It's 40 years since the legendary 'Om' Alec Khaoli went solo and started his Afro rock band Umoja in 1982. Time flies indeed. It has been a journey worth celebrating. Bra Om throughout his solo career has made a serious impact and contributed immensely in the music industry both locally in South Africa and abroad. He has shared his talent, skills and resources through the music he has made over the years.
Bra Om was the first black person in the country to own a record studio in South Africa (!). It was called Fireworks Studio, located in Pimville, Soweto. This afforded him ample time to explore and create the best music. He was also one of the first artists to use a vocoder instrument, which at the time was a rare novelty to create a very distinctive sound and so beautiful to listen to. Since then, the vocoder has found its way in music production. One of the best known examples of the use of a vocoder is in 2Pac's Hip-Hop classic California Love.
Most of the musicians Alec Khaoli worked with went on to make a mark in the music industry.
What impressed me most about Bra Om was the way he redefined, revolutionized and popularized the bass guitar. This is an instrument he has mastered and played excellently and in a way never heard of before. Bra Om transformed it. He used it as a leading instrument and took it to another level. He is one musician who used two bass guitar players and blend them nicely to create magical sounds. His bass lines were noticeable to most songs in the 80s. Hence, he was known as the show of the stage.
It has been difficult to keep quiet and not pay tribute to this legend who has entertained us with the music he has created and his music still enjoyable to this day like old wine.
Om Alec has made so much music and was involved in so many legendary releases, that It is hard to define, but here are:
10 songs that define Om Alec
- Feels good inside – Umoja
I remember the first time I heard the song on radio. I immediately sang along. My friend Daniel Ace Mtsweni whom I was in a same class with, his elder brother (may his soul rest in peace) had an LP. So we used to sing it in class when there was no teacher. It was great and one of those happy songs. If my memory serves me well, 1985 was declared a year of the youth by UNESCO. Everything was vibrant, electrifying and ecstatic. Musicians did not disappoint as they came to the party. They were releasing hits after hits. His song was up there with the rest. The message so profound as well, truly if we feel good about what we are doing why stop.
- Ska ntshwara – Om Alec
This is a song from the album Sekuru which was released in 1987. The album contains songs like Sekuru a title track, Celebrate and other beautiful songs. This is one of those songs you cannot stop listening to due to the bass lines. On his last show on the 25\06\2007 on Afrika ya Dinaledi, Bra Max Mojapelo started the show with Ska ntshwara and his colleagues surprised him by coming to the show. They sang a “happy birthday song “, with this song playing on the background. Man, that was the blast. You cannot ask for any better way to sign off other than that one.
- Onketsang – Om Alec
This song was released in 1986 during riots. It was one of those darkest moment in the history of our country. It was during the state of emergency and there were soldiers all over the country. Out of the blue Bra Om released O’nketsang meaning what are you doing to me? But to me, it was more about what are you doing to us due to what was happening at the time. I enjoyed most that part where ladies were singing “Dance on dance on, I like the way you're dancing”. The song was used by the late Brains Mantjiu (Nketse nketse bafana bamo shebile) on Radio Lebowa on his show from 21h00-00h00. One of the reason I used to listen to the show was this song, even though I ended up enjoying the conversation. There was another song with the same title by the late Rex Rabanye also released in 1986.
- Mokete –Om Alec
Mokete meaning a feast in English. This song is from the album Musical Journey by Bra Om. It was released in 2009 after a long lay-off. Bra Om and Bra Sipho Mabuse, two prolific members of The Beaters at the time assisted in the recording of the Tshona by Bra Kippie Moeketsi, Bra Pat Matshikiza and Bra Basil Mannenberg Coetzee in the early 70s. I had a wish that Bra Om record a jazz song someday. He did with Mokete which has vocals and also in instrumental form. I was thrilled, I used it as a background for my show for years. His combination with the late Masike Funky Mohapi on a lead guitar is a real deal.
- Sekuru – Om Alec
Bra Om has shown his soft spot for Africa through his songs but with Sekuru meaning uncle in Shona. He took us back to Harare. He went up North with The Beaters and stayed there for months performing. Furthermore, he learned the language and used it finally on his songs. Sekuru was released in 1987 during winter season. These are songs he released as a solo artist and other songs he released them as Umoja. The Afro rock element was evident with a domination of bass guitar. It is one of those songs like Zanzibar by Bra Sipho Mabuse that brought us closer to African music. This song also served as a base for my appreciation for African music.
- 707 – Umoja
When I heard about this song I thought of 707 or union stoves, those black stoves which were used in our homes. They were highly useful during winter season. Truly this album achieved a multi-platinum status. That did not come as a surprise. 707 was a very deep, powerful and rock orientated song. The album had stand-alone songs like Money, Money and Don’t take me higher. That was Om’s trademark in full swing. I had a neighbor who used to play the full album like nobody’s business. I know that when he was around that I will be treated well.
- Menate fela – Om Alec
This is a single which was released early this year 2022. This is a sign of evolving and adaptability during the time of amapaino and new emerging genres in our music loving country. It shows high level of maturity, flexibility and relevancy. The message is so inspiring that irrespective of what you are going through. Things will be ok. It took me back to a single he made with Guilain from DRC titled “Do it for love” in 2021 which had the same element of lay back, easy flow and soft.
- Say you love me – Om Alec
The song was featured on almost every radio station’s Top 20 in 1985. The song had everything you can think of a beautiful song. Bra Om had a tendency of releasing singles at the beginning or early in the year and the song will go on, mesmerize people and enjoyed throughout the year. What I like most was his telephonic conversation in the middle of the song and his “double cherry bum sorry wam”. When I play this song whetrher on radio or while driving around I hear people asking about Bra Om. His signature on the song is plain there
- Oneness – Umoja
This is one of Umoja’s all-time song. This song helped to put Umoja on the pedestal. At the time, this song was made. Umoja, one of the pioneers of Afro rock had talented musicians who went on and made it big in the music industry. This song is a force to be reckoned with. It was performed at the historic Concert at the Park in Johannesburg in 1985. One of those powerful songs ever made in this country. One may call it a protest song of its kind. By the way Umoja is unity or oneness in Kiswahili. One of Om’s favorite language.
- You are the one – Om Alec
If the statement that says that first impression last has to be proven right. This song for me can serve the purpose. The first time I heard this song it just blew me away just like that. I still have the same feeling about the song to this day. The song has made massive impact in my life to an extent that I have used it to motivate people. I recently shared the song with my staff members, yes the song is about love but to me cuts across a number of issues; relationships, personal well-being, individualism and personalities. Everyone is special, dynamic and one of a kind. Hence each person needs to embrace, appreciate, make a statement and cease the moment because “you are the one “ Bambo wangu
From the long list of songs Bra Om has produced and mostly from his Fireworks Studio in Pimville in Soweto which was the first studio owned by a black person in South Africa in the early 80s. It does not matter where you are in terms of place, and time. All that matters is how you use your talent, opportunity and space given to you to make a difference and inspire others.
We have covered more about Om Alec Khaoli in our article Harari Magic