The youngest of 68 children (his father had 25 wives), Giyani Kulani Kobane was a 34-year old janitor working for a Johannesburg record company when he cut his 1994 debut as Penny Penny with the help of a sympathetic Tsonga tribesman, producer Joe Shirimani. Shaka Bundu, released several months before apartheid ended in South Africa, was an unexpected hit and sold a couple hundred thousand copies. Penny, who sang in the relatively insular Xitsonga language of his home Limpopo province, came to symbolize the country’s newfound tribal equality.
Penny and Shirimani used an Atari computer and Korg M1 synthesizer to record Shaka Bundu. This is a hard-hitting house album that, reminiscent of dance bands like Londonbeat and Inner Circle, must have sounded both wickedly modern yet tribally funky to its fans. Variation is not Penny’s strong suit but he sure is consistent. Shirimani whips up secret-sauce bass lines with a subliminal organ vibe, female singers engage in spunky call-and-response, and steel-drum synths and Atari special effects add sonic spice as Penny growl-raps lines about witchcraft (“Shibandza”), empathy (“Ndzihere Bjhi”), and the culture of his native Limpopo region (“Zirimini”), with bonus elephant sounds on the latter. Everyone loves the baby of the family. Penny continued to tour and record and in 2011 was elected an African National Congress ward councilor in Limpopo.