Wonderboom are the Rolling Stones of South Africa. Their unbroken career rocking the country stretches back to 1996. So this year they’re building up to their 20th year in the game.
To mark the occasion, the rock legends are re-recording several of their classic tracks and filming videos.
The project is called The Santana Sessions – because the vids are being filmed on location at the Santana (Lifting Projects) crane yard in Kya Sands, Johannesburg. The super-classy clips were filmed by Matthew Marinus of Dream Canvas Productions. The audio recording were done by Fourie Smit of SMACK Entertainment. The hole thing was produced by Wonnies themselves in association with The CoLab Network.
With such a rich catalogue of songs, many of them recorded more than a decade ago, the production quality of some was a bit dated.
“We wanted something that would be a true reflection of where we are as a band right now,” said vocalist Cito from his West Rand lair. “Both sonically and visually.”
It’s an astute move. While it was fun at the time, the 1997 video for WB classic Smile Pantsula is now funnier than it was supposed to be, thanks to two decades of fashion having marched on.
Wonderboom are today one of the most stylish bands in the land, so they were poorly served by some of the video archive. That will now be put right, thanks to the Santana Sessions.
There will apparently be eight songs in the Santana sessions, and they are being gradually released onto YouTube. So far we have seen Never Ever Ever and kwaito-rock staple Charlie. They are viewable on the band’s YouTube page here.
Wonderboom still have three of their four founder members, school mates from old West Rand days – bassist and sometime guitarist Wade Williams, vocalist/guest guitarist Cito and guitarist/vocalist Martin Schofield. They were joined by drummer Jonathan Bell in 2013 following the tragic road death of Garth McLeod (also a member of Wonderboom associates Sugardrive).
The band originally started out as kind of funk-rock supergroup, when drummer Danny de Wet, then of The Electric Petals, joined forces with three hipsters from The Eight-Legged Groove Machine to form the cumbersomely named Electric Petal Groove Machine.
It bears saying that Wonderboom are one of the most accomplished bands in the game, each member a virtuoso of their instrument. At the same time they are a unitary band, greater than the sum of its parts.
There have been numerous Wonderboom side projects over the years – Absinthe, El Cantante, Martin Rocka & the Sick Shop, East Rand Blues Band, Biggie P & LMS… Martin was an Idols judge, Cito played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar… But the super-tight, funk-rock magic of the Wonderboom band itelf is quite unique. It’s the kind of tightness you only get from 20 years playing together, and it’s quintessentially South African.
That magic is now fully realised and captured for posterity in Wonderboom’s Santana Sessions project.
After that, there’s another original studio album in the works for later this year. This will be their ninth. They’ve been around so long – and been so prolific, that their last greatest hits album – the 22-track All The Hits came out ten years ago already!
Stylistically, Wonderboom dabble in ska, kwaito, hip-hop, afro-pop, kwela, mbaqanga, punk, trip-hop, Afrikaans pop and whatever takes their fancy, while remaining undeniably a rock band.
They are also keenly aware of where they come from – two of their albums have been covers albums paying tribute to South Africans bands that came before.
In turn, they are sure to have a lasting influence on the SA bands that come after them. But there’s a lot of lead in their pencil yet.
For a sharp update on the state of Wonderboom in 2015, check out the ongoing releases of The Santana Sessions. They are part of SA’s musical heritage.