South Africa's Bala Brothers set sights on U.S. music market

By Alicia Powell

By Alicia Powell NEW YORK (Reuters) - With their mix of gospel and R&B songs, the classically trained Bala Brothers are stars at home in South Africa but Loyiso, Zwai and Phelo have set their sights on a new international audience and are planning a tour in the United States. Growing up in Kwa-Nobuhle township outside Port Elizabeth, the brothers have been known at home since the eldest, Zwai, broke the color barrier of South Africa's famed Drakensberg Boys Choir by becoming its first black member in 1988. His siblings followed in his footsteps and the brothers eventually formed their own group, performing at the 2013 memorial concert for Nelson Mandela. They released their self-titled U.S. debut album in March, which took the No. 1 spot on Amazon and shot up Billboard's World Music Chart. "It's every artist's dream ... I think for me because I am so new, I can go back home and be like, 'Hey guys' and feel like I made it," Phelo, the youngest, told Reuters in an interview. In February, U.S. broadcaster PBS aired a special concert featuring the trio, which the brothers, who sing in English and the Xhosa language, say exposed them to a new audience. "We had to kind of keep some things tame, not too many clicks (to) let them understand," Loyiso said, referring to consonant sounds in Xhosa. Songs on the album include their version of Paul Simon hit "Under African Skies" and their Xhosa love song "Masibuyelane". The brothers hope to tour the U.S. at the end of the year. "We really hope that it will take us beyond (where) any other South African or African actor ever stepped. We are representing Africa, we're not just representing ourselves," Zwai said. "We believe that a lot of African kids look up to us and they look at our story as a family, as well as Africans making a difference." (Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Louise Ireland)