gave them. They have given us a piece of their home.

Feature image courtesy of Kgomotso Neto.